Has the EU reached the limits of integration?

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Has the EU reached the limits of integration?

COURSE ESSAY "Political Aspects of European Integration"

By Yaroslav Sinitsov, EUBL

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. 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.

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 them. 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. 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.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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 cann