Why the EU fails
|By invitation only|
Thu 3.12.2009 at 9:15-17:30
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) is organising a conference with the title Why the EU fails on 3-4 December 2009. The conference features key experts discussing the European Union’s current problems from the perspective of its citizens, member states and outside actors. In order to also allow those who are not attending the conference to participate in the debate, FIIA publishes the conference on the micro-blogging service Twitter.
Summary of the Conference
The conference was opened by FIIA Director Raimo Väyrynen. He outlined his view of an EU that is a tremendously successful peace project, but now faces the prospect of decline in the global perspective. A prevalent opinion in discussions has been the lessening importance of the transatlantic relationship, but this is something Väyrynen does not agree with. Commenting on the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, he said that the question of how to implement it will now define whether it is a success or not.
Hanna Ojanen pointed out that the title of the conference was perceived by many as problematic – would it in fact contribute to the failure of the EU? Yet she maintained that the why questions are the most fundamental, requiring both courage and initiative to pose. Avoiding them does not help. So, why does the EU fail and according to whom?
Kalypso Nikolaïdis focused in her presentation on defining success and failure. She said the EU fails when there is normative dissonance, i.e. European vessels intercepting immigrant ships in the Mediterranean while the EU proclaims itself a force for good in the world. The EU fails when British workers protest against Italian workers in the UK and it fails when it delivers results but fails to inspire. The EU is more necessary than ever, because it is able to work in the long-term far better than national politics, but it must face its challenges with an open mind. Nikolaïdis hoped that the conference would produce a cartography of failure, that could then be addressed by the Reflection Group. She pointed out that as academics, all present are eurosceptics and should in fact be encouraged to be so.
Anand Menon spoke of the failure of expectations. The EU delivers results, but the lure of transcendentalism is ever-present in top meetings. The ailments of the EU don’t reside in Brussels, but in the 27 national capitals. Brussels, however, makes for a perfect scapegoat – it is easy to make overtly ambitious common declarations and then blame Brussels for failing to deliver on them. The EU, however, has proven extremely resilient – all involved have a great stake in the system and the real threat is not catastrophic implosion, but stagnation.
Mark Leonard pointed out that in order to assess the success or failure of the EU there would need to be an unequivocal consensus on the finalité of the EU. Each member state, however, views the EU’s purpose and priorities differently and thus it must by its nature remain commodious and flexible. Menon expressed the wish that instead of the typically short attention spans of project launchers, focus should be maintained on existing projects. The common market, the EU’s grand project, is still not fully fledged. Reaching long-term goals is possible only through conferring resources. Väyrynen saw failure or success as relative to the viewpoint. The CAP is a success for the French, but viewed rather differently in Finland. The original six have already succeeded in placating Europe, but will the EU-27 fail in other ways? Yet the question is complex – can it get a meaningful answer, or is the debate on failure itself futile? Janne Taalas said that a measure of success or failure is how the EU can adapt to the post-Cold War situation. In the past, federations have failed on account of inability to adapt to changing external circumstances.
Nikolaïdis agreed that the EU does need a story, an idea and a goal. Yet the beauty of the project is that it allows for multiple goals to be pursued at once, within the limits of shared values. Underlying this is a multitude of bargains, wherein maintaining the single market with its freedom of movement is central. Bargains are also being renewed continually by combining different narratives. She mentioned co-operation on the environment as one of the EU’s grand projects, but that it was far from the only one – allowing for differing goals is what makes the EU flourish. Nikolaïdis mentioned that when the European Convention debated the Constitutional Treaty, thirteen openly eurosceptic delegates were present. They were the ones most engaged with policy due to their scepticism, but they were hardly welcomed by the other delegates, which, Nikolaïdis pointed out, was sad for Europe. Visions of Europe, as long as they are not destructive, should all be openly debated and incorporated into the EU’s story.
Menon criticized Commission officials for often confusing criticism towards the EU with Europhobia. Thomas Wallgren replied by criticizing the way the presentations had been framed with both speakers having felt the need to begin by confessing a commitment to the EU. Menon had focused on small goals, whereas Nikolaïdis spoke of responsibility to unborn generations. What does this mean? Menon agreed with Wallgren’s critique, yet pointed out that the EU for him is not an existential dream, but a useful tool instead. On limited objectives, he pointed out that there is nothing limited in having a 27-state internal market – it is a historical achievement and a “full-time job”. Nikolaïdis answered the question of coming generations by saying that the Reflection Group on Europe focuses on sustainable integration. Primary education, for example, although not an EU competence, is a common challenge for the EU nonetheless. On migration, she pointed out that migrants will be needed, and that Europe must decide whether it wants to be an attractive force or a fortress. Finally, she said that in the name of coming generations, the EU must keep the door open to Turkey. The EU can bide its time, but must not let Turkey turn its back on Europe, because this would spell catastrophe.
Philippe Herzog said that completing the internal market would require advancing on common transport and energy infrastructure. More controversially, can it be completed without sharing social policies as well? Menon was opposed to the idea of EU social policy, saying that social policy is in itself a beneficial tool, but that EU social policy would imply a larger EU budget and would be likely to cause contestation between states instead of being handled as public policy. As such, it should stay on a national level. Identity-building is the natural argument behind advancing a common social policy, but such a salient topic would unnecessarily provoke objections. Instead, military procurement on an EU level would make sense. Nikolaïdis pointed out that the free movement of people causes small but increasing shocks – how will the welfare systems of the member states deal with it? European social policy may be a taboo, but why should it remain thus? She proposed thinking about ten years forwards and considering the introduction of an EU-wide European child benefit. On democracy, Herzog continued, the EU is not a federal state, but a federal union instead – yet citizens do not know this. It is impossible to build the EU based on similar concepts as a nation state. The German Constitutional Courts’ argument that is impossible to have democracy without a demos is false – India, for example, functions as a democracy although it incorporates a multitude of varying demi. Cooperation in Europe is made more difficult by a misunderstanding on what democracy is. Brigid Laffan commented on structural problems - MEPs not being truly accountable to anyone is problematic. There are serious structural restrictions to a political debate on the institutional level.
Henrik Lax found it difficult to disagree with the speakers. He said that the EU-15 had goals, especially enlargement, that were easily definable and understandable, but with an EU of 27 it is more difficult. A common uniting mission or a multitude of them is necessary. Feelings of disaffection and powerlessness must be addressed. Inflating expectations is unhelpful – and this is done by the media as well as politicians. An inpatient view of Europe is unhelpful. Menon said that the 50s and 60s had been a time of amazing innovativeness on Europe, but that innovation is more difficult at the moment – the EU has become far more intrusive and as it expands, individual states’ influence decreases. Added to rising political salience of its activities, it is no surprise the EU is viewed by many with caution. Menon mentioned that the view of the Commission as a crusading, integrationist institution is frozen in the public mind, although it has changed fundamentally since the days of Delors. As it stands, the commission is forced to be more accommodating. On Laffan’s point about structural limitations in EU democracy, Menon said that this would be Simon Hix’s view as well. Politicizing the supranational level would be an obvious tool to superficially increase democracy. Yet Menon said that he does not believe Europe could handle it. Trust would suffer from a politicized debate. Instead, the European Parliament should be shut down as unnecessary. It would of course be practically impossible to do so at this point, but if the EU were built today, the parliament wouldn’t be incorporated. Although MEPs do a very good job, the system as it currently exists does not, according to Menon, function as it should.
Nikolaïdis pointed out that happiness is based on trust and that therefore the Commission, as guarantor of the treaties, should not become overly politicised. Yet the European Parliament can be extremely useful in advancing the European debate on the national level. Also, whereas the Council is not very good at public discussions of EU policies, the European Parliament is well suited for this. It would be folly to try and aggregate decision-making on the European level – plurality must be maintained. On the changing world, Menon said that Europeans are doing what they have done since the end of the Second World War – freeriding, secure in the belief that others will protect us. As there is no existential threat to Europe, there is also no reason to stop doing this. Nikolaïdis pointed out that freeriding on existential questions is not an option. For example, the US debate on terrorism and climate change is diametrically opposed to the European one, with climate seen across the Atlantic as merely problematic, but terrorism as existential. Here Europe plays a part in changing priorities and it seems that the coming decade will make freeriding on other global issues more problematic as well. There is a good case to be made for Europe’s role in the world.
In her presentation Catharina Sørensen noted that euroscepticism is not a new phenomenon and has always been there, is about the EU and cannot, will not and should not go away. For Sørensen the term is not ideal but it does reflect the phenomenon. Conceptualising of euroscepticism was the main approach in Sørensen’s thesis. It is very important, Sørensen pointed out, to have focused debate on euroscepticism as there is confusion over what it really is. It is possible to talk about four different, independent and coherent types of euroscepticism: (1) economic, (2) sovereignty-based, (3) democratic, and (4) political. It is further possible to assess the intensity of euroscepticism in low-high terms. To conclude her presentation Sørensen pointed out that citizens evaluate the EU in abstract terms and opinions change as the EU changes and that EU communication fails if it is not targeted. Finally, Sørensen stated that the EU is also about ”normal politics” and many NO votes reflect the left/right axis.
How can one, Laffan inquired in her presentation, explain the shift in attitudes between the first and the second Lisbon referendum in Ireland? She listed five points that were important in winning the second referendum: mobilization, research, framing the debate, framing the message and delivering the message. Mobilizing women and young people was particularly important. In conclusion Laffan pointed out that treaty changes are over for now which means that there is constitutional equilibrium and that federalist project is at an end. Finally, Laffan inquired where do the boundaries of the EU lie and what are its global challenges.
Menon commented upon the questionable moral legitimacy of a campaign in which elites unite and use their sophisticated tools and state apparatus to win votes. Is this not, Menon asked, unfair? Norbert Götz pointed out to Sørensen that a more profound analysis would most probably reveal that there is more welfare based criticism in Scandinavia. Sørensen answered that she did a thorough literature review and, of course, there are several questions to be asked about her research method. There is, she stated, a wide debate on welfare state structure in Scandinavia. In relation to Menon’s comment Laffan pointed out that it was not a party competition; all state broadcast needs to give equal amount of coverage to YES and NO camps. The campaign was not state-led and the image of a state-run campaign is simply wrong. It was, Laffan stated, a coalition of the available and the willing, cross-national and geographically diverse. Finally, she pointed out that the cost to entry is far to low – it means that in a referendum anything can happen.
Nikolaidis raised a question about self-labelling. In the end everyone has some criticism over the EU but they aren’t all euroskeptics. She posed a question to Laffan on what she makes of those who were scared of their futures in the post-crisis world; is it fair to be asked again, doesn’t NO mean NO? Instead of a referendum we should have a preferendum. Anne Deighton inquired about the expenditure for YES and NO campaigns, and Katri Valaste wanted to know Sørensen’s views on the Irish referendums. Sørensen began by problematizing the term euroscepticism. Is it a philosophy or something else? There are two different criteria for labelling a eurosceptic: (1) Stable and long-term scepticism, and (2) intensity of scepticism. If one fulfils these criteria the term eurosceptic can be used. But the term is still a loaded and often misused label. As an answer to the second question Sørensen stated that it was interesting to listen to the Irish case and that comparison to Denmark can me made. Laffan for her part pointed out that Ireland and Denmark are very different in that historically Denmark has been a successful nation state, Ireland less so. The fixed NO group in Ireland had little knowledge of the EU. She further stated that referendums do matter because there are different kinds of political situations. Her group got its funding from donations up to legal limits. It is not legal in Ireland for the state to fund referendums. She does not think that it is undemocratic to ask people to think again. How much more objective knowledge people had on the Lisbon Treaty this time Laffan could not tell but at least there was a feeling that more knowledge had been acquired through the second campaign.
Wallgren’s main thesis in his presentation was that the EU fails as a democracy. The seminar debate was in Wallgren’s view mainly confessional as oppose to, as it should be, post-confessional. Confessionalism limits our capacity to address the real crisis we face, hunger and poverty. Hedonistic ethics and scientific logic are insufficient. There is a lagoon at the centre of the Lisbon treaty; power should belong to the people. We live in a post-democratic community. There has been a battle between peace and democracy; political power is always more important than democracy, a quality of power. It is important, Wallgren concluded, what is happening in democracy.
In his presentation Pawel Świeboda pointed out that the EU has a systematic problem with democracy. He argued that the EU is not well functioning in our current multi-polar system. There has been political over ambition within the EU. Europe is in terminal decline, Świeboda argued, and the EU is unable to stop it. Big states have utterly failed to lead the EU by trying to outdo each other. He further argued that there has been a generational change and younger Europeans have not been educated about Europe. The EU has not been able to address the needs and worries of those citizens who have been affected by the socioeconomic conditions. Is there, Świeboda finally inquired, a bright side of the moon? Part of the solution would be for the EU to tackle issues that are central to its future functionality such as micro economic governance, social model, climate policy, leadership and the role of national parliaments. Everything the EU does is highly political. The EU is, Świeboda concluded, becoming demystified.
Valaste inquired whether the chair introducing Wallgren as an “intelligent eurosceptic” had an underlying assumption about eurosceptics. Deighton’s question concerned the speakers’ view on the legitimacy of the UN and NATO. Menon pointed out that NATO enlargements have been much greater than EU ones – why there haven’t been any referendums on those? He further inquired whether it was implied in Wallgren’s presentation that national democracies work. Laffan pointed out to Wallgren that national democracies hardly work and to use the term “post-democratic” in relation to the EU implies that it was democratic but no longer is. The trend has been, Laffan argued, the complete opposite. Wallgren argued that we should reduce the need for collective action on a higher level as well as high level governance. He is, he stated, in favour of a multi-polar world. The EU is, as opposed to the UN or NATO, special because it has several competences. Finally, there was a moment, Wallgren argued, when we could have defined ourselves as a democratic community but we failed. In this room, he concluded, we are all eurosceptics and thus a post-confessional debate should begin. Nikolaidis voiced her astonishment for Wallgren not using the term “liberal democracy” in his presentation. Leonard argued that it seems that the debate is based on a category mistake as 30-50% of the EU legislation is technical and uninteresting to electorate. He further argued that what we seem to be doing is producing not democratic deficit but democratic surplus. There is a difference between form and substance – this is largely the reason why we do not vote in the European Parliament elections. Wallgren proposed that democracy and overburden of technical information should be taken seriously.
In the keynote speech Jorma Ollila spoke of the key challenges ahead. He spoke of the need to leave the institutional debate behind, and giving the new leaders under Lisbon the benefit of the doubt. The financial crisis is a catalyst for change and a new “normal” is emerging - this is, however, difficult to communicate both to the public and to politics. Global demand sources are diversifying as the US consumer no longer drives demand. There is an inexorable shift of power from the West to the East, which means new markets opening but also new competition. Amid calls for reregulation and protectionist pressures the EU has to tackle growing government debt, an upcoming shortage of skills due to retirements which immigration alone cannot solve, and permanent shocks of rise in food and oil prices. The EU has the potential to be a leader on climate change and capitalize on this as well. In order to preserve its way of life it must, however, be ready to embrace change and reform. Increased labour productivity, participation and improved terms of trade will all be necessary to this end.
On the internal market on energy, Ollila pointed out that efficiency gains in this sector would be no different from previous gains in other sectors, contrary to what the flawed arguments on national energy security imply. Instead of national champions on the market, EU-wide and globally competitive companies would also confer EU-wide benefits. On questions of climate change, he said that EU industry should not be unduly disadvantaged by regulation – a fine balance must be struck between incentives enabling the EU to form an avant-garde in ecologically sound energy production and not causing sudden leakages – the chemicals industry for example could lose a million jobs if targets are too intense and this would result in a public backlash. On nuclear energy, Ollila said that it is part of the puzzle even if not part of the long-term solution. Within ten years it should form 10% of the EU’s total energy solution. Ollila also pointed out that there is capital on the market – if there is will to create good incentives and regulations there is no lack of financing even at this moment.
In his presentation Herzog maintained that the private sector is sick for years to come. Europe is not ready to face the challenges Ollila listed – the engines of growth must be addressed first and this, coupled with adaptation to climate change, will require painful social trade-offs and, among other things, functioning lifelong learning programmes. Also, the market is set to test one European economy against the other, so solidarity and targeted goals are necessary. There are no uniform solutions for such a diverse set of countries, but a coordinated approach will work best.
In his presentation Erkki Liikanen called for concrete issues to be addressed. He made an example of the 1999 telecommunications market, in which monopolies across Europe were unbundled with a regulation from the Commission, introduced and implemented through the institutions in 2 months – with a sense of urgency, focus and commitment large necessary changes are possible extremely quickly and an enabling technology such as ITC platforms are a prime example. What doesn’t work is the use of excessive amounts of indicators to measure success or half-hearted programmes. On the financial crisis, Liikanen pointed out that the Euro and the ECB’s capacity to act saved the European economy – also, the impressive measures taken after the financial system came close to meltdown with the Lehman Brothers collapse, not allowing any systemically important banks to collapse, giving guarantees to borrowers, etc. played an integral part in averting catastrophe. Now the ECB’s competence is to enlarge to cover the evaluation of systemic risks.
In his presentation Sixten Korkman described the EU’s system of economic governance largely sound even though there is no government per se. He pointed to the Stability and Growth Pact and the Lisbon Strategy as having encountered failures, because they were lacking in a clear allocation of competences and effective monitoring (Lisbon) and a political feedback mechanism (Both) – Non-compliance “has to hurt” in order for a mechanism to be effective. According to Korkman, the EU fails mainly through the Member States – they must cease hiding behind Brussels and face the challenges of social cohesion, globalisation, demographics and technological change.
Ollila answered Lax’s question on Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier that, in terms of the consistency of its delivery, it is second to none. Western Europe gets its gas. Only healthy mutual interdependence would help clear problems between Russia and the EU. Europe, however, hasn’t played its cards very well. To Ojanen’s question of what citizens want the EU to do, Korkman replied that the EU works with clear competences – the Lisbon agenda did address citizen’s concerns, but the method chosen was flawed. Teija Tiilikainen pointed out that the open method of coordination is necessary when Member States are unwilling to transfer competences, despite obvious needs for coordination in a given policy sector.
On Ollila’s notion that industrial policy is making a comeback in the EU, Korkman held out that the Commission should focus on pursuing competition policy as usual. Perhaps the automobile sector could do with new supranational coordination to rid it of excess, but otherwise traditional competition policy and market logic are the best tools to address the top-down industrial policy challenges from East Asia. He maintained that the EU should focus on guaranteeing that European companies can remain globally competitive and on protecting their intellectual rights.
Herzog took up the example of young people’s disaffection with science and engineering, saying that industrial jobs are not seen in an attractive light. He proposed to heighten their profile and create role models in these fields as well in order to keep Europe competitive. Herzog effectively summed up the entire session in one sentence “If you are not retrained, you will fall out of the labour market.”
Deighton began her presentation by pointing out that “Europe in the world will not save Europe”, and hence said that she felt a little ambivalent about the title of the seminar. She went on to discuss ways of defining success and failure. She suggested that three conditions have to be met in order to deem a plan as potentially successful and worth attempting: 1) are objectives appropriate as well as being achievable in short term 2) does it reflect the actor’s values 3) is there proportionality. Furthermore, Deighton reminded of the role which the past has in the EU’s external profile. She also expressed her concern over the “lowest common denominator approach” which is presently affecting the EU’s external relations in a negative way. Given the current state of play, “I have great difficulty seeing how the EU can make impact in a multi-polar world”, she concluded.
In her presentation Maria Strömvik presented the increase in the number and geographical scope of ESDP missions as an argument against the proposition that the EU is failing. Discontent arises because the demand from outside and from the European public is higher than what the EU can deliver. Failure lies instead in the non-decisions of the EU regarding e.g. its view on Responsibility to Protect or the Iraq war. She went on to suggest that the EU needs an annual assessment, such as a “State of Union” address. Furthermore, willing Member States should be able to embark on deepened cooperation – something akin to the Open Method of Coordination – in the foreign policy field.
Menon pointed out that the EU is weakest where stakes are highest whereas it works well with mid-range issues. An important process has taken place in that the EU has domesticated security policy (i.e. made it technocratic and low-key, whereas states traditionally do “heroic” for policy). However, he found it difficult to see how to get voluntary cooperation to work or to decide on who would hold the “State of Union” speech. Nicolaïdis said that sometimes we just do not want the EU to do systematically more, and that we should differentiate between different levels of EU actorness that take place alongside the Member States. Deighton replied by reminding that the EU is not a state, and that its best policies are programmatic; the EU is not good at reacting. Thus, it should draw on this strength instead of “trying to follow the US doing xyz around the world”. She went on to pose the audience the question of how it had been possible for St. Malo to be the way forward for the Union in its external capacities. Strömvik reminded that we are sometimes measuring wrong things: size is not always the most important aspect. An annual political declaration could be given by the High Representative whereas a broader state of union address would obviously fall under the responsibility of the Council President. Moreover, she pointed out that different institutions and states have different baggage, and that in some places the EU may be perceived as less threatening than e.g. the UN.
In his presentation Ricardo Soares de Oliveira focused on the EU’s role in Africa. Without wanting to be totally pessimistic, he focused on the caveats in the EU’s approach. Firstly, the EU’s attention is directed at building EU capacities, which conceals the fact that from African point of view the Union has not been so successful or even visible. Take the issues on their own right, not in terms of EU development, he suggested. In Africa, the Union should scale down its ambition level. At the core of this failure lies the fact that the Member States’ interest in Africa is mainly brittle: the less we expose this, the better. This is not a plea for general isolationism, he concluded.
Nick Witney’s topic was the transatlantic relations. He stated that, apart from trade relations, the EU’s failure in transatlantic relations is spectacular. There is still a strong belief in privileged bilateral relations in many EU Member States’ capitals. Moreover, the US has made Europe its junior partner, and in return Europe feels that it needs to show solidarity even when the US is making mistakes. Thus Europe has difficulties in seeing that its interests can diverge from those of the US.
Ojanen proposed that the EU is failing because it is afraid of failure, but also because the Member States are afraid of each other. Herzog was interested in Chinese strategy in Africa and the effects which that may have on Europe. Nicolaïdis brought up the importance of coming up with a truly post-colonial policy. Some Member States have colonial burden, but also experience. She wanted to reflect upon what a non-paternalistic policy can be if partners are authoritarian. Deighton inquired what other strategic partnership there could be for the US. She also challenged the conference to think what to do with our golden hearts and the way they affect European Africa policies. Soares de Oliveira reminded that the Chinese are talking to elites, not to populations in Africa. However, there no longer exists a Western monopoly on telling what should be done in Africa. China is respecting African sovereignty, and African states are delighted.
Leonard concluded the conference by suggesting that the intellectual sclerosis in Europe is even more unforgivable than failure in other realms. Europe is almost completely absent from defining issues on global agenda such as terrorism. The EU is suffering from a 20 years crisis of its own and has been completely unprepared to the economic dynamism of authoritarian powers. This he alluded to the success of the 1990s, the “Incredible decade”, and the belief that Europe’s ideas are still building the whole world. In order to succeed in the new geopolitical environment, the EU needs success in four main areas: unity, capacity, as a regional power and as a global power.