Friday, May 31, 2013

EU Integration: A Narrative.

           The European Union has undergone multiple distinct periods while undergoing a process of integration. Similar to States, the EU has been through periods of both strong and alternatively weak support. The birth and growth of the EU is a compelling story, one in which recent economic recession events will undoubtedly mark a chapter.
            To examine the motivations behind the existence of the EU of today, it is important to keep in mind the initial purpose behind the creation of the EU. After a second World War, in which hundreds of millions of Europeans perished and destruction occurred on a level never before seen, the individual nations of Europe understood the urgency of ensuring that this level of loss and conflict never happen again. After the failure of the loosely united League of Nations formed in response to World War I, the nations of Europe understood the need to create something more binding than a traditional international alliance or collection of treaties. To achieve this end, the six most powerful nations of Western Europe pooled their heavy national resources into the collective European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. Thus coal and steel, two primary supplies needed by a nation engaged in warfare, were under the collective control of the community. This successful cooperation led to the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which solidified the arrangement into the European Economic Community. The optimism of this period was high for academic analysts at the time. Neo-functionalism emerged and sought to explain the actions of Western nations as stemming from their goals within the EC, highlighting that transnational benefits would become increasingly apparent to States and on both the national and international level States would seek to increase their participation and cede more decision making powers to the EC. This period of integration optimism, in which it was expected that "political spill-over" would result in enhanced integration (Pollack, 18) came to a screeching halt with the first major crisis the EC faced.
            The "Empty Chair Crisis" stemmed from Charles De Gualle taking issue with proposals from the Commission that were in line with the EC's ever-expanding role and influence over national actors. As a result, France boycotted all European institutions, which at the time required unanimous participation to accomplish anything. Charles De Gaulle's distrust of supranationalism dealt a hard blow to European integration and the optimistic perception of an ever-increasing EC.  Though this incident was finally resolved in 1966 by the Luxembourg compromise, it marked the beginning of the "Doldrums Era" in European integration.
            The Doldrums Era lasted until the mid 1980's, and were marked by the perception that States were still acting in their own best interests, as advocated by the new school of Intergovernmentalism at the time (which emphasized that European States interacted with one another internationally, but not as a part of a larger transnational framework or political structure envisioned by neo-functionalists) (Pollack, 19). Thus, the fate of the eventual EU looked bleak, and many scholars left the field of study altogether. Still, this era allowed perhaps for a more realistic understanding that nations still strongly valued their sovereignty, and acted rationally with their own interests in mind, as held by the emerging concept of Liberal Intergovernmentalism. Then, along with the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the old divisions of states into communist and anti-communist groups, the EU experienced a brand new wave of unprecedented growth.
            Shortly after the end of the Cold War, Eastern European nations began to join the EU. This was a drastic change to the previously Western-dominated power structure of the EU, and with the new, smaller Eastern countries came several new pro-integration ideas and demands for a voice of their own in the international forum of the EU. Thus, Eastern States saw the opportunity for their voice to be heard and to shape policy within Europe, and were particularly receptive to institutional change by the vacuum created from the fall of Soviet prop governments. They sought to strengthen and foster greater integration within the EU, even as member states such as France and England raised occasional objections.
            This overview of the EU concludes with a look at the present financial (and governmental) crisis shaking Europe. Starting with the financial crisis of 2007-8 and then the recession in the US , the interconnected EU market soon suffered the effects as well. These problems became urgent with the collapse of the Greek economic situation in a sea of debt, and later the governments of Spain, Italy and Ireland (which, though not as bad as Greece showed dramatic increases in unemployment and were considered to be high risk for defaulting). Some are debating whether Germany will continue to be willing to "bail-out" these other member states, and whether or not the EU will financially collapse under the strain of the present recession.
            These fears are unfounded. As discussed above, the EU has already survived numerous 'hiccups' on its road toward ever-increasing integration. Similar financial difficulties were faced and survived in the 1970's. Later this week Italy is coming off the "at-risk" list for default as it re-organizes its debt and institutes necessary measures to achieve financial responsibility. Other nations will follow suit, although it may take some time. Departure from the EU now would only increase the economic uncertainty plaguing many member states, and would make no sense for any rational political actor. Still, the recession and current crisis is already having an impact on the way debt and now "euro-bonds" are organized, and will likely leave the EU changed once it emerges from the present situation.


  1. A good post Ryan -- I like the fact that you highlight two key moments in the history of the EU in mentioning the "Crisis of the Empty Chair" as well as the end of the Cold War. Both were critical moments in which not only the institutions of the EU changed, but in which all actors involved reflected on the role and purpose of the EU in greater depth than during the regular day-to-day operation of the Union.

    Drawing on your narrative and on what we know about how the EU has weathered prior crises, how might you expect the EU to change as it negotiates this current crisis?

  2. Although the more financially secure EU members seem to be protesting the "bailout" of the financially insecure member States at the moment, and thus the institutions of the EU generally, I actually think the EU will come out stronger from the current crisis.

    Since the dissolution of the EU really isn't a feasible option, I think the EU collectively will insist that additional mechanisms be put in place in member states (like Greece and Spain) to ensure that debt can't grow out of control and spending stays reasonable. The organization I work is a platform of NGOs and has been monitoring new austerity measures, which are insisting on more financial "responsibility." Particularly because the EU's influence over member states seems to be at its strongest in the area of economic control and integration (on which it was founded), I think it's realistic to expect the EU to start insisting on some measures that will (attempt to) prevent another recession from occurring and thus strengthen the EU's collective control over individual economies. If anything, the crisis shows just how interdependent these economies are on one another, and the failure of one hurts the collective whole.

  3. I was actually curious, do you know of any measures put in place as a result of the recession in the 70's?

    1. I don't know if this was in direct response to the recession but in 1970 and in 1975 member states had given more power to the European Parliament under the Budgetary Treaty. The 1975 Budgetary Treaty also created a new Court of Auditors, if that helps.

      I agree that the EU has already managed to overcome financial crisis in the past so it should be resilient enough now to overcome the current financial situation. I think, as you stated, that for states seeking accession in the future, the EU will need to develop new financial standards of entry so as to avoid another bail out situation that seems to be a burden for the other member states. The EU will also need to adjust it current financial policies in that all businesses in member states will be able to compete on an even playing field instead of the current asymmetrical competition occurring today.

    2. Rachel is right that the 1975 Budgetary Treaty and Court of Auditors stemmed, at least in part, from the economic crises of the 1970s. A general concern with debt levels and inflation persisted well past the 70s such that these concerns also informed the criteria for accession to the Currency Union (initially outlined in the 1986 Single European Act, which we will discuss in more detail later this week).