Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Can the Crisis Push Towards Deeper European Unity?

The eurozone crisis clearly empowered euro-skeptics’ positions against the proponents of the European unity. At first glance, Greek, Irish, Portuguese, and now Spanish developments serve as a good illustration of why the common currency was a bad idea from the very beginning and how irresponsibility of certain states creates problems for the rest in a too much intermingled community. Many forecast that sooner or later Greece (and not only) will have to leave eurozone and might be forced out of the EU. In a traditionally euro-skeptic UK David Cameron hinted that Britain may even consider holding an EU referendum, though not until 2015 general elections, in the hope that Europe's fate will be clearer by then.

On the other hand, official Brussels doesn't seem to be giving up. Jose Manuel Barroso’s 2012 State of the Union Address to the European Parliament contained many important messages for observers and initiated a new wave of debate both in the European Parliament and outside. “Europe needs a new thinking… globalization demands more European unity; More unity demands more integration,” he said. In short, Barroso is offering a new reforms package, final version of which, after being thoroughly debated and scrutinized by MPs and wider public of experts, will be presented by the 2014 Parliamentary Elections. Main pillars of the package are deeper economic and long-awaited political unity, as well as “truly collective defense.” While he spoke a lot about deepening unity in all major sectors, he has not mentioned widening (expanding) the Union at all.

Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman
Of course, Barroso’s proposal is far from being adopted and probably will have more critics than any other European treaty has ever had, but so far his fight in the legislature is receiving support of the executives in the European capitals. With or without the help of Sarkozy, Angela Merkel seems determined to keep Greece in the Union and in the eurozone. European Central Bank’s decision to buy unlimited volumes of bonds from indebted eurozone countries, as well as Merkel’s yesterday’s visit to Athens are clear indications that EU is not going to give up that easy.

History teaches us that it often takes big crisis, wars or other types of shocks to push societies to the new level. After all, current Europe is the product of WWI and WWII. “The EU may move in this [further integration] direction, but in the absence of major shock, the movement will be very slow and ambiguous,” wrote William Wohlforth (International Security, Vol.24) in 1999. Can this crisis serve as a major shock that will push EU towards further unity? If yes, what will that mean for the US? Wohlforth thinks, that “if the EU were a state, the world would be bipolar,” but in order to “create the balance of power globally EU would have to suspend the balance of power locally.” According to Kathleen McNamara, “assuming the EU succeeds in deepening its level of integration and adding new members, it will soon have influence on matters of finance and trade equal to America’s; A more balanced strategic relationship is likely to follow” (Rethinking Europe, Kupchan 1999). And as Barroso pointed out in his address to the European Parliament, “In the 21st-century, even the biggest European countries run the risk of irrelevance in between the global giants like the US or China,” but Europe united as a “federation of nations” is likely to have a say in relationship with these giants. Today economically and politically united and prosperous Europe is in the US interests not because it sets example and contains “socialist club,” but because it has the capacity to share US’s military and financial burden. Europe, as it is today, is already an ally in Afghanistan or Libyan crisis, but only politically united EU, with much faster decision-making tools and unified foreign policy, will be able to cost-share as much as Washington is asking to.   

Writing about the need for the reinvention of European dream, Anne-Marie Slaughter concluded that what Europe needs today is another Schuman or Monnet. I doubt anyone sees new Shuman or Monnet in Jose Manuel Barroso, but Angela Merkel has a very good track record so far.  

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