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POLITICS: A Caribbean Union, European-Style

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jun 11 2009 (IPS) - – If Trinidad and Tobago and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are to embark on their long touted economic and political union by 2013, it would involve the surrender of some political power to a European-style commission.

That recommendation is one of several submitted by a six-member task force, whose 521-page, two-volume report is being circulated by the Trinidad and Tobago government for public discussion.

Ironically, the European-style commission has not found favour with the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) integration grouping in the past, a situation that Professor Vaughan Lewis, the chair of the task force, says is a “hurdle that has to be jumped”.

“If that hurdle cannot be jumped we do not see any alternative ways of enforcing the implementation system and therefore of enforcing the cohesion of these countries,” said Lewis, a former prime minister of St. Lucia, who had made a similar proposal as head of a Technical Working Group on the Governance of the Caribbean Community in 2006.

The task force has said that the establishment of an integration process without this requirement is self-defeating.

Writing in the London Financial Times on Apr. 12, Brussels bureau chief Tony Barber wrote that for more than a decade, the European Commission has not been the “motor of EU integration that it was in the heyday of Jacques Delores, its president from 1985 to 1995.”

However, he noted, “It performs the indispensable tasks in ensuring the correct application of EU laws, in defending the integrity of the single European market and in negotiating international trade and cooperation agreements.”

And in a working paper examining the governance and future of the EC, Ben Hall of the Centre for European Reform noted that in the new intergovernmental way of doing things, “the European Council will lead, the European Commission will be its servant and draftsman and the European parliament its sounding board.”

In arguing for a European-style commission, the task force said that the CARICOM integration system has generally favoured an intergovernmental approach conceptually reflected in the notion of “community of sovereign states”.

“But the machinery servicing the operations of the system and theoretically having a responsibility for ensuring the implementation of decisions is bereft of the legal authority and legal instruments for ensuring enforceability,” its report said.

Former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders noted that over the years, CARICOM governments have been tardy in deepening economic integration arrangements.

“The European Union project has demonstrated the benefits to 27 nations – much larger than those in the Caribbean – of pooling their sovereignty in specifically agreed areas such as external trade arrangements while maintaining individual sovereignty in others,” he saod.

“The Caribbean has the creative capacity to devise machinery that is just as effective. What is required is the political will,” Sanders told journalists attending a Commonwealth Business Media Workshop in Trinidad last week.

In August 2008, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada announced that they had agreed in principle on the need for closer economic and political integration, a move that was subsequently endorsed by the other governments of the nine-member sub-regional OECS.

The task force presented its report at a special summit of Caribbean leaders here late last month and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning said the initiative would allow for the Caribbean to rekindle the spirit of the West Indian Federation that collapsed in 1962.

“It takes a significant step to that one political space to which we have been working for a long time,” he said.

The report advocates the establishment of a “Treaty of Union” that will have as its major elements a Union Council of States comprising the heads of government of each state and a Council of Ministers comprising one minister from each state.

The report also recommends a Union Commission made up of Commissioners, one from each state, who shall be nominated by his or her respective country and appointed by the Council of States for a five-year period.

As a legislative body, there will be a Union House of Assembly with the membership drawn from both the government and opposition benches of Parliament in each member state.

To make judicial decisions, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which the regional governments established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the final court, “shall have compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the treaty of Union”.

The Executive of the Union shall comprise the Council of States and it shall be responsible for the formulation and execution of the policy of the Union.

The task force said that the primary objective is to effect a transition from the existing loose cooperation system of CARICOM arrangements to “a convergence of sovereignties”.

Lewis clarified that the task force was not advocating that the political autonomy or independence of the participating states should be subject to a single system of governance or jurisdiction.

The ruling People’s National Movement in Trinidad and Tobago is planning a special convention on Jun. 21 to discuss the recommendations, with Manning admitting “there is so much on the table” with the consequences “so far-reaching that we are going to have to start talking publicly and educating the population on these matters”.

Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday has reiterated an earlier position that there should be a referendum before any move is made for closer political and economic union.

But former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell is urging opposition parties in the countries concerned to put aside “their selfish personal reasons” and support the initiative.

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