The third age of European integration?

PoliticsatSurrey |

Returning from UACES, and eager not to get lost in the big pile of emails that awaits me, I spent some time thinking about how to integrate all of the things that I’d been hearing over the past few days. While my focus had been mainly on euroscepticism, I also listened to sessions on the eurozone crisis and governance, as well as having many discussions over the (excellent) refreshments.

One theme that came up in different places was the sense that the EU needs to move towards a new consensus. More accurately, this was actually a combination of an analysis that such a movement was happening away and of a desire that such a thing was a ‘good thing’.

The analysis rests on the observation of the emergence of euroscepticism across a wide range of political actors and in all member states, the challenging by ‘pro-EU’ actors of the status quo, the growing sense that resolving the eurozone crisis will require substantial further institutional and policy engineering and the general absence of people with a good thing to say about the Union.

The desire is then found on both sides of the debate. The sceptics see the opportunity to finally escape the pernicious logic of integration and regain some agency, mainly through the tool of referenda. The pro-EU side are updating the post-1945 model of crisis as a means to strengthen governance at a European level, albeit recognising that this might move theUnionto a new settlement from its current position. In both cases, the critique is similar: something is wrong with the EU. It is the solution that differs; weakening or strengthening the European level.

When I teach about the EU, I normally discuss integration in a two phase way.

Firstly, there was the period from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War. The bipolar Cold War international system and the division ofEuropeimposed not only a geographical, but also political constraints on what the EEC/EC could be. Most obviously, that limited security cooperation beyond NATO, but it also hampered the emergence of political integration that might have challenged Western solidarity (however you wish to characterise that).

The end of the Cold War opened the second phase, where both the global ambition and the scope of the EU moved up by some orders of degree. That early 1990s vision of the Union as one of the main poles in a multipolar system has not been entirely lost, just as the democratisation/constitutionalisation project thatMaastrichtset fully in motion is still being worked through.

The question that occurs to me now is whether the combination of the closing of the long saga of the Constitutional Treaty/Lisbon Treaty and the eurozone crisis is leading the EU into a third phase.

Constitutionalisation and democratisation, as seen in the time ofMaastricht, have not come to fruition, at least in the manner originally foreseen. The echoes of Monnet’s building Europeans and European-ness throughout spillover and progressive socialisation have grown ever weaker. The eurozone crisis has only underlined the persistence of difference between different member states, as well as the failure of the central common policy to provide solutions in time of difficulty.

If this feeling of a move to a new consensus does become more evident, then perhaps this third phase will be marked not by the constraints of the Cold War, nor the ambition ofMaastricht, but by a new modesty. If you like, this might be the mid-life crisis phase of European integration, moving on from those days when anything seemed possible. The joints ache a bit, the sense of responsibility holds one back, but the intentions are solid and honourable. Of course, that is not to say that things will work themselves out – it all needs work.

However, the sooner there is a recognition of that need, the sooner that new consensus can be reached.


Dr Simon Usherwood is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Politics, University of Surrey.

Twitter: @Usherwood and @surreypolitics