Tag Archives: europe

European Union wins Nobel Peace Prize (Name one thing the EU has ever done for us #2)

After the news made my day, I figured I had get a short comment out. Today it was announced, that the European Union will be awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Besides expressing my appreciation for this, my comment serves a second purpose: After my first answer to the challenge in the title, here’s another answer to what the European Union has ever done for us:

It has brought peace.

Yes, as lame and old as the argument seems. The European Union and its preceding steps of European Integration have brought the continent an exceptionally long peaceful period. As a reminder, please have a look at the “list of conflicts in Europe“, which the fine folks at Wikipedia have so nicely brought together. Start a a time of your choosing, whenever you think the countries you’re interested in have been constituted in borders similar to today. Then scroll down through decades and centuries of bloodshed. Our allies of today basically where at each others throats at any given moment. Please note the absence of interstate conflicts between countries who joined the Union or its predecessors during the second half of the 20th century and later.

War between EU member states seems so unthinkable today, that this peace is sadly often taken for granted by many European citizens.

The Nobel Peace Price and the media coverage about it will hopefully remind a few of those people of how extraordinary and grand this achievement really is.

Recommended Reading on Eurocrisis and Single Market: Dullien / ECFR 64

In his current policy memo for the European Council on Foreign Relations, titled Why the Euro Crisis Threatens the European Single Market, Sebastian Dullien thinks through several possible outcomes of the Euro crisis and their respective impact on the Single Market.

The picture he paints should be considered by all those in the “richer” European countries who cling to the populist notion of “solving” the Eurocrisis by simply throwing all the weaker economies out of the Eurozone.

He makes a convincing argument about the often-neglected interconnectedness of the European Monetary Union and the Single Market, as he presents the three options he thinks realistic for the future of the Eurozone. In (very) short form, the options are as follows:

A complete Euro break-up would completely shatter the single market, as member states reimbursed with power over a new national currency would resort to completely nationally oriented methods of consolidating their finances, while damaging the single market. The Commission couldn’t do much to keep them in line, as a country that has left the Euro has either already left the Union, or is in violation of European law reintroducing their own currency. This would increasingly diminish the European instutions’ legitimacy and at the same time also produce negative spin-offs for the Schengen area, as the large stream of migrants from crisis countries is being stopped by nationalist political forces, who were strengthened in the process.

For a “muddling-through”-approach, which is what he considers most current attempts at solving the crisis, he predicts a “more shallow” single market, as he sees it as disintegrating the banking- and finance sector. Distinctions in finance along national borders also means nationally oriented financing of businesses, which distorts the market by punishing or rewarding companies for their location. This would also prompt migration to the better-off countries, albeit not as badly as in the first scenario, prompting the same negative side-effects for the Schengen area.

As a third approach, Prof. Dullien presents a deeper integration, a step toward true federalism, including EU-level financial and economic oversight, maybe including a Financial Transaction Tax. This, he says, would solve many of the current problems of participating countries. However, this comes at the price of splitting the market for financial services along currency lines, as countries like the United Kingdom opt-out, and would possibly even prompt a recalculation of their benefits from the EU, resulting in an exit of the UK. Thus, this scenario would keep the single market, even integrate it further, but only do so for a smaller single market.

Prof. Dullien makes convincing arguments and definitely clarifies the gravity and complexity of the situation as it is, far beyond simplistic and populist paroles of “let’s throw the PIIGS out, and we’ll be fine!”.

However, there might be a perspective to the smaller single market, his third option, which might not make it seem quite so small. As a recent New York Times comment by Steven Erlanger elaborated, there is currently a tendency of European regions to aspire secession from their national entities. Of particular interest is the fact, that the UK, which, as Prof. Dullien also notes, the member state most likely opposed to fiscal integration, is among those with such a region: In Scotland, for example, there has been a tendency to favour being part of Europe over being part of the UK. Mr. Erlanger points out in his comment, that the Scottish National Party’s slogan still is “Scotland in Europe”, even though they are coming to regret it amidst rising anti-european opinions.

Rising regional influences aside, even David Cameron’s government seems to be moving away from preparing a referendum on the EU in terms of in-or-out, as they contemplate how to keep EU membership, but make fiscal union another part of the two-speed Europe. Consequently, I believe that the last word on the United Kingdom as a whole within the EU and the coming changes to EU structures may not yet have been spoken in this matter.

tl;dr

Read Sebastian Dullien’s paper to learn about possible consequences of the Eurocrisis for the Single Market – Even though I don’t see the UK’s reaction in his third scenario as clear-cut as he does.

Recommended reading on eurocrisis: Eurodaemmerung, Foreign Affairs Sept/Oct 2012

Most media coverage of the eurocrisis comes from the national press of the countries concerned. This has the effect of forcing a national perspective on the issue, ranging from a mere focus of what “one’s own” politicians did or said – in almost all publications – to populist tendencies of renationalisation and euroscepticism – in the tabloids.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs includes a collection of comments called Eurodaemmerung, which offers an outside-looking-in approach, which breaks out of the fixed them-and-us scheme that is so entrenched in inner-Eurozone media coverage. The authors of the Eurodaemmerung-articles all are distinguished British or American academics and / or former government officials. In their view, the Eurozone is all “them”, without any animosities about who has to pay for whom or who forces this and that set of measures on whom. This makes their texts on the subject more worthwhile to read than everything that has come out of the newsrooms of News Corp.  and Axel Springer owned press organs over the last few years combined.

Short abstracts of the articles follow, to give you a better idea what to expect.

The Crisis of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash

Ash’s take on the crisis starts out with a thorough historical interpretation of European integration, stating that the current mixture of national orientation of the electorate and the way national politicians handle the two levels end up being “an odd way to run a continent”. He several reasons for this, including a missing European compatriotism and Germany struggling with it’s own course for the common currency which it pushed for itself under Kohl. With the historic driving forces for European integration gone, a Europe of freedom and prosperity is taken for granted and therefore suffers from it’s own success, a state which is not easily fixed.

Why the Euro Will Survive by C. Fred Bergsten

Bergsten considers the measures taken so far to save the Euro as overall successful, and envisions that “[w]hen the dust settles, the common currency, and indeed the entire project of European integration, is likely not only to survive but to emerge even stronger.” The monetary union is described as a half-hearted solution, which was born out of political compromise instead of thorough conceptualisation and therefore lacks a more complete common financial and economic system. He believes however, that capability to save the debtor countries and the currency is given. It is a question of political will, and a  struggle, in which every creditor tries to get the best deal for himself. On the bottom line, he finds that this “game of political chicken” has thus far been successful, and should in the medium-term be followed up by a program to re-stimulate growth, which he outlines.

Germany’s Unsustainable Growth by Adam Tooze

Tooze talks about how austerity measures , which the German administration currently tries to export into other Eurozone countries, came to be domestically. For sustainable growth, he argues, investment is needed and, thanks to record-low interest rates at which Germany can currently borrow money, also easily possible, were it not for the constitutional debt-ceiling which the country gave itself shortly before the crisis. Austerity should only be used as “a form of shock therapy”, with “meaningful investments” as a follow-up.

 

Obviously, the articles are open to criticism. For example, the articles (with the exception of Ash) hardly take the European Union system into consideration as something that goes beyond an intergovernmental international organization (that is, an agreement between sovereign nations). One might argue, that this is not really relevant for the issue at hand, as it is in fact largely handled intergovernmentally. Yet, this is a downside of a non-European perspective and also an effect of the tradition the journal Foreign Affairs itself has to be seen in. In the transatlantic constellation between Western Europe and the United States, the EU as such plays a supporting role at best, with its common external action focused elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the perspectives offered in the three Eurodaemmerung articles are exceptionally interesting, and in Foreign Affairs find a journalistically refined way out of purely academic literature. I recommend to pick up a copy of the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Affairs from your local news stand or, if you prefer digital over dead tree, get it for your Kindle / tablet with Kindle app, or as a PDF-file from foreignaffairs.com.

tl;dr

The current issue of Foreign Affairs has three very interesting comments on the eurocrisis, which are not tainted by a national “them vs. us” attitude as mainstream media coverage is. Go read them.

Name one thing the EU has ever done for us!

The recent Eurobarometers show the European Union’s approval ratings taking a hard dive. As the eurocrisis rages on, blunt euroscepticism and tendencies to glorify the prospect of renationalisation seem rampant in discussions online and offline. The challenge that I chose as a title for this post is tossed around a lot.

I say:

Challenge Accepted!

Disclaimer: I do not really blame the people who are not already aware of what I’m about to elaborate. Among others, first and foremost, I blame nationally oriented journalism.

The European Union has given citizens an unprecedented influence on international agreements.

The current version of the EU Treaties, commonly known as the Lisbon Treaty, prescribes that international agreements which the European Union (acting institution in this case is usually the Commission) negotiates have to be approved by the European Parliament (EP). So far, so usual. And about time, you might  rightfully think, as it has been customary for international agreements to be ratified by national parliaments for quite a while now. You might also think that this does not constitute a larger degree of influence than the national parliamentary control did before. After all, it’s both nothing but a representative, legitimate parliament doing the approving, with options for citizens to petition it’s members like you would expect. There are a few important differences between an agreement negotiated by the Commission and ratified by the EP and an agreement negotiated by a national government and ratified by a national parliament, though.

Most importantly, your typical national parliament in Europe will have elected and therefore supports the very head of government who negotiated the agreement. Good luck trying to convince the majority of “your” members of parliament to openly acknowledge that “their” party’s figurehead might have negotiated something sub-optimal. And good luck  getting them to actually vote against it or push for improvements before it comes to a vote.

The European Parliament on the other hand has far less of such party-based loyalties, at least not between them and the other institutions – notwithstanding the facts, that they do approve, or as of recently elect,  the President of the Commission and it is an unwritten rule, that he or she should come from the spectrum of parties that currently holds the majority of seats (e.g. conservative or social democrats). The EP is, as an institution, far more concerned with improving their position within the EU system. They are still disadvantaged in a lot of situations which are commonly named when talking about the EU’s democratic deficit. Their tactic to improve this situation is to use the powers they do have, and try to stretch them to their maximum, or if possible beyond that by being granted informal rights of participation. And they have time and time again proven that they aren’t afraid of rather extreme measures, be it blocking the budget, or rejecting international agreements, such as the first attempt at the SWIFT agreement or more recently ACTA.

Of course it’s not all just “stickin’ it to the man”. My subjective impression is that MEPs themselves identify a lot with the task of battling the democratic deficit for the citizens’ sake. And if there’s an issue that meets massive and widespread protest, they are more likely to listen than many national MEPs, who tend to be more restricted by party lines. That’s why ACTA failed, even though the conservative parties of the member states supported it and the centre-right has a majority in the EP.

Regardless of the exact motivations of the EP, the resulting effect is the same: The European Union has given citizens and their direct representatives a more realistic chance for unprejudiced scrutiny of controversial international agreements, which would most likely have gotten rubber-stamped by parliament in a purely national process. In most cases this is an additional check, since the national ratification has to take place nonetheless.

Next time someone challenges you to “name one thing the EU has ever done for us”, tell that person that without the EU, ACTA would probably be in force right now, despite massive popular opposition.