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Global Challenges as the Motivation for deeper European Integration?

Written by Vincent Venus | November 10, 2011 | 0 Comments | Theme: A future for Europe?, Global Europe

European integration has been in most cases positive for the European people. Nevertheless, Europe is no political pop star. In the past decades it was the prospect of peace that legitimised integration. However, this will not be applicable for the future as Norbert Röttgen, German federal minister, said yesterday. He is right as only 47 percent of EU-citizens still believe that their respective state’s membership in the EU is “a good thing.” Nevertheless, all participants of the panel “global Europe” pointed to the necessity of Europeans getting their act together and cooperate in foreign policy. May this be a new narrative for European integration? Do global challenges legitimise deeper European integration?

Sir Colin Budd agrees. The former UK ambassador believes in the high potential of EU foreign policy in terms of actual policy making but also as a motivation for the Europeans to work together.

State of affairs

Today the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is as elaborated as never before: The EU has a diplomatic service, the External Action Service (EEAS) headed by Catherine Ashton. The EU has military forces, the “EU battle groups”. The EU runs several operations all over the world, for example in Kosovo or at the coast of Somalia. And the EU has institutions to wield control, such as the Political and Security Committee. However, most foreign policy is still conducted intergovernmentally, that is, by the nation states.


During the panel debate “global Europe” and those of the first day all participants stressed that the EU has indeed a potential to further its efforts in this field. There are many examples for this: the fight against the climate change, the defence of human rights, crisis response, cooperation in diplomacy or defence.

Depending on the speaker the argument for further foreign policy cooperation was based on international power play, like the upraise of China or balancing the US, or rather cosmopolitan reasons, to “save the world.” In either way, the reason d’être for closer European foreign policy seems undisputed.

Europe in a globalised World – the new narrative?

The facts are clear but is the prospect of Europe in a globalised world reason enough for Europeans to actually demand deeper integration? In my eyes solely rational arguments are not enough. Even though the advantages of integration are more clear when you look at Europe from a global perspective, people may be reluctant to vote for this undertaking. Why is this?

First of all, people have problems so adopt to the rapid changes of the 21st century. Instead of accepting the changes they prefer to keep the situation they have been used to. As Wolfgang Ischinger puts it: “The people fell in a love affair with the status quo.” Second, life is not only rational – feeling plays an important role as well: “We all know the advantages of the EU by heart, Cem Özdemir, a German politician, said, “but the people do not feel them. They are too unfairly allocated.” Finally, Europeans are afraid to lose control over what is happening.

How to solve these problems? First, Politicians need to communicate the necessities of EU integration better. Yes, they need to take over responsibility and actually lead. Second, People have to feel the advantages of European integration and they need to feel more European as well. Thus, give Europe a social dimension or advance exchange programmes like Erasmus to include already school students. Finally, make sure democratic control is given on all levels. If foreign policy becomes Europeanised, the European Parliament needs to control it – and not the executive of the Member States.

If Europe succeeds in this we would not only ensure Europe’s influence on world stage but also find a new narrative for Europe. Can we change the debate on Europe to achieve this?

Comment on European Defence and Hon Jim Murphy’s speech

Second key note speaker was Hon Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. He argued for a re-evaluating the European defence which should lead to pooling of resources. In his view NATO provides the frame for this undertaking. I first want to support his claim that Europe must address the issue of defence. Second, however, I argue in favour of stronger defence cooperation within the frame of the European Union. My claim: The EU Member States should stay active in NATO but do so as a single actor. This would give Europe more weight in NATO, as well as make the organisation potentially more effective.


The Challenge to European Defence

European economies are crushed and thus the states have to cut budgets, including the one for defence which accounted up to 200 billion Euro a year before the crisis. At the same time soft and hard security threats are not disappearing. The question thus arises how to pay for soldiers, aircrafts and research.

The European Union Member States waste money and staff on highly ineffective armies according to Joylon Howorth. He remarks that of 1.9 million troops only 190,000 are trained and equipped for peacekeeping missions and only 50,000 for high-intensity battles.¹ Furthermore “there is tremendous waste in European defence spending” because “too many countries order essentially the same equipment from too many different suppliers.”²

What these numbers entail is that the Europeans states have too many soldiers which are too little deployable. At the same time their general spending is too ineffective, including the one for research. The European states have more military research programmes running than the US but spend just a fraction of the US budget for it.

Hence, Europe fails in financial terms – but not only there. Also regarding strategy the EU lacks well behind its status on world stage. Sven Biscop concluded in 2009 that in the European Union there is a huge cap between the strategy outlined and actual praxis. In fact, the EU lacks at all a grand strategy. This means that the EU is not prepared for sudden events, like the case of Libya proofed.


How to Save Money and make Europe’s Armies more effective?

The answer to these problems seems clear: We need to pool our resources to achieve higher cost effectiveness as well as improve capabilities. But how should we achieve this? The two options our there is either integrate the military within the frame of NATO or EU. The question is not if the European states should stay members of NATO – yes they should, we need NATO. However, NATO is an international organisation. There is no perspective at all that NATO will ever become more than that. If armies are supposed to approximate, how do you guarantee progress within an entirely intergovernmental organisation consisting of such different members as Canada and Turkey? How do you guarantee democratic control? How to you make sure the people support this endeavour?

NATO is not the right frame for this. The European Union in contrast offers considerable advantages: First of all, the Member States have relatively equal interests in geopolitics: mainly security on the European continent. Second, the European states have an equal approach to actual operations. For example, they make use of the EU’s transformative power, mix hard with soft power approaches or invest in state-building. Finally, the EU is better equipped for military cooperations because it is a political union. If accompanied by an increase of influence by the European and national parliaments this military integration would be truly democratically legitimised – in contrast to executive based decisions within NATO.

Interestingly, a deeper military integration within the frame of the EU would not foreclose greater European contribution to NATO. If the European forces are organised more efficiently this would at the same time provide the European states with greater resources to contribute to NATO. Equally interestingly, with greater engagement comes greater influence. The Europeans would then be able to wield more influence within NATO – giving it a more European face and balancing the US.


¹ Howorth, J. (2011). The EU’s Security and Defence Policy: Towards a Strategic Approach. In C. Hill & M. Smith (Eds.), International Relations and the European Union (2nd ed., pp. 198-222). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

² Grevi, G., & Keohane, D. (2009). ESDP Resources. In G. Grevi, D. Helly & D. Keohane (Eds.), European Security and Defence Policy: The First Ten Years (1999-2009). Paris: EU Institute for Security Studies.

Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

Written by Vincent Venus | November 9, 2011 | 2 Comments | Theme: A future for Europe?, European identity

Why do the losers of decision making processes accept the outcome as legitimate in a democracy? Does this also apply for decisions made on the European level? And what does that reveal about the real or perceived democratic deficit within EU decision making processes? Starting out from those questions, Simon Hix gave a brief presentation of his most recent research findings on Democracy in the European Parliament and the EU in general.

By looking at the voting behaviour within the EP, he found empirical evidence that the traditional consensual way of doing politics (where the EPP and the S&D would more more less agree on an issue beforehand) slowly gives way to a more majoritarian style in the EP. Broken down to single issues and the fractions it appeared, that shifting coalitions would form the majority. Despite being the strongest group (not only in the EP but also in the EC and the council) the centre-right (EPP) is not able to dominate the decisions taken in the Parliament.

Interestingly, there is a growing left-right split which gives those parties lying between the EPP and S&D a pivotal role: by voting either with the conservatives or the social democrats they often provide the necessary votes for the majority.

He thus concludes that the European Parliament is becoming an ever more attractive democratic arena and, indeed, a well working parliament, which no doubt reflects the democratic discourse in Europe. In doing so, it provides a stark contrast to the closed-door decision making of the council, which structurally works more like a senate.
He ended his presentation with the question on how to bridge the gap between public perception of democratic deficits and the improving performance of European Parliament? Tackling this question will be fundamental for the EP to gain public support.

In the following discussion, he argued for an election of the EC President out of a set of rivalling candidates, to provide a focal point to the decisions made in the EP, as direct elections are still to far off. (Co-written by Lutz Gude.)


Brief Comment from a Federalist Perspective

Simon Hix findings once more point out the need to politicise the European Parliament – not only in terms of the institutional frame but actual public political discussion. His idea to let the EP vote on rivalling Commission President candidates is the right step. The Young European Federalists have been demanding this reform for years. Next to that the parliament candidates should be freed from national boundaries. The EP should not only be a European but a transnational parliament. Thus, transnational lists should be introduced as proposed by MEP Andrew Duff. The idea behind those two proposals: To make the European citizens realise how important the European Parliament is, wee need them to get engaged in it.

Vincent Venus: I Want my Future Back – An Accusation of the Leading Politicians in Europe

I am angry. I am angry because the current generation of politicians is betraying my generation. How do I arrive at this conclusion? Let me go back a bit in history before I address the current situation.

Two Generations of Great Leadership

I was born in 1989, just some days before the Berlin wall came down. This event allowed the unification of Germany and ultimately of Europe. It was achieved by the people and by politicians. The latter did what they thought needed to be done, despite of not being sure of the consequences of their decisions. They were brave and my generation owes them a lot.

40 years beforehand there was another generation of politicians. They found a European continent burned to ashes, inhabited by people who fought against each other with no mercy. Instead of allowing national resentments to dominate the after-war years they decided to build up our continent and made the different nations cooperate instead of compete. They, most notably Monnet, were far-sighted, and again, my generation owes them a lot.

What do those two generations of leaders have in common? They both faced times of unrest and uncertainty. However, they were visionary and took risks to achieve their ideas, despite of a possible loss of personal power in case of failure. It is these two characteristics which I miss in the politicians who currently wield power.

Europe today: Crisis and no Vision

Europe is in a terrible state. We are witnessing rising unemployment, social upheaval, states crushed by market pressure, and most striking of all: mistrust. The markets do not trust the states, the states do not trust the banks, foreign countries do not trust the European Union and the people do not trust any of the above.

Of course the top politicians are not entirely responsible for this crisis and of course there are events beyond their control. Nevertheless, it is astounding how obvious they neglect their responsibility to lead, or rather, lead together. Some examples: President Sarkozy first tried everything to prevent French banks from taking over responsibility and is now already campaigning for the upcoming national elections. Chancellor Merkel is no better. In May she told the fairy tale of the lazy Greeks, in July she called for a “controllable process” and dismissed any bold steps, and in October she reassured to protect German tax-payers’ money – meanwhile demanding bigger sacrifices by the Greek people. Papandreou on the other hand decided to let the people speak but did so in a poorly timed manner and without any consultation. And Cameron? Well, he is simply getting on the nerves of everybody.

Thus the leaders of the nation-states are failing but what about those of the European Union? They try but it seems they are almost negligible in light of the Member States’ power play. Barosso argues for a new treaty, Van Rompuy is busy mediating between the Euro-zone members and the others, and the European Parliament has to witness how the intergovernmental actors are unable to reach consensus. The European Union is so far the biggest loser of this crisis – and this is precisely the worst failure of this generation of politicians.

Instead of proclaiming the EU as the way to overcome this crisis they do much to undermine the Union. As Martin Schultz (S&D) rightfully noticed: “In the EU, success is nationalised and failure is Europeanised.” Scholars of EU studies arrived at this conclusion already some years ago but today it is even more true than ever. Simply read the angry comments below any online newspaper article regarding the EU to see the result of this tactic.

It is almost ridiculous to come up with the following metaphor but just too many leading figures seem to have forgotten it: We all sit in the same boat (Europe), we all sail on the same ocean (planet earth), and we all have the same destination (peace, social cohesion, a free and enlightened society, quality of life, global cooperation to tackle the problems – the “European Dream” as Rifkin calls it). Just because some of our fellow seamen from Greece are temporarily too weak to do their duty on deck, this does not mean that we can simply throw them overboard. Europe, united in good and in bad times – and especially in future times. Next to those problems mentioned above, what about climate change, the failed integration of non-Europeans, the demographic change, energy security or the relative loss of influence of us Europeans on world stage? Do the national leaders really believe they are able to tackle these challenges on their own?

Power requires taking over Responsibility

Being in power equals taking over responsibility – everyone who was a student representative knows that. The European leaders in contrast, seem to have forgotten this. They stumble from one economic crisis to another, do not tackle other elementary problems, but seem to only administer the disaster.

Why is this the case? First of all, because of selfish power concerns. They prefer to be a big fish in a small waters, rather than to be a small fish in big waters. Secondly, because of the influence of multinational companies and banks on the politicians. Consequently, they try to appease the national electorate as well as the markets. The first group with short-sighted decisions, which will harm Europe in the long-run but keep them in power, and the second by avoiding the harsh but necessary reforms.

That is the wrong approach. In my eyes a politician should present her/his plan to the people, elaborate on the pros and cons and then ask the electorate if they want to follow her/him. This way contains of course the risk of not getting elected, but it provides orientation to the people. Orientation leads to trust, a feeling so bitterly needed in times like ours.

I can only hope that my generation does it better. We are equipped: educated at much more demanding universities, transnationally orientated thanks to English and Erasmus, and connected via the internet. Of course, this only applies to a certain share of my generation, but if this share is ready to face the challenge, we can and we will get our future back.