Stability, strength and Stalin's fellow-travellers

Rethinking European Order - The Politics of the Euro-Zone - European Integration

May 24, 2002

With the introduction of the euro in the European Union's 12 euro-zone countries, there has been renewed academic and public interest in EU policies. Although the British public and, on the whole, the British government continue to display lukewarm interest (at most), British publishers are more enthusiastic.

Kenneth Dyson's book is a useful guide to the likely economic prospects of the common European currency. Will it contribute to the stability or breakdown of the European economies? Equally useful is Robin Niblett's and William Wallace's edited volume. It complements Dyson by focusing on the development of the EU's controversial foreign and security initiatives since the end of the cold war. In contrast, Martin Holmes's book, a compilation of the author's essays mostly published for the Bruges Group during the 1990s, is an overview of the often-bizarre thinking of the Eurosceptics. As such, it may have a certain usefulness, but viewed as a serious attempt to weigh up the pros and cons of European integration it is useless. In the introduction, Holmes asserts that there is little difference between fascism, communism and "the new ideological formulation of Europeanism". Although the latter "may lack the brutality of its 20th-century antecedents", to the author it appears to be similarly undemocratic and "more committed to the vast extension of pan-European state power than to the protection of individual liberties". Jacques Delors and Romano Prodi appear here as the "soft" totalitarian bedfellows of Stalin and Hitler.

No such nonsense can be found in the Niblett/Wallace volume, which is based on seminars at St Antony's College, Oxford, and consists of contributions by the editors and six other authors. After three thematic chapters, the European responses to developments in eastern Europe are evaluated from a country-by-country perspective: the "big three", The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Italy are covered. However, all ten chapters largely finish in 1997 with the decision to embark on the eastern enlargement of the EU. Considering that the book was not published until 2001, 1997 is an unfortunate cut-off date that limits the book's usefulness. Crucial events such as the war in Kosovo and the end of the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, with their impact on the intensification of the European drive to develop a rapid-reaction force, as well as the Amsterdam Treaty and the introduction of the euro, are omitted.

There is, however, a thorough analysis of the developments of European security and foreign policy between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s located within the domestic context. The focus is on the extent to which governmental and non-governmental elites in western Europe adapted to the events of 1989-92 by rethinking their role in the distribution of power between East and West. The editors and contributors conclude that western European leaders were extremely reluctant to reconsider ideas and aims that had been entrenched in European policy since the 1950s.

Of particular interest is chapter two, about the continuing influence of the US and its economic strength on EU development. This is also a strand in Hartmut Mayer's article on "The German foreign policy community and the rethinking of European order". Although he seems to credit the various foreign-policy think-tanks in Bonn and elsewhere with too much influence in the Kohl years, Mayer is right to highlight the continuing German emphasis on maintaining US goodwill and building a wider and deeper European system.

Dyson's book sets itself a challenging goal, not just to analyse and explain the politics of euro-zone countries, but to answer the question: "What would a policy for a stable euro-zone look like?" He constructs an interesting "strength-strain" model to explain the policies needed. He emphasises the pivotal role allotted to the European Central Bank, rather than the European Commission, when the euro-zone was designed; contrasts the strategies of Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac with those of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand; and concludes that neither a "state-centric" nor "governance" model does justice to the euro-zone concept at micro and macro level. Instead, Dyson sees "a Kantian culture of multilateral action and collective interest and identity" - rather than a more pessimistic Hobbesian or Lockean political culture - that he hopes will develop further. Thus, the European Central Bank and the member states are said to be in the process of creating "a culture of cooperation, not simply of 'rule-following'".

The author is convinced that the euro-zone's political culture is crucial to its stability, based on his careful analysis of the expected stabilising effect of the European Central Bank and the euro on prices, inflation, exchange rates and interest rates. Dyson concludes that despite the importance of the "stabilisation" state for sustaining the economic health and supporting the already somewhat shaky economic and financial reputation of the euro-zone, the stabilisation tasks need to be associated with "promoting and protecting the state's role in social justice" and with greater democratic participation.

His book is an original and important contribution to both the empirical and the theoretical literature on the euro-zone and European integration. It should influence the scholarly debate and perhaps the EU decision-makers in Brussels, Frankfurt and elsewhere.

Klaus Larres is reader in politics, Queen's University, Belfast.   

Rethinking European Order

Editor - Robin Niblett and William Wallace
ISBN - 0 333 91571 2
Publisher - Palgrave
Price - £52.50
Pages - 298

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