Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jumping in the Pool

by Brent Rosenstein

To native English speakers, it seems elementary that the word “pool” can mean more than just a small body of water. We understand that it can also refer to group, as in a pool of applicants, or can even be used as a verb (e.g. one can pool resources or ideas). Personally, I have used such uses of the word “pool” countless times throughout my life, but it had never occurred to me that this usage was a peculiarity of the English language. At least, not until Professor Joaquin Roy (semi) jokingly referred to it as the only thing that Britain had really contributed to the European Union.  This seemed kind of silly at first, especially when punctuated by his anecdote about mistaking the “press pool” at a conference for a swimming pool reserved for journalists. However, the more that I thought about the idea, the more it stood out to me.

Professor Roy said that the more abstract usage of the word pool was introduced as a solution to the greatest problem facing the formation of supranational organizations: the issue of sovereignty. For such an organization to work, it needs to find a balance between its own supranational sovereignty and that of its constituent member states. Most modern states are reasonably concerned about surrendering too much of their sovereignty, or even sharing it, and it can be enough to scare some off. To mitigate these concerns, the European Union chose to present itself as pooling sovereignty. This implies that none of a state’s authority is given up. Instead, it is combined with that of other states to become something more. Some might argue that such a level of international cooperation cannot be achieved without giving up some sovereignty, and they may be right, to an extent. After all, the European Union itself has not overcome this issue entirely. For example, there are still plenty of conflicts between the European Commission, pushing for more integration, and the Council of the EU, representing the rights and interests of the member states1.  However, this does not mean that the idea is useless. It can still be a goal to reach for. Or, if one is looking for a more pragmatic use, the concept of “pooling” something seems to carry a more positive connotation than sharing it (which implies having to give some up) or outright sacrificing some.

Unfortunately, this concept does not always transfer well to other languages. As Professor Roy pointed out, even though the idea of pooling sovereignty has been introduced to Latin America, which is trying to unify following the pattern of the EU, they do not seem to embrace or even fully understand the term. This is unfortunate for those trying to create a supranational Latin American organization, as fears of losing national sovereignty seems to be the primary obstacle to such a union progressing. Though their concerns are understandable, perhaps they should give it a try anyway, even if only to come to an understanding of the concept. Maybe they just need to jump in the pool.

Brent Rosenstein is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program at the University of Illinois. His research interests include international security efforts and human rights issues within the EU.

Professor Roy's lecture is available for viewing here.


1 Andreas Staab, The European Union Explained: Institutions, Actors, Global Impact (Indiana University Press, 2008), 63–4. 

Image source: http://www.fordesigner.com/maps/8909-0.htm

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