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About this book

Since its inception the European Union has been a fiercely contested and politically divisive project. In recent years, controversial issues such as EU enlargement, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and the fallout from the Eurozone crisis have tested the EU to its limits and divided public opinion in the process.

This innovative volume brings together leading scholars from around the world to debate the nature, current state and future of European integration. The contributors represent the whole spectrum of thinking about the European Union, ranging from pro-European to openly Eurosceptic perspectives. Within the book, chapters present two opposing perspectives on a wide range of controversies. Among the issues discussed are: how efficient is the European Union? Has the European project been a success? Will the Eurozone survive in its present state? And can the EU tame big finance? Guaranteed to illuminate as well as spark debate, this text provides an engaging and incisive overview of the most important issues in contemporary EU politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Key Controversies In European Integration

In mid-2005, French and Dutch voters rejected a proposal for a European Constitution that had taken the member states of the European Union (EU) many years to negotiate. The resounding ‘No’ by two of the founding nations of the EU immediately gave rise to a vivid debate on the pros and cons of the European project. Had this visionary and unparalleled achievement in international cooperation, which promised to overcome the pattern of state rivalry characterizing Europe since the Middle Ages, come to an undignified halt? Was this the beginning of the end of an experiment which was presented by European leaders as a shining example to other regions of the world? Or was the vote just a temporary lull in a continuous process of reform? Many detractors have likened the EU to a bicycle which can only work as long as it is in motion.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

1. The European Union: Success or Failure?

Is the European Union a success or a failure? Responses to this question could not be more different. For a long time, the EU had been celebrated and presented as a model for the rest of the world. It has been credited with peace and prosperity in Europe. In the early 1950s, when the origins of the current union were laid with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Europe had just emerged from World War II. Germany and France had fought three major wars in less than a century. Only five years after the end of World War II, the two countries agreed to pool the production of coal and steel and thus make any future wars less likely. Moreover, the shattered economies of the countries participating in the ECSC and then the European Economic Community (EEC) experienced high growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s, allowing Europeans to catch up, in terms of economic strength, with the United States. The EU also claims a long series of successful transitions of accession countries to democracy. Many of the newer member states did not have a long tradition of democracy when entering the EU. Nevertheless, their political systems have stabilized, with as of now no country backsliding into outright dictatorship.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

3. The Political Efficiency of the EU

In 1988, German political scientist Fritz Scharpf published a seminal article (Scharpf, 1988) in which he argued that the EU was characterized by a situation which is typical of many federal systems: it had fallen into a ‘joint decision trap’ in which the need for consensus and unanimous decision- making among a large number of member states and institutions at the supranational level would systematically hinder innovation and lead to suboptimal compromise arrangements. Simplified versions of Scharpf’s arguments have been part and parcel of many popular critiques of the European Union ever since its foundations. From legendary French President de Gaulle’s 1962 denunciation of European bureaucrats as faceless legislators, speaking in an incomprehensible ‘Volapük’ language, to more recent attacks against EU regulatory policies in Europe’s popular press, the efficiency of the EU has been and is a popular target of criticism. Successive US administrations have chafed under slow decision-making by Europeans. Industry associations lament the byzantine structures of EU institutions. The euro crisis of 2010/2011 demonstrated only too clearly the limited enforcement capacity of the EU against rule breakers.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

3. More Powers for Brussels or Renationalization?

One question has been at the forefront of research on the EU ever since its creation: would there be a steady shift of authority away from member states and towards the supranational institutions or would member states retain or even claim back their powers? The neofunctionalist theory of European integration was the first response given to this question: its proponents expected that national actors would increasingly shift their loyalties and expectations away from the national level and towards the new centre set up in Brussels (Haas, 1958). It did not take long for intergovernmentalists to respond that national governments would not be willing to give up their control of the speed and direction of integration (Hoffmann, 1966). The debate gained particularly broad attention with the acceleration of the process of European integration in the late 1980s, this time pitting supranationalists (Sandholtz and Zysman, 1989) against liberal intergovernmentalists (Moravcsik, 1998).
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

4. How Democratic is the EU?

Talk about the EU’s democratic deficit started in the mid-1980s, in the midst of the implementation of the single-market programme. The fear arose that this programme involved a step change in the integration process that would undermine democratic accountability at the memberstate level without providing any compensation for this loss through improved forms of democratic oversight of policy-making at the EU level. The failed referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in Denmark (1992) was the first visible rejection of EU policies by an electorate. Ever since, the critics have denounced a shift in power away from national parliaments and towards national governments and the Commission, as a result of European integration (for example, Føllesdal and Hix, 2006; Weiler, 1991). The EU’s decision-making rules foresee that policies are first elaborated by the Commission, a bureaucracy that is not subject to electoral control. When these policies then are debated by national governments in the Council of Ministers, a lack of transparency impedes control by national electorates. Moreover, the critics argue that the only directly elected institution at the European level, the European Parliament, lacks the powers to counterbalance the Commission and Council in the decision-making process.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

5. Too Much Power for the Judges

For a long time, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), founded along with the other core EU institutions in the 1950s and seated in the tiny Duchy of Luxembourg, has operated below the radar of public consciousness. Since the 1990s, however, researchers, and increasingly also European politicians and citizens, have realized how consequential the rulings of this court are. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) consists of a Court of Justice, a General Court and a Civil Service Tribunal. The CJEU is now recognized as the ‘most effective supranational judicial body’ (Stone Sweet, 2004: 1) that ever existed. To a varying extent, it has jurisdiction over the entire range of EU policies. The existence of an effective court is indispensable in a Community of 28 member states which often manage only to agree on vague compromises, leaving the interpretation of the details to lawyers. Convinced that strict adherence to agreed laws and rules is necessary for the functioning of a political body such as the EU, the 28 judges of the CJEU have consistently asserted the supremacy of Community law, following the landmark Costa v. ENEL ruling of 1964 (Costa v. ENEL, 1964). They have not hesitated to rule against powerful member states and to pursue their own interpretation of the ‘spirit’ of the treaties. Member states have generally complied with their rulings. The CJEU also has emerged as an indispensable actor in the EU’s political system of checks and balances, often strengthening the powers of the European Parliament against the dominant executives of the Commission and Council.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

6. Can There Be a Common European Identity?

Preoccupation with European identity emerged in parallel with concerns about the EU’s alleged democratic deficit (see Chapter 4). Many political theorists see a common identity as a prerequisite for a functioning democratic political system. To the extent that democracy is defined as government ‘by the people’, it requires that citizens feel part of the same collective entity. The EU’s member states have reacted to this perceived need for a European identity by introducing the concept of a European citizenship, which was expected to help in the creation of a political community. In a declaration attached to the Treaty of Lisbon, 16 EU member states declared that they would use the informal EU flag, anthem (‘Ode to Joy’), motto (‘United in Diversity’) and Europe Day ‘to express the sense of community of the people in the European Union’.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

7. Lobbying in the EU: How much Power for Big Business?

A large number of interest groups aim at influencing EU decision-making (Greenwood, 2011; Dür and Mateo, 2016). More than 1000 Euro-groups now have an office in Brussels, including business associations, such as BusinessEurope; labour unions, such as the European Trade Union Confederation; professional associations, such as the European Medical Association; and public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Many more groups send lobbyists to Brussels to influence specific policies. The EU’s Transparency Register, a voluntary register of organizations that try to influence EU decision-making, now contains over 9000 entries.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

8. The Future of the Euro: Union or Disintegration?

When the euro was introduced in 2002, many claimed that this was the most momentous event in the history of the European Union since the Rome treaties in 1957. And they were right: no other move towards integration has had the same potential of tying together the fates of the currently 19 member states in the eurozone. If any illustration were necessary for this, the euro crisis that started in 2010 and reached its apex with the Greek drama of 2015 has provided ample and unwelcome evidence. The drama of a potential default of highly indebted Southern member states has kept EU leaders and global financial markets on their toes. The actual or looming contagion of the problem to the whole EU makes this crisis the most serious in the history of the Union.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

9. The Euro: Economic Success or Disaster?

While the euro, since its very origins, has always been a deeply political project, its fate and success will hinge most likely on whether it is able to enhance the economic well-being of the European peoples. After all, the economies of scale inherent in a single currency for a deeply integrated economic area were always cited as one of its most obvious benefits. And while the euro as political project has been contested from its very beginning (see the chapters by H. Enderlein and A. Nölke in this volume), it appeared rather uncontroversial that a monetary union sooner or later made economic sense for the EU. Most foreign observers would have preferred a later introduction of the common currency at a time when the eurozone was closer to a so-called optimum currency area that combines capital and labour mobility with risk sharing mechanisms, such as a common budget. But its principal desirability was quite uncontested – until the euro crisis erupted. After five years of crisis, economists across the globe argue that instead of enhancing welfare, the euro has acted as an instrument impoverishing many to the benefit of few. While there is relative consensus on the immediate causes of the crisis, opinions are strongly divided on whether the eurozone suffers from inherent flaws resulting in a negative economic performance, or whether it is an idea which has a valid economic rationale and just needs some adjustments to work.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

10. Can the EU Tame Big Finance?

Is the EU able to quickly react to political emergencies? Can member states achieve the required degree of cooperation when they are faced with surprising developments which demand a coordinated response? The global financial turmoil after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 was a major test case for the capacity of the EU to meet new challenges. Faced with chaotic markets, a potential meltdown of financial systems in many member states, and the ensuing global momentum towards the re-regulation of ‘Big Finance’, the EU was called upon to provide a quick and coherent answer to the crisis.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

11. The Big Waste? The Common Agricultural Policy

If there were a prize for the most reviled European Union policy, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would most likely be the winner. This is remarkable because for decades the CAP has been at the heart of European integration and it was the policy area where most of the money of the European Community went. Initially consuming almost the whole budget, the share of agriculture in total EU spending has declined only slowly and now stands at about 40 per cent (European Commission, 2015b). The heydays of the CAP were the decades in which European integration was still an unquestioned good. Nonetheless, the policy was unpopular already then, although it achieved its most obvious purpose spectacularly – European self-sufficiency with regard to food. This was no mean feat after the deprivations of the immediate World War II period. Another objective was to placate and satisfy a group of voters, namely farmers, which in many countries used to be core constituencies of conservative parties and were often prone to follow right-wing demagogues. Producers in other areas of the world produce food at much lower cost – therefore European farmers had to be protected from the impact of world markets. They needed a fair standard of living, especially compared to the rising post-war wages of industrial workers (Rieger, 2005).
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

12. Does the EU Act as Normative Power?

For centuries, states were the main actors on the global stage. International organizations and supranational institutions such as the EU were seen as little else but instruments in the hands of powerful governments and their constituents. Thus, it is not surprising that few commentators cared to think about the EU as global actor during the early decades of European integration. Events in the early 1990s changed all this. The end of the Cold War removed the umbrella of bipolar great-power rivalry under which the Europeans were able to hide. The Maastricht Treaty institutionalized a common foreign and security policy as part of the EU, and the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia brought home the need for common approaches to many pressing international issues which were beyond the problem-solving capacity of single member states. In more and more areas, ranging from foreign trade to development aid, environmental diplomacy, human rights policy, financial regulation, energy issues and so on, the European Union became an international actor on its own right (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006). Debates in the 1970s and 1980s on whether the EU should be seen as an independent actor on the world stage petered out. Now the focus is on the issue of what kind of an actor the EU is. Does it act increasingly like a traditional state with similar means and ends or does it constitute something entirely new?
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

13. Is EU Enlargement a Success Story or Has It Gone Too Far?

Enlargement has often been seen as the EU’s greatest success story. From the first enlargement in 1973 to the most recent one in 2013, no fewer than 22 states have acceded to the EU. Many of the acceding countries were politically and economically weak when starting accession negotiations. Greece, for example, had been ruled by a military junta between 1967 and 1974, and still had to be considered a weak democracy when it joined the EU in 1981. Similarly, Portugal and Spain, the two countries that acceded in 1986, had been dictatorships until 1976 and 1975, respectively. All of these countries not only became stable democracies after entry to the EU, but also – at least until the recent sovereign debt crisis – witnessed economic development. No wonder that soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the transition to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe many of the formerly Communist countries deposited their wish to become members of the EU. As a consequence, the EU now has 28 member countries, with five more countries enjoying the status of official candidate states and another two countries being considered potential candidates.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

14. Towards a Common European Army?

In April 2011, Libya, one of the many countries in the Arab world that witnessed protests against decades of oppression during the so-called ‘Arab spring’, descended into bloody chaos as ageing dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi clung to power with the help of his well-equipped army. Immediately, intense debates erupted in EU member states on whether they could stand by idly as many people were massacred in their immediate neighbourhood while exerting their democratic rights. In the end, France and Britain were at the forefront of the countries that actively intervened with their militaries, whereas countries such as Germany and Poland refused to participate. Once more, a common security and defence policy of the Europeans seemed to be more of a fata morgana than a real prospect. Libya has now turned into a failed state, plagued by warring factions, infiltrated by ISIS and unable to govern its borders which are crossed by huge numbers of refugees who try to leave Africa towards the shores of the EU.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

15. A New German Hegemony: Does It Exist? Would It be Dangerous?

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the so-called German Question denoted the probably most serious and explosive quandary of global politics in the twentieth century. At issue was the problem of how to deal with the largest country in the centre of Europe. Germany was a latecomer state that consisted of numerous small independent territories for centuries, until Prussia’s Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck achieved unification in 1871, in the aftermath of a victorious war against France. The new German empire aggressively sought to secure and enhance its position among the established countries. This policy resulted in World War I, and, ultimately, in the even greater catastrophe of World War II. The victorious powers tried to deal with the German question once and for all by partly dismembering the country and placing numerous restrictions on its sovereignty. In addition, the Cold War produced the division of what remained of Germany in an Eastern part, which was to become the Communist-ruled German Democratic Republic, and a Western part, consisting of the occupation zones of the United States, Britain and France. Another consequence of the Cold War was the long-term presence of large military forces of Germany’s former enemies, now allies, which not only sought to deter attacks from the ideological adversary but also the rebirth of German militarism (Hanrieder, 1989). Militarily, the German problem seemed contained.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür

16. Should It Stay or Should It Go? Britain, EU Membership and the Merits of Selective Integration

Britain’s place in Europe has been controversial for centuries. When, in the 1950s, the six original member countries established the European Community, the United Kingdom first participated in the conference of Messina in 1956 which drew up the founding documents. Soon, however, it withdrew its delegates and decided to establish a rival free trade area (the European Free Trade Association, EFTA) with an awkward mix of members. Six years later, the British government realized it had made a mistake and applied for admission to the EU only to be vetoed by French President de Gaulle. Only after another veto in 1967 and after de Gaulle’s death, did Britain finally gain admission in 1973. However, it remained an awkward member, as illustrated by the British rebate on contributions to the EU’s budget that was negotiated by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and its decision to stay out of the euro in 1992.
Hubert Zimmermann, Andreas Dür
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