Skip

small-r republicanism
February 22, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Could I have a case in the European Court of Human Rights against being subject to an unelected monarch?

I'm repeatedly amazed by the lack of interest my fellow British subjects (remember we're not 'citizens') have in republicanism. Occasionally I can persuade people with the old expensive-unelected-spongers argument, but as far as I'm concerned it's the principle of it that should be getting people angry.

As a British subject I, and all my fellow subjects, are represented to the rest of the world by and unelected queen. It is not possible for anyone else to be head of state.

Although this question is to address the possible human rights issue I would also like to get a sense of why the political will for republicanism isn't stronger than it appears to be.

Before you ask, yes, I've heard the arguments for the monarchy before:

1. But it's only ceremonial, they have no real power, why not continue for sake of tradition? - Even if it is only a formality it is offensive that we are subjects of the unelected and our elected government has to ask the unelected for executive powers.

2. But it's good for tourism. - Why should we allow one sector of the economy to decide the most important part of our constitution? I'm sure if Colonel Sanders' family line became permanent heads of state it would be good for the fast food sector, but that's no excuse.

3. It removes the political element from the head of state so they can get on with championing the country to the rest of the world and we can unite behind them. - But the monarchy is a political entity. Also, isn't a few citizens disliking the politics of the head of state a small price to pay if they are elected and truly representative?
posted by northerner to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could I have a case in the European Court of Human Rights against being subject to an unelected monarch?

What part of the European Convention on Human Rights do you think this violates?

In short: probably not.

remember we're not 'citizens'

People love repeating this canard, but it is not true. There are a vanishingly small number of people who are British subjects but not British citizens, and it has been impossible to acquire that status since 1949.
posted by grouse at 8:14 AM on February 22, 2010


I'm repeatedly amazed by the lack of interest my fellow British subjects (remember we're not 'citizens') have in republicanism.

You've been citizens since 1949. You stopped being subjects altogether in 1983.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2010


You may find this "Opinion on the Amendments to the Constitution of Liechtenstein Proposed by the Princely House of Liechtenstein" from the Council of Europe instructive. Technically it's dealing with some amendments that would give the Prince Regnant of Liechtenstein more power, but it discusses the tension between monarchies and the 1990 Charter of Paris requirement that democracy is "the only system of government of our nations."

Some highlights:

"The European monarchies members of the Council of Europe all respect a number of common democratic principles:

• The principle of representation requires inter alia that the Executive is accountable to the people. For all practical purposes this means accountability to the electorate, either in an indirect way through parliamentary control, or in a direct way through referendums or new elections. Those who exercise public power have to be removable by the people by means of regular elections. Representation in conjunction with pluralism requires in this context effective guarantees that all segments of society (sexes, races, religions, national minorities etcetera) participate in government on an equal basis through general, free and secret elections, according to inexpensive, multi-party electoral procedures. The same holds true for participation in procedures of referendums or other consultations. Pluralism also requires, or rather presupposes, freedom of opinion, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom from discrimination in general.

• Moreover, it is a common feature of a representative and pluralistic democracy that the primacy of power rests with the representative and democratically elected body. That body must have the right to discuss, amend and adopt or rescind proposals for legislation, as well as the right of initiative to initiate new legislation. This holds true also, and a fortiori, in relation to the Constitution. In addition it must have the power of control (financially and otherwise) over the Executive, which therefore, depends for its legitimisation on the confidence of the democratically elected body.

• In the Council of Europe member States democracy is inseparable from the Rule of Law. Apart from judicial review the Rule of Law implies the hegemony of the law, in particular written or unwritten constitutional law. In relation to democracy this means that the form of government, the distribution of powers, the electoral system and basic political rights must be based on the law and can be changed only by law, through a constitutional and democratic procedure."
posted by jedicus at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, basically, as long as a government has the key, salient features of a democracy, then it doesn't matter if the head of state is an hereditary monarch.
posted by jedicus at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2010


People love repeating this canard, but it is not true.

Sorry about that, I should have put in a little more research before repeating that old line. Hopefully it has not completely side-tracked my point, it's a subject that sends me into a unfettered rage at times.

What part of the European Convention on Human Rights do you think this violates?

I'm not a European lawyer, but could it in some way violate the discrimination part? I know head of state is quite unlike most other jobs, in that there are never going to 'open interviews', but it still seems like a job.
posted by northerner at 8:35 AM on February 22, 2010


it's a subject that sends me into a unfettered rage at times.

But you are raging at a state of affairs that does not exist. I don't get it.

could it in some way violate the discrimination part?

What discrimination part? The full text of the convention is here. I think that in general you should do a little more research. No one expects that you understand all the finer points of European law but having a more articulable question would make for a more fruitful discussion.

As a practical matter, consider that if there were an effective way to remove the monarchy via the European Court of Human Rights, then (a) someone would have done it already, and (b) the monarchies never would have signed the Convention.
posted by grouse at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2010


You have an unelected prime minister too, by the way.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 8:54 AM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's a subject that sends me into a unfettered rage at times

Why? Seriously, being under the conceptual thumb of a (for all practical purposes) powerless figurehead monarch is not something that deserves unfettered rage. I get the feeling there's something else going on here, because while I can understand a principled argument against the monarchy, I can't understand attaching that much emotion to the issue. And I say that as a Canadian, who has the same relationship to Lizzie (albeit through a different title) as you do: A citizen of a Parliamentary Democracy with a powerless monarch on the money.
posted by fatbird at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2010


Could I have a case in the European Court of Human Rights against being subject to an unelected monarch?

Only if you have gone through all legal possibilities in your own jurisdiction first. And even then only if the European Court wants to treat your case [90% of the cases offered are not taken, because they lack acceptable grounds].

So, you're asking the wrong question.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2010


Look at a America. Immediately following 9/11, you couldn't criticize G.W. without being seen as unpatriotic. Because of this, a lot of bad laws were passed and a pointless war was started. Contrast this with England. You can criticize Tony Blair all you want. He's just a civil servant after all. The Queen represents the country. You don't criticize her any more than you'd criticize St George's Cross. So yes, the Queen does serve an important role. She let's the prime minster be judged solely on his or her actions and not on the rise and fall of patriotic fervor.
posted by malp at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like you I am anti-monarchy but bear in mind the following:

1. Who would you rather have as head of state - the Queen or the warmonger Blair (a possible alternative)? I know which I would rather have.
2. Several other EU states are also monarchies (Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Sweden). They seem to manage quite well and surely many of them have greater freedom than those with republican systems.
3. If our freedoms are being eroded, it is not by the monarchy but by unfettered government (using anti-terrorism as an excuse) and the seamier side of capitalism. The banks, for example, are a far greater threat to our freedoms than the monarchy. And so is Mandelson.
4. The ECHR on discrimination only applies for discrimination covered by the ECHR, e.g. the right to practise your religion, the right to privacy, etc. There is no right under the ECHR to be head of state.

Yes, let's get rid of the monarchy (and it will come up when the Queen dies) but there are more important fights.
posted by TheRaven at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I seem to have confused the ECHR discrimination with EU employment law. Although there are several mentions of democratic society (art. 6, 8, 9, 10 ,11) in the ECHR there is no right to democratic elections or an elected head of state and therefore discriminating anyone from this right (art. 14) is irrelevant.

I now wish I'd just gone for my original question on the lack of interest in republicanism, rather than than this attempt at a more provocative one. But thanks to everyone for your answers.
posted by northerner at 10:18 AM on February 22, 2010


the lack of interest in republicanism

I think that this is your problem – it's not that there's a lack of interest in republicanism; more that among people who are interested in republicanism (let's loosely assume – for obvious historical and political reasons – more of them fall on the left of the spectrum than the right) see that it's both a losing fight in the current political climate and that frankly, there are far more pressing issues for them to address when it comes to state power, social problems, injustice, the environment, the economy, manufacturing, global relations, and so on.

I say this as a lifelong socialist who'd happily see them all up against the wall come the revolution, but in all honesty? There are bigger problems to deal with. Much bigger problems.

Or what TheRaven said.
posted by Len at 10:30 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


We don't elect Prime Ministers in the UK, we elect Members of Parliament. Brown is an elected Member of Parliament (why do I have to keep sticking up for Gordon Brown? I don't even vote Labour)
posted by meosl at 10:31 AM on February 22, 2010


I think a lot of people do have some interest in being/becoming a republic, self included. But the reason they don't show it, or at least not to the extent that you clearly do, can probably be summed up in one word: pragmatism. Right now, the cost/benefit of removing the monarchy just doesn't add up - the benefits are little more than ideological, while there would be a very real cost in terms of infrastructure changes, political time spent, and probably loss of tourism revenue.

That equation may change in time - TheRaven is absolutely right that this will be a strong subject of debate when the Queen dies, and should the new King Charles (or King George, as I believe he's planning to call himself) try to flex his entirely theoretical political muscles at all, the mood in Parliament and in the country at large is likely to swing very quickly towards your way of thinking.
posted by ZsigE at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Several other EU states are also monarchies (Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Sweden).

Norway is not part of the EU.
posted by iviken at 12:15 PM on February 22, 2010


As a British subject I, and all my fellow subjects, are represented to the rest of the world by and unelected queen

The Queen doesn't run UK embassies abroad. The Queen doesn't negotiate the UK's interests within the EU, or within the UN. The Queen doesn't take the decision to send the UK to war, or lead troops into battle. The Queen doesn't take decisions on UK foreign policy. The elected UK Government and its Ministers, civil servants, diplomats and soldiers are who represents us to the rest of the world. Some non-Brits may associate the Queen with the UK and think she represents it, but that's their perception rather than the political or legal reality.
posted by greycap at 2:51 PM on February 22, 2010


If you're really looking for more detail on why people are/aren't republican, it's usually more widely discussed in Commonwealth countries, like Canada and Australia. Australia had a referendum on becoming a republic several years ago now and it failed - many of the arguments made are possibly relevant to the English positions as well.
posted by jacalata at 3:01 PM on February 22, 2010


« Older How do college professors sele...   |  What are the all-time best pie... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post