Welcome to Europe: giant, dwarf

Ever Closer Union - Understanding the European Union - Decision Making in the European Union. First Edition - The Government and Politics of the European Union. Fourth Edition

November 26, 1999

New challenges confront the European Union as we enter the new millennium, particularly in the areas of the European Monetary Union and further European enlargement. Will the EU survive or will it merely stagnate? By carefully studying these four books in Macmillan's European Union Series, students will get a clearer picture of where the EU has come from, what it has achieved and where it is going.

All focus on the institutions of the EU and collectively provide the reader with a far better understanding of the EU's workings.

Neill Nugent's The Government and Politics of the European Union is generally recognised as the leading text in its field. Now in its fourth edition, this book has been completely updated to include the Treaty of Amsterdam, the launch of the single currency and the enlargement of the EU to 15 member states. It is divided into four parts, with the first detailing the historical evolution of the EU, with brief reference to the European project between the two world wars and the progress of European integration in the aftermath of the second world war.

The second part concentrates on the different institutions of the EU, and is followed by a section on EU policies and finally by a section on current realities and future prospects. Nugent considers the need for the EU to adapt to the rapid changes taking place within the international system, especially in the area of security and the environment, and in coping with international trade challenges from the United States, Japan and the newly industrialising countries. He also emphasises the uniqueness of the EU, compared with other international organisations, given its broader range of policy responsibilities and institutions, and its supranational rather than inter-governmental structure and systems.

Desmond Dinan's Ever Closer Union is another "blockbuster" on the EU, now in its second edition. Perhaps more historical in his approach, Dinan takes his readers from the postwar beginnings of European integration to the present day. The book is divided into three parts, dealing with history, institutions and policies. The text has been updated and new material on the launch of the euro and a new chapter on economic and monetary union have been added. Dinan feels that Emu will work, because the majority of Europeans have decided that it must work and the political and economic costs of failure are much greater than the costs of success. In its first edition this book proved to be an essential tool for the study of the politics of the EU and the process of European integration. It deserves to continue to be so. The danger is that dealing with such current issues a book will always date rapidly, a problem that applies to all four books.

It could be argued that John Peterson and Elizabeth Bomberg's Decision Making in the European Union is less of a textbook and more theoretical in its approach, since the authors eschew any grand theory on the process of European integration, preferring instead the use of different theoretical interpretations at each level.

This approach is supported by a series of case studies of issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy, eastern enlargement, the basics of EU decision making and the rather tempting section "Politics of chocolate". This is a scholarly piece of work, highly readable, and the introductions and conclusions to each chapter serve as a guide to students.

In the chapter on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the authors analyse the problems that have confronted CFSP, particularly the EU's poor performance in the Balkans. The key problem of the EU is that it lacks a clear defence identity. There is a need for unanimity in these matters, a situation not helped by the fact that the national foreign policies of individual member states often override the CFSP and render any common policy ineffectual. The authors make particular reference to the French government's decision to go ahead with nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1995, despite condemnation from most other EU states.

This theme of divergence between national foreign policies and a common foreign policy is taken up more fully by John McCormick in Understanding the European Union , and once again this demonstrates how books in the series support each other. Peterson and Bomberg, meanwhile, also comment on how the CFSP was hindered by the military and political power discrepancies of EU member states, between the United Kingdom, France and Germany on the one hand and all the others on the other. These are the very issues that militate against the creation of a European army, to say nothing of the neutrality of Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden by contrast with France and the United Kingdom, which are the only EU nuclear powers. Nevertheless, the authors rightly point out that the EU is more united in its foreign policy now than it has been since the end of the second world war. The CFSP can only be judged on its results and one wonders if there will ever be a common European outlook. In the box entitled "Bosnia: the ultimate humiliation of the CFSP", we not only read how "analysis of the Bosnian tragedy became an academic growth industry in the late 1990s, in which the EU was lambasted for ineffectual diplomacy", but also of the decision taken by German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in December 1991 that Germany should unilaterally recognise Croatia and Slovenia, "regardless of the feelings and opinions of other EU states, which many felt made war ... inevitable".

McCormick's approach to the CFSP issue is that "the world does not yet quite know what to make of the European Union, in a large part because the European Union does not yet quite know what to make of itself". As the figures show, if the EU was a military union, its combined forces would make it one of the two biggest powers on earth. The problem from a Eurocentric perspective is that there is as yet no true common defence and security policy. McCormick quotes Henry Kissinger: "When I want to speak to Europe, whom do I call?" But better was to come, with the comment from one Belgian foreign minister that the EU is "an economic giant, a political dwarf, and a military worm".

All four books are clearly aimed at politics students and European studies students, although Dinan's book would also be particularly useful to students who wish to concentrate on the history of European integration. These books will serve well as works of reference and for self-study. Nugent's book apart, they all use boxes and case studies, which are ideal for seminars.

Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.

Ever Closer Union: An Introduction to European Integration. Second Edition

Author - Desmond Dinan
ISBN - 0 333 73242 1
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £15.50
Pages - 596

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