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About this book

This new book provides a comprehensive analysis of Europe on the brink of political disintegration. Observers of the European Union (EU) could be forgiven for thinking that it is in a state of permanent crisis. The Union has been beset with high levels of Eurozone debt, Russian intervention and armed conflict in Ukraine, refugees fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, and the decision of Britain to leave the European Union. This text offers a concise and readable assessment of the dynamics, character and consequences of these four crises and the increasingly real possibility of European disintegration.

High levels of socio-economic interdependence and institutionalization have failed to result in an ever closer union, and yet the proposed theories of disintegration also fall short. Webber instead shows that it is only by looking at the role of the EU’s dominant member, Germany, in each crisis that the potential for an increasingly fragmented Europe becomes clear. Until now, Germany has been the EU’s stabilizing force but this is no longer guaranteed. The fate of the integration process will depend on whether other, more inclusive forms of stabilizing leadership may emerge to fill the vacuum created by Berlin’s incapacity.

This text is the ideal companion for upper undergraduate and postgraduate students of the European Union, as part of degrees in Politics, International Relations or European Studies, or for anyone interested in the crises of the European Union.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Is This Time Different?

Abstract
Observers of the European Union (EU) could be forgiven for thinking that the EU is in a state of permanent crisis. Since late 2009, when a newly elected Greek government announced that the country’s budget deficit was far higher than had previously been revealed, the EU has been managing a Eurozone (sovereign debt) crisis, which has occasionally seemed more acute and sometimes subsided. Since 2014, when popular protests overthrew the Ukrainian president, Russia invaded Crimea and armed conflict broke out between Russian-supported separatists and the Ukrainian army in the eastern regions of the country, the EU has been dealing with a ‘Ukraine crisis’ involving it in a confrontation with its largest and most powerful neighbouring state. In 2015, after the ‘Arab Spring’ that broke out in 2011 culminated in large-scale political violence and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East, especially in Syria, the sudden and rapid growth in the number of persons seeking to flee conflict zones in this region and migrate to Europe – by land or by sea – added a refugee crisis to the pre-existing ones and jeopardized the Schengen Area of borderless travel. While the EU was grappling with these crises, a fourth one developed over British membership of the EU after Prime Minister Cameron scheduled a popular referendum over the issue for June 2016. The referendum produced a 52 per cent majority in favour of withdrawal that the British government aimed to carry out by March 2019. The withdrawal of a member state, one of its three biggest, from the EU would be unprecedented.
Douglas Webber

Chapter 2. Explaining European Integration and Disintegration

Abstract
The crisis that the EU has been confronting since 2009 is uniquely profound in the history of European political integration. The fact that the EU surmounted numerous previous crises was thus no guarantee that it would emerge no less highly politically integrated from the current one. Historically, far more regional organizations have collapsed than survived (Mattli 1999: 12). Even states, typically far more cohesive entities, can disintegrate. Indeed, some of the EU’s own member states, notably the UK and Spain, are exposed to strong disintegrative pressures. It would be myopic and naïve simply to assume that the EU will avert the fate that has befallen so many other regional organizations and even some states.
Douglas Webber

Chapter 3. The Eurozone Crisis

Abstract
The Eurozone crisis is the oldest of the EU’s multiple crises. Its debut may be dated from October 2009, when a newly elected Greek government revealed that the government budget deficit that it inherited from its predecessor for that year would amount to 12.7 per cent of GDP rather than 6.7 per cent. During the following years, sovereign debt crises exploded in several other member states on the EU’s southern and western peripheries, including Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus, all of which suffered major economic recessions and growth in unemployment. The Eurozone survived these crises. Indeed, in 2018, it had three more member states than the 16 it had in 2009 (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). Moreover, it exhibited a higher level of political integration than in 2009, in as far as a Eurozone-wide bail-out fund, comparable in principle to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had been created, banking regulation had been shifted from the national to the EU level, and new steps had been taken to coordinate member states’ fiscal policies and restrict their budget deficits. Nonetheless, at several points post-2009, the Eurozone was on the verge of collapsing, at least in its existing composition, most recently in mid-2015, when Greece’s ejection from the Eurozone (‘Grexit’) (once again) became a very real prospect. The threat of a partial, if not complete, collapse of the Eurozone had not necessarily been banished permanently. Even the departing president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, the former Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, warned in 2018 that the Eurozone was still not ‘shock resilient’ (as quoted in Financial Times 2018a; for similar warnings, see also Enderlein et al. 2016: 10 and King 2016: 232–238, 338–347).
Douglas Webber

Chapter 4. The Ukraine Crisis

Abstract
While the Eurozone crisis was still unfolding, the robustness of the EU and European integration was also tested, from 2011 onwards, by a series of crises in its southern and eastern neighbourhoods. The most direct and acute of these for the EU arose on its eastern periphery, in and over Ukraine, where the decision of President Viktor Yanukovych in November 2013 not to proceed with an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU but rather to join a Russian-sponsored Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) provoked protests and demonstrations that culminated in his overthrow in February 2014. Russian president Vladimir Putin reacted to Ukraine’s subsequent westward pivot by invading, occupying and annexing Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954, and by providing military support to separatist movements in eastern Ukraine that took up arms against the central government in Kiev and still effectively controlled the Donbas region of the country in 2018. This amounted, in the view of one analyst of European security, to ‘arguably the most severe crisis of the 21st century in Europe’s neighbourhood’ (Howorth 2017: 133). The then German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called it the ‘most serious crisis’ in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall (as quoted in Der Spiegel 2014d). It was certainly the bloodiest and most destructive conflict in Europe since the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s (Davis Cross and Karolewski 2017: 4). By 2017, it had killed more than 10,000 people, wounded another almost 25,000 and made around 1.8 million Ukrainians refugees (Le Monde 2017d; OHCHR 2017: 6–7)
Douglas Webber

Chapter 5. The Schengen and Refugee Crisis

Abstract
Just as, in summer 2015, the Eurozone and Ukraine crises began to abate, the EU’s next crisis was rapidly intensifying. The roots of this new crisis lay primarily in the civil wars and political turmoil unleashed in parts of North Africa and the Middle East by the ‘Arab Spring’ that had commenced in Tunisia in January 2011. These conflicts provoked the flight of several million refugees, especially from Syria, into surrounding countries and regions, including, increasingly, to Europe. At stake in this crisis was an EU policy that, alongside the Euro, had had a more tangible impact on the lives of many EU citizens than any other, the free movement of persons across borders of the 22 EU and four other member states of the Schengen Area, named after a small town bordering on France and Germany in Luxembourg
Douglas Webber

Chapter 6. The Brexit Crisis

Abstract
With the outcome of the referendum staged on 23 June 2016 – which produced a 52 per cent majority in favour of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – the fourth crisis confronting the EU reached its provisional climax. The referendum result did not automatically and inevitably terminate the UK’s EU membership. However, it set in motion a train of events that would likely lead to this outcome. The prime minister who called the referendum, David Cameron, resigned the following day and was replaced by Theresa May, who, with the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’, committed to withdrawing the UK from the EU. In March 2017, the new prime minister activated Article 50 of the EU treaty, notifying the EU of the government’s intention to leave the organization within the next two years and initiating negotiations over the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. Scenarios under which the UK ended up remaining in the EU were still conceivable, as some observers speculated (e.g., Moravcsik 2016).
Douglas Webber

Chapter 7. Conclusions

Abstract
The process of European political integration has seldom flowed like a tranquil stream. Even before 2009, its history was punctuated with crises, some of which were more and others less severe (see Chapter 1). While some of these may have held up this process temporarily, ultimately, however, none had the effect of reversing it. The competences of the EU were extended into more and more policy domains, more and more states joined it, and the authority of the supranational organs vis-à-vis the member states steadily expanded. The unidirectional nature of the process – perhaps inevitably – spawned a great deal of theoretical reflection on the topic that suggested that European integration was fundamentally irreversible.
Douglas Webber
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