Where is the European project headed?

This is a slightly revised version of an early Europundit entry that I thought deserved a second life.

What will enlargement mean?

There has been a lot of talk lately [back in May at least] about what the long-term consequences of enlargement will be, and also about the rift that the Iraq war has caused in Europe. Some people, especially Americans have been saying there’s a risk of crisis, and that the Union will become divided and dysfunctional. There’s one in my estimate strong indication that they’re wrong: Look at the Convention. Divisions have not at all been on the lines of “old” or “new” Europeans, but between small and big states and between intergovernmentalists and supranationalists. The actors have taken positions out of what they think is right, and what they perceive is in their interest. And that’s how things will continue to be.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy have been weakened, but no one has ever imagined nations would take common positions on every issue. I think the Convention also demonstrates there’s a lot of agreement, and a strong will to work together and move forward. Integration and reform has been continued at a rapidly accelerated pace. If the issues of division of power between institutions, between the nations, and the future shape of the EU aren?t causing paralysis, why would fishing disputes or whatever?

There’ll probably be friction between France and the Central Europeans, but what people have missed is that the group of eight’s letter was not the only cause of divisions, but mostly something that brought divisions to the surface. In my opinion, it’s not so much because of any particular irreconcilable differences; rather it’s part of a long-term trend. Starting about five years ago nations stopped deciding almost everything by unanimity. This has to do with the growing number of members and with the increase of decisions taken on the EU level. Indeed, it’s also because national sensitivities have decreased, and issues aren’t looked at only from the national perspective or as national horse-trading, so therefore acceptance has grown of majority voting. Also, the group of eight’s letter was a reaction to French-German hegemonic tendencies, but remember the reaction was because the French-German engine had been revived after being dead 1997-2002. Changing alliances aren’t an impediment to progress or “ever closer union.”

So what we will see is these trends continuing, and being reinforced by, enlargement and further integration. More open divisions, and factionalism, but not so much divisions between any set camps, rather division on an issue-for-issue basis, and not so much one nor two power centers, though France-Germany still will be a power center in many instances. And, I don’t think it will put any brakes on integration.

Ever Closer Still

The last six or eight years saw these trends starting, and at the same time integration has not just continued, but at an accelerating pace. These were also the years of the Commission losing power and initiative to the Council (the national governments.) Integration is not driven by ideology or by some long-term federalist strategy. Rather, it’s the product of a thousand smaller decisions. Rather, it’s driven by “historical forces”, by a situation where every further step makes sense, by a self-reinforcing logic, and because there are no significant factors acting to slow or stop integration.

By the evidence of the Convention, plus my general knowledge of the Candidate countries, I don?t see enlargement seriously working against these trends, though if the constitution will be a drastic step, it may cause a temporary breathing pause. I don’t see anything else seriously slowing the process either in the foreseeable future. (Granted, in these matters, that’s hardly longer than a decade as I see it.)

That begs the question when will it stop? I don’t think this gradualist, often not noticed by the public, process can’t possibly continue to the point where suddenly we find ourselves citizens of a federal state. At some point something’s gots to give. When and how that will happen, I have no idea. Everything about the EU’s development is so gloriously uncertain and unprecedented, which is why it’s so fascinating.

(Actually, things are already changing, integration is no longer mostly by stealth or couched in bureaucratic terms, and there is a debate about what the final goal is.)

I started out sounding like I defended the EU from its detractors and now I sound almost like a eurosceptic. I should note that one explanation for the success of “Ever closer union” is that it simply makes sense, because of increasing interdependence et cetera. But the problem is, no one bothered involving the public, or at least didn’t succeed.

3 thoughts on “Where is the European project headed?

  1. One thing that interests me is how the arrival of the new countries will alter the current alliances within the EU. Many American, and to a lesser extent, British commentators have suggested that it will dilute the degree of influence held by the Franco-German axis. The problem is that on many issues the converse may be more likely; Hungary and Poland are likely to side with France over the common agricultural policy, for example. As a point of speculation, Poland becoming part of the Franco-German axis seems as likely an outcome as the American prediction.

  2. “Americans have been saying there’s a risk of crisis, and that the Union will become divided and dysfunctional”

    This is why I think it is crucial to maintain the euro/EU distinction. There may well be more disagreement and/or problems with the common currency, but I don’t see the EU heading for crisis. Arguments and debates, of course. But isn’t this normal and healthy. Alignments and re-alignments, again ditto.

    Will the Franco/German axis decline. Possibly. Will the UK find a better way, post Iraq, of involving itself, I hope so. Will the little countries rebel, I hope so too etc etc.

    One important thing is that whatever the short term ‘tiffs’ we are unlikely to see rupture. Just like Argentina and the IMF, who no matter how often they say ‘agreement is impossible’ still get back together to talk. Both of the parties need each other. We Europeans likewise.

  3. A disenmantlement of the EU is highly unlikely, at least not in the next couple of decades. Seccession by one or more disgruntled member states is more likely than the whole union disbanding.

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