Windy thinking in fantasyland

The Institutions of the European Union. Second Edition - International Relations and the European Union. First Edition - Origins and Evolution of the European Union. First Edition

November 24, 2006

These are the three most recent contributions to the New European Union Series first edited by Helen and William (eventually Lord) Wallace. The initial volume, Po licy Making in the European Union , is in its fifth edition. "Wallace and Wallace" has served for years as the backbone of most courses on European integration. The rejection of the European constitution nearly 18 months ago nonetheless casts doubt on the value of the two new and one revised companion volumes in the series and suggests the need for something quite different. The EU has done much good, but for more than a decade has been headed in the wrong direction: the effort to build a European superstate has failed; the EU is dysfunctional; and its very survival is in question. Fine-tuning is not enough. The reinstatement of progress toward federal union will require an institutional overhaul.

The EUis an elite project and it must become representative, accountable and democratic. As a first step towards reform, it should downsize and lift constraints on the autonomy of member states. Only national governments are strong enough to enforce the tough policies needed for change at EU level.

Globalisation poses challenges. Since the expansion of international trade outpaces that within Europe, the EU's relative economic importance is declining. Competition from China will not abate. The next world growth cycle will depend chiefly on events in East Asia. American world hegemony belongs to the past, as does a prospective European role as a brake on or as an alternative to it. The EU must find a new world role.

The emerging multipolar international order will not necessarily advance a federal Europe. The EU is powerless in the face of the energy crisis and its corollary, the revival of a Russian superpower, and can also do little to solve the problem of labour migration, within or without its borders.

Governance is another pressing matter. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's bombshell that further enlargement cannot take place until the constitutional issue is resolved amounts to an admission that it will never happen.

The EU is losing its mission - to strengthen good government along and within Europe's borders. The present crisis calls for a new understanding of the integration process rather than, as presented in these volumes, windy theorising and obsessive examinations of individual institutions and policies, many of them phantom. Above all, what must be dropped is the premise on which this series rests: that the EU represents history's "most successful experiment in modern international co-operation". Critical analysis can then begin.

The contributions in The Institutions of the European Union , edited by John Peterson and Michael Shackleton, do not deny the EU's problems so much as downplay them. Peterson admits the Commission is "in a permanent state of decline after 1999... weak or ineffective or both", and Shackleton pours cold water on the idea that "democracy in the EU (is likely) to develop on the basis of the same kind of majoritarian processes as exist at the national level". But neither questions the legitimacy of either institution. No contributor discusses how, except on paper, the various arms and agencies of the Brussels bureaucracy link up, or fail to, with one another or member states. The significance of the endemic chaos in policymaking so apparent to the public seems to have escaped their notice. There is less to many of the contributions than meets the eye. A 20-page chapter about the Commission finds it highly politicised and unreformed; another regarding financial controls finds them wanting; and a lengthy discursive piece writes off the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions as "ineffectual". In a uniquely stimulating contribution, Giandomenico Majone reaches a similar conclusion about the little-studied tangle of EU agencies. Yet one is left wondering, given the feebleness of these and many other supranational institutions, whether slogging through this volume is worthwhile.

Peterson and Shackleton's summing-up suggests otherwise. They conclude, damningly, that: "turf-battling" is the main fact of life in official Brussels; the Commission "resembles an international bureaucracy rather than a proto-government"; "hyper-pluralism" has driven management costs skyward; the "Europeanisation process" lacks definition and the EU has become protectionist; and "near-term prospects for reform look bleak". Yet they discover in this cacophony "idiosyncratic charm, much like good jazz music". It will all, we are reassured, come out right in the end.

International Relations and the European Union , edited by Christopher Hill and Michael Smith, takes the reader on a meandering excursion that ends up deep in the recesses of fantasyland. The EU's only real international power has been, up to now, in the field of trade, a subject well tackled by Loukas Tsoukalis. Yet by sabotaging the Doha development round of World Trade Organisation negotiations to prolong the life of the iniquitous Common Agricultural Policy, the EU pulled the carpet out from under itself.

The authors of the chapter "The European Union as a trade power" failed to anticipate both the Doha debacle and the EU's shift towards bilateral negotiation, even though it reflects rising domestic protectionism, bodes ill for transparency, undercuts environmental and labour safeguards, and weakens the WTO.

The bulk of the Hill and Smith volume concerns pillars two and three of the Maastricht Treaty - defence and foreign, as well as security, policies. Much of this stuff is hard to take seriously.

Events in the Middle East underscore the ephemeral character of EU defence policy. The "robust" 15,000-strong force of EU peacekeepers promised by the French Defence Minister never materialised. Today, a paltry crew of 3,000, operating under UN auspices and Italian command, stands guard idly in the Golan Heights. It is under orders to do nothing until Hezbollah allows itself to be disarmed. This ineffectiveness is hardly surprising: the 60,000-man rapid reaction force that France, Germany and the UK committed themselves to creating at the St Malo conference in 1998 exists only on paper; quasi-military programmes such as the global positioning system Galileo are headed for huge cost overruns as well as military and commercial irrelevancy; and grand Franco-German projects such as the Airbus 380 and 350 are flaming out.

The directorate in charge, the so-called European Defence Agency, consists of chiefs without Indians. A recent White Paper concludes, despairingly, that, being too old to fight, a greying Europe is apparently only good for peacemaking. As for the third pillar, the Tampere conference of September concluded finis for now to further EU-sponsored collaboration in homeland security.

Origins and Evolution of the European Union , edited by Desmond Dinan, deals with the origins and evolution of the EU, and should be distinguished from the other two texts. It is the work chiefly of historians rather than political scientists, and its authors attempt to assess alternative courses of development against broader backdrops of international politics and economics. The contributions are not always impressive because the historical literature is patchy and ill-informed by theory. The most interesting of them isolate the variables needed at various times to revive the integration project. They can be trawled for clues as to how the European integration process - something different and greater than the existing set of EU institutions - might again be relaunched. Attention could then turn to what, if anything, can be done to make it work more satisfactorily.

John Gillingham is professor of history, University of Missouri-St Louis.

The Institutions of the European Union. Second Edition

Editor - John Peterson and Michael Shackleton
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 390
Price - £21.99
ISBN - 0 19 9900 4

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