Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hilariousity of International Law (and the Stupidity of the EU)

The town of Limerick in Ireland is in trouble. It stands to fall below the EU-mandated population level of 50,000 residents needed for being designated a "city" under EU law. That designation is critical for obtaining EU funding, and if Limerick loses it status in a census being conducted this Sunday, it will lose the funding.

The problem is that Limerick's regional rugby team, Munster, is playing a critical match against Leinster in Dublin on Sunday (the census day), and as many as 20,000 of Limerick's 54,000 residents could be away watching the match. If even so many as 4,000, Limerick will not meet the EU standard for being a "city." The mayor of Limerick, Diarmuid Scully, is pleading with EU officials to relax their strict rules surrounding the census:

"Should the population drop below 50,000, then Limerick wouldn't be considered a city anymore by European standards, and we'd actually lose out in terms of European funding," [Scully] added.

Scully said census rules allowed forms to be completed on the following Monday morning, and he called on census officials to be lenient.

"I'm asking for a flexible interpretation of the morning -- let morning stretch throughout the day," he said. "Let it stretch until midnight."


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

FYI: similar sorts of administrative definitions (at once 'precising' and 'theoretical') and rules exist in municipal law for funding purposes, for instance, in determining which 'cities' qualify for federal housing funds (e.g., cities must meet specific criteria to qualify for federal grants for housing; the law will define what a city is in reliance on a population figure so as to differentiate it from a town or a village (the latter not included, for whatever reason, in this particular law). But one has to draw a line somewhere, and any line drawn in such situations will have an ineluctable element of arbitrariness. The important question is how much administrative discretion is allowed in applying such definitions and rules so as to show some practical or reasonable sensitivity to contingent yet relevant circumstance.... Incidentally, this has some relation to the so-called sorites paradox in philosophy.

So, I suppose now we can make fun of domestic legal systems inasmuch as the EU is hardly different in this respect from municipal law.

Michael said...

Why is this particular law stupid? I'm not trying to be facetious or anything like that. But, as Patrick above pointed out, someone has to draw the line somewhere.

Where would you draw the line on funding for cities? Would your own figure be less "stupid"? What criteria would you personally use?

Seth Weinberger said...

Michael: You're missing the point. As Patrick notes above, it's not a question of the law, but the flexibility of that law. It's fine for the EU to create laws governing the disbursement of funds, to tie those funds to the legal status of townships, and to create definitions of those townships.

The problem is not the law itself, but that the EU chose a poor day to "enforce" it and seemed to be unwilling to accomodate the unusual circumstances. The law as written has no meaning if it is based entirely on a anomolous event.

Michael said...

Out of all due repect, Seth, I didn't miss the point. I wrote the same thing as Patrick did.