Political Aspects of European Integration
Has the EU reached the
limits of integration?
By: Yaroslav
Sinitsov, EUBL
Instructor: Desmond Dinan,
Professor, University of Amsterdam
Before answering
this question, let us face some obvious facts. So far, the European Union has
been the most advanced and successful alliances of the independent countries in
the modern history. One cannot deny that it is only the EU which established
at least in the first pillar a new legal order for its Member States, by
which they voluntarily shared their sovereignty based on the rule of law in
order to achieve the common task, as set forth by Article 2 of the Treaty
Establishing the European Community: ...to promote throughout the Community a
harmonious and balanced development of economic activities, sustainable and
non-inflationary growth respecting the environment, a high degree of
convergence of economic performance, a high level of employment and of social
protection, the raising of a standard of living and quality of life, and
economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States.[i]
But as with any other international treaty, there is always room for diversity
in interpretation. If the right to interpret the Treaty provisions and other
Community legislation had been vested in Member States, the EU would have been
nothing different but just another international treaty nicely falling within
the general system of public international law, where no contracting party can
be bound against its will. The EU is unique to have the European Court of Justice
which, unlike any other international tribunals, has a compulsory jurisdiction
and an exclusive authority to interpret the Community legislation at least,
with respect to the first pillar of the EU. By widely interpreting the EC
legislation and relying not just on the text, but also on the spirit of the Treaty,
the European Court of Justice has actually developed its own doctrine which is
now seen as one of the important sources of the Community law. This doctrine
has played a crucial role in implementing EU policies, since the text of the
Treaty and other Community legislation cannot cover in detail all aspects of
integration. Despite the instability of its development, the EU remains by far
more efficient that any other possible alternatives. The EU is a major
achievement and is still on the move. IGCs being clearly inter-state
negotiations bear little resemblance to classical diplomatic conferences reviewing
international treaties. European Treaty reform is perhaps better looked at as
the constitutional process with an integral role being played by the
representatives of the people, both at national and European level.[ii]
Why Integrate?
But why
integrate? What made European governments act against their cautious political
interests? The answer was given by Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of
the European Communities and a lover of aphorisms: People only accept changes
when faced with necessity, and only recognise necessity when the crisis is upon
I couldnt agree more with the first part of Monnets saying, but I would like
to replace the word only with the word better in its second part. A deep
crisis is probably the most powerful impetus to bring peoples and countries
together, although not the only one. This is exactly what happened immediately
after the World WarII. The need for fundamental political and economic
change in Europe was extremely strong. As the Cold War commenced and the Iron
Curtain abruptly divided the continent, integration became a means by which the
Western Europe could defend itself, in close co-operation with the United
States, against the external Soviet threat and the internal communist threat.
The need for a stronger and united Europe outweighed an initial desire of the
Allies to pasteurise Germany. A stronger Europe must have a strong Western
Germany. At that time the Europe was on the move to integrate. And it has been
on the move to integrate since then. However, the dialectics of the integration
has dramatically changed with the change of the world affairs in the years
1989-1992. The old dialectics was that of the Cold War, with the familiar and
multiple interactions between the two Europes, the two alliances and the two
great powers. The new dialectics is of a pan-European solidarity and
all-European integration, and it has never been tried before.
Multi-Speed Integration
Naturally, in
some areas governments tend to reach agreements more easily. The least
disputed goal of European Construction is the large market without borders;
even those Member States with reservations over other objectives do not dispute
this one.[iv]
This explains why the first pillar of the EU economic integration has
virtually reached supranational level. Community member states are willing to
share their sovereignty in this field because it is clearly in their interest
to do so. The European Single Market has become the worlds largest domestic
market. It has contributed significantly to the economic growth, though its
full potential has not yet been realised. But ...the political will is
evident. This needs to be translated into targeted action.[v]
By contrast,
quite little has been achieved since Maastricht in the two other pillars of the
EU Common and Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) and Justice and Home Affairs
(JHA) which still remain intergovernmental. This has become a reality in the
integration process: the integration speeds in the first pillar as compared to
the other two pillars vary dramatically. Economic integration and security
co-operation have always been a couple dancing apart from each other on the
same dance floor. Despite its recurrent crises and setbacks, the process of
economic integration has tended to follow the neo-functionalist logic of the
expansiveness and sectoral integration... European security co-operation has
always lagged behind in this respect.[vi]
By common
agreement, CFSP was one of the major disappointments of Maastricht. After all,
Maastricht proposed not only a common foreign and security policy, but declared
the eventual aim to be a common defence. This has inevitably lead to the
relationship between the EU and the defence alliance, the Western European
Union (WEU), being put at stake. This has become even more challenging since
the founding treaty of the WEU expires in 1998. However, the EU does not seem
to be willing to take control in this area, as it is felt that the EU is being
backed up by its major defence partner the United States. The US has always
been able to act (and this is what happened when the war in former Yugoslavia
broke out) as a saviour of Europe in defence and peace-keeping matters.
Similarly, JHA pillar
which includes issues of combating international crime and fraud, and issues
related to a common approach to immigration policy is a hard nut to crack for
the EU because of the national sensitivity to these. However, there has been
some progress in this respect in Maastricht and further in Amsterdam at least
the workable mechanism was set out. Besides, it is a very fertile area of co-operation
between the EU and the US.
On the whole, the
EU since Maastricht has failed to live up to the peoples expectations. The
existing structures are further challenged by the prospects of further
integration eastwards: a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe,
plus some of the successor states of the Soviet Union are striving to modernise
economically and politically, and the EU is an important magnet for them,
whether as a market, a political system seeking to uphold democratic norms and
values, or a putative defence system. The queue for membership has lengthened.
But the Union is not as attractive from the inside as it may look from the
outside. It seemed that the Monnet-method, i.e. a closer interaction of
national elites as a means for European integration has reached its limits.
Indeed, the EU has experienced serious internal problems in the aftermath of
Maastricht. One of the most obvious was the ratification crisis. In the narrow
sense it meant a petit oui vote in French referendum for the ratification of
the Maastricht Treaty and the initial no vote in Danish referendum. In a
wider sense it meant a lack of political support of the EU, widening of the gap
between the governments and the governed, and the lack of leadership in the EU.
As the involvement of the EU and its institutions has expanded, but without any
complementary shift in the sense of involvement and identification of the
electorate, the questions rose about its very legitimacy.
Limits of European Integration?
Legitimacy and Democracy
The EU as a
scapegoat is hardly a new concept; the problem lies in the fact that the EU has
moved into an ever-wider range of policy areas, including, with Maastricht,
areas previously very closely identified with the prerogative of the nation state[vii].
The traditional concept of legitimacy cannot be fully applied to the
institutions of the EU simply because a single European nation, or European demos in its traditional sense does not
exist as such and is not likely to appear within foreseeable future. The
integration is not about creating a European nation or people, but about the
ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe[viii].
A parliament is a traditionally democratic institution not because it provides
a mechanism for representation and majority voting, but because it represents
... the nation, the demos from which it derives its authority and legitimacy of
its decisions[ix]. If we
follow the logic of this no-demos clause,
the European Parliament cannot be legitimate and democratic by definition, and,
therefore, the increase of powers of the EP at the expense of the Council (the
voice of the Member States) is a step in the wrong direction. I cannot agree to
this. The demos is traditionally seen
though the ethno-cultural prism. Cant we imagine a polity whose demos is
defined, accepted and understood in civic, non-ethno-cultural terms, and would
have legitimate rule-making democratic authority an that basis[x]?
Cant we separate nationality from citizenship? Cant people unite on the basis
of shared values, a shared understanding of rights and duties, and shared
rational, intellectual culture which transcends ethno-national differences?
This appears to be the concept of introducing EU citizenship. According to this
viewpoint (which is I personally share, too), the directly elected European
Parliament is a democratic and
legitimate institution for EU citizens, and therefore its powers must be increased. But the problem lies in
misunderstanding. During the Danish referendum for the ratification of
Maastricht, some Danes feared that when acquiring EU citizenship they were
losing their national citizenship. Indeed,
...there was a failure to put across the idea that citizenship of the Union is
not intended to replace the national citizenship but actually to complement it[xi].
In some cases the perception was the opposite. Thus, the European Union should
be brought closer to its citizens which will allow the disputes on legitimacy
to be resolved in future. To do this, the following issues must be addressed.
Transparency of the legislative process
Over twenty
separate complex systems are now used to adopt legislation in the EU, and there
is a lack of logic in the choice of the various procedures. Although willing
to share sovereignty, governments retain as much political control as possible.[xii]
Hence the complexity of institutional structure and number of decision-making
procedures which sometimes render the Unions modus operandi extremely
Simplification is, therefore, considered necessary and the pressure is growing
to reduce these procedures to three. The tendency is to move from unanimity to
qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, and to extending
co-decision powers of the European Parliament which, in turn, will increase the
legitimacy of the latter. Maintaining unanimity requirement could, indeed,
paralyse a larger Union and prevent future Treaty reform.
Should Member
States willing to do so be specifically allowed to integrate their policies further
and faster than their more reluctant EU partners? Yes, otherwise the Union
should be forever bound to advance at the speed of its slowest members. To some
extent, flexibility already exists. Social policy, a single currency arrangement
and the Schengen acquis all involve fewer than all fifteen Member States.
Moreover, unbalanced economic integration of the EU has been beneficial to its
Member States. As long as there is agreement on the goal, we can have
flexibility. If there is no common goal we get variable geometry which is
widely seen as more dangerous. Flexibility supposes that more slower members will
catch up while variable geometry doesnt.
Given its enormous
significance, the EU is expected to act efficiently. However, relatively small
issues may suddenly become big issues in practice. This is illustrated, for
example, by the tendency to keep the diversity of the official and working
languages of the EU. The EU Council of Ministers of 12 June 1995 has not only
reaffirmed its firm attachment to Linguistic Diversity, it has also decided to
set up a commission to check that all the Institutions respect this... The
Commission has been invited to make yearly reports on the application of these
decisions ...[xiv] The
current number of working languages of the EU is eleven. Since EU legislation
is directly applicable in the national law, all languages with the official
status in one or more of the Member States should be official EU languages as
well. This means that there are now eleven official EU languages. With some
Eastern Bloc countries joining the number will increase to sixteen or more
which, in my opinion, will be virtually unworkable. This will only contribute
to the lack of efficiency of the EU. I think it is wise to limit the number of
working languages to a minimum of five, although in view of the fact that
Council members have never been able to agree on a limit the number of working
languages within the institutions, one may expect a continuing debate on this
As we see, the EU
is far from being perfect. And it never will, like any other man-made
enterprise. But the Union cannot afford to be politically disappointing to its
Member States, and especially to the countries which would like to join it. One
could always argue that the EU will not benefit from the fifth enlargement
neither politically, nor economically, nor even administratively (since their
ability to participate in the management of the EU is doubtful), and that a
wider Union means a weaker Union. It is true, but, however, only in the
short-run. The EU must upgrade its capacity to respond favourably to the other
counties in Europe, otherwise we may find ourselves once again in a divided
Europe. Therefore, my suggestion is that the limits of integration of the EU
are politically unaffordable, in other words, the locomotive of European
Integration has passed the point of no return and there is no way back. There
may be conflicting economic views about the wisdom of European Integration, or
a continuing debate over the preservation by certain states of an ideal of
national sovereignty, a tension between market Europe and social Europe, but
yet despite of all this ... there appears to be an overall commitment to the
process of integration in Europe for a variety of reasons, backed up perhaps by
the shadow of war factor which served as the original stimulus, so that
whatever the tensions and differences which exist, the journey to an unknown
destination continues.[xv]
[i] Nigel Foster. EC Legislation (Blackstone, 1997), 2
[ii] Geoffrey Edwards, Alfred Pijpers. The Politics of the European
Treaty Reform. The 1996 Intergovernmental Conference and Beyond (Pinter,
1997), 8
[iii] Desmond Dinan. Ever Closer Union? An Introduction to the European
Community (Macmillan, 1994), 14
[iv] The new 1999 Objective for the large market without borders
submitted by the European Commission to the Amsterdam Summit (Bulletin
Quotidien Europe No 2039/2040, 12 June 1997), 1
[v] ibid., 1
[vi] Geoffrey Edwards, Alfred Pijpers.
The Politics of the European Treaty Reform. The 1996 Intergovernmental
Conference and Beyond (Pinter, 1997), 344
[vii] ibid, 342
[viii] Geoffrey Edwards, Alfred Pijpers.
The Politics of the European Treaty Reform. The 1996 Intergovernmental
Conference and Beyond (Pinter, 1997), 257
[ix] ibid.
[x] Ibid, 261
[xi] Reflection Group 1995; 17 (Ibid, 62)
[xii] Desmond Dinan. Ever Closer Union? An Introduction to the European
Community (Macmillan, 1994), 3
[xiii] European Commission 1995:18. Quoted in Geoffrey Edwards, Alfred Pijpers.
The Politics of the European Treaty Reform. The 1996 Intergovernmental
Conference and Beyond (Pinter, 1997), 63
[xiv] EU. Frequently Asked Questions Edited by Ronald Siebelink &
Bart Schelfhout
[xv] Paul Craig, Grainne de Burca. EC Law. Texts, Cases & Materials
(Clarendon Press - Oxford, 1997), 37