10

May

2016

Crisis and Adjusting to European Diversity

Written by: Damian Chalmers

 
Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 9.05.34 AM

If European integration is to endure successfully, there will have to be a number of changes. Damian Chalmers explores these.

 

Crisis has historically been the making of the European Union. The oil price crises of the 1970s and the decline in European competitiveness arguably contributed to the formation of the single market. The volatility provoked by the liberalisation of capital in the 1980s performed a similar role with regard to the formation of the euro, and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and its accompanying refugee crisis formed the context for the formation of the area of freedom, security and justice.

Crises may now, however, be the undoing of the European Union. The sovereign debt crisis rolls on. If marked by fewer eye-catching ‘who blinks first’ moments, its remorseless social consequences continue relatively unabated. There is now the refugee crisis. In among the human misery, the Schengen Agreement can found fraying as State after State invokes the security provisions which allow them to erect temporary internal borders recurrently. On the horizon lie the problems of the European Union’s banks. Many are weak with little money to save them if a rise in bad debts debilitates them further.

Familiar attempts are made to manage the problems. Proposals are made by EU Institutions for greater central capacity and stronger policing and oversight of national policies. The need for problems to be resolved more effectively are reasserted ever more shrilly. However, these proposals are increasingly hollow. Despite grandiose proposals for European Treasuries and the like, the sovereign debt crisis has resulted in little institutional reforms in the last four years and weak compliance with the commitments to run balanced budgets. Equally, EU attempts to manage the integration and resettlement of refugees have dealt only with a small fraction of those entering the Union. These half-hearted reforms have been adopted against a steady drum beat of popular discontent and mistrust of the Union, marked most emblematic by the Dutch referendum rejecting an Association Agreement with Ukraine and the knife-edge forecasts for the British referendum on EU membership.

A new volume with contributions from economists, lawyers, philosophers and political scientists argues that this debacle cannot be put down to the European Union having to deal with a turbulent environment. (D. Chalmers, M. Jachtenfuchs and C. Joerges (eds) The End of the Eurocrats’ Dream: Adjusting to European Diversity (2016, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).) Such turbulence is not, after all, a new phenomenon. It argues that many of the difficulties can be attributed to more persistent features of the European Union.  The unattended accumulation of these has combined with the extension of Union intervention into more sensitive policy fields to create the perfect storm.

These features include a preoccupation with scale. Bigger is better within the EU with bigger often deemed as going a long way to resolving matters. There has been excessive reliance on law as a regulatory tool, with all its rigidities, but insufficient respect for the law as a check on EU institutional power. Interdependence has been emphasised at the expense of heterogeneity and as a substitute for sensitivities and complexities of particular phenomena. A culture of mutual accommodation at the EU level and between EU Institutions and national executives has too often led to difference being massaged away and dissenting voices being marginalised.

These features include a preoccupation with scale. Bigger is better within the EU with bigger often deemed as going a long way to resolving matters. There has been excessive reliance on law as a regulatory tool, with all its rigidities, but insufficient respect for the law as a check on EU institutional power. Interdependence has been emphasised at the expense of heterogeneity and as a substitute for sensitivities and complexities of particular phenomena. A culture of mutual accommodation at the EU level and between EU Institutions and national executives has too often led to difference being massaged away and dissenting voices being marginalised.

If European integration is to endure successfully, the volume suggests a number of changes.

The functional logic of integration should be discarded. Extra-territorial externalities or the promise of collective goods through collective action – be it the euro, the single market or the Schengen area – should not be sufficient to justify EU competence. This logic is open-ended, obscures the here-and-now and the small scale, and crushes other ways of seeing the world.

Secondly, the European Union should be less concerned with problem-solving and managerialism. European Union measures will inevitably generate winners and losers. It should, therefore, develop more robust processes for accommodating conflict and contestation.

Thirdly, there needs to be greater respect for domestic constitutional processes, political identities, traditions and laws. These are too often trivialised as narrow and parochial. There is no reason to assume that they do not advance goods as important as those in EU law. A more flexible relationship between EU and national law is necessary in which the former is not always presumed to trump the latter.

Fourthly, European integration needs to be less asymmetric. There is currently intense integration in some policy fields and much less in others. This leads to all kinds of imbalances and problems of coordination, whereby EU policies restrict and destabilise national choices in other fields, whilst these choices, in turn, will impair the effectiveness of EU policies. Intense monetary integration has, therefore, simply constrained domestic choices in other fields of policy-making, it has also made coordination between these different policy fields extremely difficult.

Finally, there needs to be more room for differentiation. This is not simply the differentiation advocated by those who wish that not all EU States participate in all EU policies. It is a differentiation borne from acknowledgment that formally identical EU laws and policies will, by dint of their differing situations, affect the various Member States and their societies in a variety of ways. It is right that their responses should be able to reflect this, and that this should be balanced against alleged gains from conformity.

The End of the Eurocrats’ Dream

Enjoyed reading this article? Share it today:

About the Author: Damian Chalmers

Damian Chalmers is Professor of European Union Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science....

View the Author profile >
 

Latest Comments

Have your say!