One deep crisis after another. Will EU project survive?

Russia-Ukraine, Grexit, possible Brexit, refugee crisis, Paris attacks… One deep crisis after another. What is the EU’s capacity to make it? Do we have the capacity? Read few comments

Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Director of European and Eurasian Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University

This pattern of repeated crisis has been unfolding for a long time.  My argument is that what we are going through now is characteristically different from what Europe experienced in the past.  The reason is that past crises tended to be isolated in one area of activity; Europe could always make progress somewhere else.  I give a number of examples in the JCMS article.  The pattern is very clear.  Integration is a multidimensional process and that multidimensional nature of the project is the key to its resilience.  This is true for the multiple and overlapping institutions as well.  We tend to think of the EU as Europe.  It is not.  Europe is also NATO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and a host of other organizations both large and small.  This institutional diversity is also a factor for resilience.  Even if one organization is struggling, another can pick up the slack.  Just think for a minute about the juxtaposition of the Eurosclerosis in the European Community and the influence of the Helsinki Final Act.

Things are different now because the many different areas of integration are interacting as crisis in one area spills over into the rest.  This is not the spill-over that was supposed to add momentum to the integration process in a neo-functional sense.  This is the opposite of that.  And the disintegrative power is building as the number of crises increases and the negative feedback mechanisms spread.  You could see that already in the mid-2000s with the conflict over the Constitutional Treaty and the turmoil within NATO.  That was the argument in my 2004 article.  It is much worse now.  This dynamic will only stop under the influence of strong leadership.  It will require an inspiring vision of Europe as well.  That vision matters because the people of Europe have to believe in the process – they have to believe in the EU, NATO, the ECHR, OSCE and all the rest.  They also have to see how much better off we are with these institutions than we would be without them.  That is a complicated argument.  It will take a great communicator to make it persuasively.  Unfortunately many of the best communicators are making the opposite case.  They are making much simpler arguments about how much better life would be if we could retreat back to the primacy of national sovereignty.  That argument pulls people away from Europe, alas.  I worry about that as well.

Heidi Maurer, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

The big question: does the European Union manage to get out of this mess. The simple answer in my view: if member states manage to decide to do so, they will.

Especially during the past few years there was a lot of discussion that the EU should only be active, when there is an added value that single member states could not achieve on their own. In this regard, apart from the flawed Euro-construction, it is those current crises that provide an important test case: can the political construct of close collaboration, negotiation and support between member states provide the added value in response to such “external events”?

Because the question is very broad, some necessary considerations

1.  What capacity is possible in the 21st century governance environment

We have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that the EU should/can achieve what is simply not possible anymore: to keep control and govern. So many researchers and observers kept talking about this governance turn that we saw at the end of 2000, this idea that it is about shaping the world in a network like system where states are still important but not the hierarchical linchpins anymore that control all the flows of state and society interactions. And perhaps it is only now that we all have to grasp the real implications of this governance turn: that in the current circumstances it is not possible for governments anymore to control everything. They have to skilfully manage and steer, but they are not capable of providing this government function in the same manner.

2. What capacity is needed to solve current issues

How to influence third countries in a manner that they become and do what we want them to do – that was and keeps being the big question of international relations. And the general conclusion seems to be: it depends and it is complex. Neither politicians nor academics like to say this out load, because people like structure and causal relationships. This gives the feeling of being in control. Just that the world does not work like this anymore (see point 1).

To make it even more difficult the not so “new” challenges are not about third states or the aggression of third states. This finding is not new at all, but the current situation shows again how difficult it is for governments to find a reaction. In a less structured world those non-state-like entities add even more unstructuredness.

So what about the EU in all of this? Again difficult to give a straightforward answer without some considerations

3. Reflex coordination

EU member states struggle to find a consensus to all the issues on the table. One of the last JHA council clearly showed this. But, what we also see is that member states automatically check for their European partners and use the EU structures to consider policy options. And we cannot forget that there are 28 member states and a couple of institutions around the table –we should perhaps be more surprised of how much decisions and compromises are actually agreed upon.

And not only EU governments also people look for the EU to solve the problems. Perhaps not because they trust the EU to be the new authority above the member states that is capable to provide a solution. Perhaps more because they do not trust national problem solving capacities, perhaps they do not actually care who solves problems as long as someone pretends to have a solution. People are dissatisfied with the slow speed and indecisiveness that the EU reacts – but that still means that they consider the EU as a reference point.

4. Does the EU have a choice?

Taking those considerations into account, it is not a question if the EU has the capacity. Certainly it has the capacity to act if EU member states decide so.

Does the EU have the capacity to solve the Syria conflict. No, but nobody seems to have at the moment.

Does the EU have the capacity to stop the refugee flow. No, but there is no alternative then manage this situation in the best possible manner.

Does the EU have the capacity to prevent future terrorist attacks. No, no state can fully prevent, but again the EU can be the tool to help member states to do as much as they can do.

In my view, the latter is the crucial factor: lots of shaky governments in Europe, and if some of them decide that they can tackle the issues on their own, then this is their choice. But we can then not blame the EU.

Manuel Muñiz, DPhil in International Relations Candidate, Oxford University

I think the EU will make it and will come out stronger. If you look at the history of EU integration you find that major steps forward were taken only after crises or shocks. The EU as a project moves forward from crisis to crisis. So the Paris attacks will probably lead to better coordination of counterterrorism policies across the EU, the concentration of security powers at the EU level, perhaps a more sophisticated EU intelligence gathering capability etc etc. The refugee crisis will quite probably produce a common asylum policy and a reinforcement of Frontex. This does not mean the progress will be easy or straightforward but I have no doubt as to the direction. If you look at the Eurozone crisis, which many thought would be the end of the Euro, the same happened: out of the crisis emerged more Europe (a reinforced Eurozone governance and a Banking Union among other things).

Brexit is an entirely different matter as it is domestic in nature and self-inflicted by one of the EU’s members. I think the UK will not leave in the end as it would be so clearly against the country’s strategic interests.



2 Responses

  1. […] Source: One deep crisis after another. Will EU project survive? […]

  2. Very well said

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