Recent demands for secession in several EU member states bring the issue of self-determination to the forefront of the debate about the future of the European Union. This article explores the European Union’s attitudes toward the international right to self-determination in the context of the rising salience of the greater political union between member states. The focus of the European project, in direct contrast to the glorification of nationhood, is on consensual decision-making rather than sovereignty, making self-determination obsolete in a reality of EU integration. This research finds that recognition of, or references to, the right to self-determination of peoples are absent from EU law sources. Official EU statements in the United Nations interpret the right to self-determination as the presence of a representative democracy and the ability to enjoy human rights within existing states. This interpretation implies that secession campaigns in EU countries are unfounded. The European Union demonstrates a strong preference for various forms of internal self-determination (extended autonomy of regions, minority rights, and language rights) as an approach to address the diversity of peoples and regions within its borders. But the European Union has no legislative competences in these areas and the enactment of such policies is dependent solely on the goodwill of individual member states. By analyzing past cases of recognition by the European Union of newly independent states in the wider European region, this article demonstrates that they have been inconsistent and arbitrary, dependent on the strategic interests of individual member states rather than clear normative criteria.



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