Friday, May 31, 2013

EU narrative

         There are many ways to potentially describe the “story” of European integration.  In attempting to create my own narrative about the rise of the EU, I think it is important to make a broad and perhaps overly simplistic distinction between the initial phases of integration and the actual functioning of the EU.  While these two phases are clearly inextricably linked and others might disagree with me, I think that the distinction is important as I would argue that the roots of the formation of the EU can primarily be traced back to the effects of the second world war but that understanding how and why it operates can be understood through a more theoretically oriented framework.
            I don’t think any story about the increasing levels of European integration can be complete without examining World War II.  To a great extent, I would argue that WWII led to a heightened fear of the dangers of extremist nationalism while also highlighting, in painfully tangible detail, the horrors of war to Europe’s citizens.  Creating a system to avoid such a conflict in the future was of the utmost importance as “for France and Germany…finding a way to live together in a durable peace was a fundamental political priority.” (Pinder, 1)  The formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)/European Economic Community (ECC) represented great strides in this direction. 
Although there were economic incentives to form these communities, the ultimate aim was to eliminate war with the hope being that “solidarity in production” would make “any war between France and Germany…not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” (Schuman declaration, 1.)  After experiencing the destructive capabilities of warfare, European states sought a way out.  While some may argue that “WWII is receding into a more distant past” I think it is also true that “the motive of peace and security…remains a powerful influence on governments and politicians.” (Pinder, 3.)  I would thus argue that the foundations of EU can be traced to the necessity of peace and the opportunity to enact real change.
            The second part of my narrative of EU integration follows the creation of the ECSC and the ECC in the 1950s and involves the official formation and functioning of the EU after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.  I think some important question to ask here include:

1) why does the EU work?
 2) how does it work?, and
3) how has it changed it over time?

All of these questions could well be answered with dissertations and there are many potential avenues of explanation.  For example, Pinder and Schuman argue the “two main ways of explaining” (Pinder, 6) the rise of the EU are, respectively, tied to the degree of emphasis placed on the role of states versus institutions.  Other authors take more micro-level approaches in analyzing changes within the EU over time by focusing on the role of political parties or understandings of what governance means to member states. (Goetz et al., 9-10.)
            Personally, I would explain the functioning of the EU through the neo-liberalism IR theory.  That is, states have joined the EU out of self-interest and but have become tied together through institutional links, specifically the benefits of economic and security cooperation.  In terms of what history suggests for the current economic and governance crisis in the EU, I would remain cautiously optimistic as I don’t think states will lose sight of its (real or perceived) necessity. 


  1. I like your explanation of the EU using the neo-liberalist theory. Even though I could use some brushing up on my IR theory, I wonder if and/or when the conflict between member state power and EU institutional power will become insurmountable.

    In my mind, I continually compare it to the situation in the US of states vs. federal powers, however in Europe it is very different. These nations were independent long before the Union was created. In my mind, this would make it harder for them to accept a "federal" power, however some states (Belgium and Italy according to Pinder & Usherwood) heartily welcome it.

    Could it be that there may always be intergovernmentalists and federalists within the EU- one constantly balancing the other out?

    1. A good question Cassandra -- I'm curious as to what others think about this. I touched on similar themes in my response to Grant (below), as well, so please feel free to chime in on those questions as well.

    2. I actually really like Cassandra's comparison of the EU to the US states vs. federal debate - that hadn't crossed my mind and is really interesting. I would think that many of the same questions that arise in the US related to the capabilities of the states vs. the government can be directly applied to the EU.

      I think that there will always be outside calls for more nationalistic policies within each member state. The other day I was at a meeting where a British politician essentially said that the EU was alienating itself from the rest of the world and that it would be wise for the UK to leave! However, he was treated very derisively and I got the sense this was an old and tired speech of his that others have learned to ignore. In the end, I think the benefits of cooperation will ensure the EU's existence but there will always be those who demand, even to the detriment of their state, higher degrees of autonomy because of nationalism.

    3. The analogy between the EU and the US federal system is instructive in many ways. However, there is one *fundamental* difference that prevents us from carrying the analogy too far...can anybody identify what that one key difference is? It is actually pretty central to the current crisis and discussions about the way forward for the EU...

    4. I'm not sure what the answer is that you're looking for - is it that the EU does not have a popularly elected President? While true that there is a President of the Council/Commission/Parliament, there is no true center of power as there is in the US?

    5. The real key difference in terms of the distinction between a federal system like the US and a supranational organization like the EU lies in the fact that the EU, despite a high level of integration among members states, does not a have a full *fiscal* union. Yes, there is the ECB, a common currency, and a limited system for financing lagging areas (regional funds, etc.) but debts (bonds) are still issued on a national basis and are not held collectively. Ultimately, this prevents the massive kinds of fiscal transfers (e.g. things like the New Deal in the US in the 30s) that often are necessary to both stabilize a union and instill confidence in the debt held by the union itself, not its constituent parts.

      Perhaps not surprisingly, discussions of closer shared economic governance have been at the heart of the EU response to the current crisis...and a few have mentioned, though only tentatively, the idea of a fiscal union (it would entail much more than just EuroBonds!). Does that make sense?

  2. A good post, Grant! Your emphasis on the way that WWII shaped ideas and created the political and material conditions for integration is important. There were certainly discussions of European integration, European identity, pan-European political cooperation, etc., prior to WWII, but it was the war and its aftermath (including significant pressure for economic and political coordination from the US) that brought those ideas to fruition. In that sense, the Schuman declaration quote that you mention is very important -- Germany and France were not just signing up to the idea of European integration, but they were *materially binding* themselves together through the ECSC. That is actually a *tremendous* step when you think about it -- agreeing to shared use of a critical resource that was central to the arms-making capacity of each state (and thus central to each state's national sovereignty).

    The question I have for you (and everybody else, for that matter), especially in light of your application of neo-liberalism in understanding the current shape and purpose of the EU, is whether state sovereignty is necessarily 0-sum or finite? In other words, does binding a state to the institutions of the EU necessarily result in the diminution of state sovereignty? Are there ways in which binding a state to the institutions of a supranational organization like the EU might *enhance* state sovereignty?

  3. This question about whether or not binding a state to institutions in the EU results in a loss of sovereignty is a very good one. In answering it, I think I would take the middle road and say that while joining the EU might result in some diminution in sovereignty, it also enhances the visibility and capabilities of smaller member states that might otherwise be overlooked.

    It seems to me that the primary area where states lose a certain degree of sovereignty is related to economics, primarily due to the EU's internal market that binds the states together and limits their abilities to act independently. On the other hand, joining the EU can accentuate the powers of smaller states and allow for a certain degree of national interest articulation that is often tied to state sovereignty.

    There are a number of examples within the EU that demonstrate how smaller states are allowed a voice. Perhaps most notable of these is the Lisbon treaty, which gave more powers to the EU parliament and, according to Pinder, dealt with "those 'asymmetric shocks' that have an uneven impact on member states." Another thing that I have learned here that I find very interesting is that the Presidency of the European Council rotates every 6 months, allowing states to place leaders in a position of great importance and high visibility while also ensuring that both small and large states can do so. So, to sum up, I do think that state sovereignty is somewhat limited in terms of economics (this may not be a bad thing for the EU) but accentuated in other areas by promoting a greater deal of equality between states.

  4. I agree with your view of the current crisis, if the EU had a financial facebook status, I think it would be "Cautiously optimistic."

    I also favor the Neo-Liberalism theory, and analyzed the evolution of EU integration through popular IR theories. Perhaps we are both partial to this one because it is one of the more recent theories and seems more in line with the more recent directional changes in the EU. I think that State actors act with their own interests at heart and independently, but also through the EU when it serves their purposes.

    Cassandra, my comment on your post actually touched on that a bit. I could definitely see there always being parties tugging on both directions, federalists and anti-federalists, which still exists even in the United States. I think the EU is a sort of constant line-drawing balancing act, with party preferences and shifting key issues and political landscapes ultimately resulting in the EU taking a particular direction. As I'm sure Emily and Rachel can attest to, it seems anything but smooth and non-confrontational...