Rethinking the European Union

Bachelor Thesis 2013 30 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: European Union



1. Preface and Introduction

2. Issues of the EU
2.1. Additional Problems

3. Composite States versus Nation States

4. Accessory Unions

5. Aeque Principaliter

6. Federalism

7. Diversity

8. The new model for the European Union

9. Conclusion


1. Preface and Introduction

Europe and in particular the European Union has had many difficulties in the last five years. While the global economic crisis has had a huge impact on the United States of America, they seem to have managed. In Europe however, not a day goes by without new reports of yet another disaster at our doorsteps. It is understandable that many citizens have become Euro-sceptic as a result. But claims of instability and weak structures aside, the EU lives on and it continues to grow. Anyone who has ever set foot inside the European Parliament and seen how intertwined everything has become, will realise that dissolving the Union is no longer an option. Experts do not even dare to speculate about the costs of abolishing the European bureaucratic apparatus. Not to mention all the arising social and political issues, with which the national governments would have to deal.

For me, the only question that remains, is, in which direction the EU should and will most likely develop in the future. This is the question I will try to answer in this bachelor thesis.

First I will give a brief summary of my small bachelor thesis, in which I examined the democratic properties of the EU and its problems, and expand on my earlier analysis.

Afterwards I will enter the second part of this paper. To begin, I will establish why I believe the EU can in fact be compared to other states and systems. Followed by looking at past, current and hypothetical states and systems and comparing them to the EU, in order to identify more problems and possibilities for improvement and to look for solutions to the European Union's current deficits.

In particular, I will take a look at the type of accessory unions and the unions aeque principaliter and try to determine, how Europe could progress in either way. Additionally I will lean on Switzerland and the United States of America (as well as similar models) as examples for diversity and federalism respectively.

At the end of the paper, I will summarise my findings and establish my recommendation of a new model for the European Union.

2. Issues of the EU

One of the most important factors, when looking at the EU, is that it is a multilevel democracy.1 We have to distinguish between the European and national levels of politics. While the EU passes their policies, it is the nation states who have to enact them. The national politicians also have to accept any and all consequences of these new laws, such as disapproval by their voters. (cf. Scharpf 2007, p. 8)

Although many national governments (and especially extremist parties) often use this to their own advantage, by declaring anything they might have done wrong themselves, the Union's fault. "Practically all EU policies must be implemented by the member states. Yet [...] political attention and political competition in Europe are not concentrated on the higher (i.e., European) level. European elections are not instrumentalized by political parties to shape European policy choices, and they are not perceived by disaffected voters as an opportunity to punish the EU government." (Scharpf 2007, p. 8) The major issue here, is that the Union has no political culture. As an Austrian citizen, I can only candidate as a representative of Austria, I cannot ask for support from Finland or Germany. Therefore I am forced to attend to only those matters, that affect Austria, not the whole Union if I want to be elected.

Right now the European level is mostly neglected. The people are focusing on the national levels and rebuke the EU for most of their problems, all the while not even knowing what it has been up to. To overcome this very important issue, the European Union needs to implement a new European wide system, which will allow candidates from all member states to be elected by any citizen from another state and heat up the political interest and competition by providing new European themed media, such as a EU TV channel or by making their already available streaming via the internet more popular. The clear separation of the national and supranational levels is mandatory for the Union's future.

National boundaries should not stop European integration, however, there exists an imbalance between negative and positive integration in the European Union. "This asymmetry of negative and positive integration has effects that may undermine expectations of reciprocity at the national level." (Scharpf 2007, p. 13) To put it simply, the regulations that exist between countries are there, to balance their trade with each other. The prices for every product vary in every country, as does the income of a citizen for a specific job, taxes and laws and so on. If we were to abolish all of these regulations, there would be nothing left in the way, to stop people from taking advantage of any and every loop hole, thereby destroying the European economy. This would cause a chain reaction within the world and within every European nation's political system. Chaos would ensue. Fortunately, that will probably never be the case. But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is actively furthering negative integration, by ruling against any national regulations that do not fit in with their beliefs, even if the juridical situation is not in conflict with those regulations. Moreover this is not only limited to regulations affecting trade.

While the European Parliament has been strengthened through the Treaty of Lissabon, it is not nearly powerful enough. The Court and the Commission still inhabit too much power and this imbalance needs to be corrected in order to avoid further deregulation.

While I do believe that a united Europe is the way for us to go, this process needs time and has to be properly regulated. The EU consists of 28 member states, which are all very different and we have to slowly adjust our laws and regulations, to equalise the economic and juridical standards within all our countries, but tearing down the walls between us blindly, will only ensure the downfall of the Union.

I have already talked about the imbalance between the institutions of the European Union, but now it is time to take a look at the citizens of our Union. Democracies are often characterised by providing ways of representing interests, such as clubs and parties, or organisations. There are those who criticise these lobbyists as undemocratic, because they are intransparent and unwarrantable, but at the same time major players in the field of politics. Neo-pluralism on the other hand believes that these groupings are what allow individual citizens to give voice to their interests. However one might see it, the problem arises when some organised interests start overshadowing others. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 228)

Again I have to advert to the discrepancy between the national and the European levels. The Commission originally published a register of organisations, which numbered 686 union organisations. At the same time, there were 1673 registered organisations in Germany alone. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 232) Whereas “on 19/08/13, there were 5850 registrants in the register” (Transparency Register, 2013, WEB) of the European Union. Thus there is a constant imbalance of representation. While the European Level used to be mostly neglected in the first decade of the 21st century, it is now being flooded by lobbyists, potentially blocking out national interests completely. What is worse, is that particular interests are better represented than others on the European level. The industry has access to many more representatives than all other union organisations combined.

Of course it is important to say that not every problem or interest present in society, carries the same weight. Not only, because there are fewer people who care about a certain thing, but also if it is something that may affect many or even all of humanity, but is not something that is present on everybody's mind at all times, e.g. environmental concerns. Those are of importance to many people of course, but the average person will be more concerned about keeping their job and putting food on the table, than saving the environment. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 233f)

Furthermore, interest groups, who wish to be taken seriously, need to be able to threaten the system with a temporary denial of service. This is mandatory leverage. Without it, an organisation is powerless. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 234)

This can mean people from a certain profession all strike, but it can also be a big portion of the population, which threaten the government with a change in their voting behaviour in the upcoming elections if it does not act on a matter of great importance to them. Not only is it hard for the citizens of the Union, who are far spread and all speak different languages to communicate and organise each other to show their will, but it is also impossible to deny a service which does not exist. For example the already mentioned environmental concerns; even if the people were to bundle their collective wills, there would be no way to show their frustration about the destruction of the environment. Not only because they too are responsible, living their lives the way they are, but also because not everyone is involved with these issues every day, e.g. in their jobs. The only way to protest against this issue, would be to live life responsibly, which does not attract any attention and does not force anyone to change their ways. In other words, there are issues and interests, which cannot be represented as well as others, even though they might be just as important or perhaps even more important to our civilisation.

Olson adds another aspect to our dilemma, the logic of collective action. If an interest organisation tends to the needs of the many, there is a big chance of free-riding. After all, why would a single person which benefits from the organisation, donate any resources to it if there are already enough people donating in their place? According to Olson, this is precisely why there is such a vast gap between the numbers of interest groups. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 234f)

Only the immediate concerns of the very many and the interests of the resourceful are of any meaning in the political system. This leads to a very distinct problem, in my opinion. The rich, who are always fewer in numbers than the poor in a capitalistic system, will always try to enforce their interests. But the many can somewhat withstand their power, because of their suffrage, preventing the opulent from taking all of the resources for them­selves. So far so good, however as soon as the resourceful target only a small group of people, such as teachers or farmers etc. they will undoubtedly succeed. They can not only use their resources to represent their interests better on both the national and European levels, but they can also use the media to influence the rest of the population, to take their side. It has been done before and it will be done again.

However this is not the only problem. The bulk of the population is specialised in their own fields. Everyone has different ideas and knowledge. Sometimes problems may arise, which only a few experts recognise. But they are unable to do anything about it, because they lack the resources to either combat the problem on their own, or raise awareness amongst the general population. In the end, these people are at the mercy of the wealthy, when it comes to representing their interests, which might even be in the interest of every­one else. But what if the affluent ones are the ones causing the problem? Again, it seems that capital rules the world.

As always, this has to do with the multilevel system. Not only are interests split among the different fields, but also among the 27 nations. Finding a common ground is very difficult, because of this and even if a union organisation is created, it can lead to a competition between the national and union organisations for members and supporters. (cf. Kohler-Koch 2004, p. 236f)

If certain parties are not as well represented in the European Union as others, what options do they have to oppose policies that are against their interests? In a national democracy you will find a government on the one hand and an opposition on the other. But the EU is different. "There are governments in the EU, of course, and there is opposition to the EU, but there is little in the way of a linkage between these two that would make the govern­ment–opposition relationship relevant to EU practice." (Mair 2007, p. 5)

In the 1950s Otto Kirchheimer characterised three different types of opposition. The first, is called classical opposition, which is the government-opposition relationship we know, where the opposition bid defiance to the policies of the government, but at the same time, acknowledge the government's rule. Then there is the opposition of principle, in which not only the governing party is targeted by the opposition, but also the entire system. Lastly there is the elimination of opposition, meaning that there is no significant difference between the parties and the government rules by cartel. (cf. Mair 2007, p. 5)

"The key point to understand here, however, is that these are not just discrete modes of opposition, but are actually related to one another." (Mair 2007, p. 6)

What Mair means with this, is that opposition is a necessary valve for people in the minori­ty. When the cry goes out for more democratic values, it is the people who want more political power, so they can better control their own lives. However, while democracies give the people the power to vote, this vote does not guarantee that the representatives will achieve exactly what the voters wanted. Nor does it make those voters happy, whose can­didates did not win the election. The classic opposition allows the people, who feel left out to channel their emotions and their anger. But "[...]when classical opposition is limited or constrained, it then becomes more likely that critics will mobilize around an opposition of principle. In other words, if political actors lack the opportunity to develop classical opposition, then they either submit entirely, leading to the elimination of opposition, or they revolt." (Mair 2007, p. 6)

According to Robert Dahl, the European Union is missing one fundamental element, every democratic institution should have: The right to organised political opposition. (cf. Dahl 1966, p. Xii)

The system simply does not allow for any opposition. There is no ruling government and no parties who could oppose its decisions. But how are we supposed to show our disapproval if there is no designated way of doing it inside the system? "Once we cannot organize opposition in the EU, we are then almost forced to organize opposition to the EU." (Mair 2007, p. 7)

Peter Mair also believes that the depoliticization of the EU will lead to the depoliticization of the national governments, potentially causing opposition to those governments to arise as well, especially if the EU continues to move closer to the national governments. "If, though, in practice, it becomes difficult to separate out what is European and what is domestic; and if, in practice, the two become ever more closely bound up with one another, it then follows that dissatisfaction with Europe must also entail a more generalized ‘polity-scepticism’." (Mair 2007, p. 16)

2.1. Additional Problems

To identify all of the problems of the European Union, one cannot allow oneself to just look at the political side of the union. There are many aspects, such as education, science, the social fabric, economy, the environment, agriculture, international affairs and so on. Anything that is, should really be part of a thorough analysis, however I am not an expert in everything and would need a considerable amount of time, help and paper, to paint such a thorough view of the Union's state. What I can do, is to look at the most major flaws and issues of the Union, which I have already done and in addition, I will now take a closer look at the economic dilemma the Union faces. It is only logical to include this, in my analysis, as the EU was founded as a economic and not a political union.

The first thing that springs to mind, when one is asked about the economy in Europe, is, what has come to be known as the “Euro crisis”, threatening the union's very existence for years. The most important question one should ask, is: How is it possible that it has come this far? Answer: Because the fault lies within the design of the EU. We live in an age of globalisation and neoliberal economy. Europe however, is the embodiment of well fare. That is not a bad thing, but it means that the EU needs to put safety regulations into place, in order to secure itself against potential threats, such as credit bubbles. Of course, there were no such regulations in place, which is why we are in a crisis in the first place. “The debt crisis has its roots in decisions made in the 1990s when European leaders were planning the euro. Many economists warned then that Europe still lacked key elements necessary for a common currency to work, like a joint European bank regulator and a system for dealing with troubled financial institutions.” (Ewing 2012, NYT)

The fundamental flaw in the EU's design is its incompleteness. On the political side, we have European elections and representatives of the peoples. But they are not representatives of a people, but peoples. There is no real government, only loose cooperation between governments. There is a very small European budget, but no European taxes. The European law on the other hand, is incredibly powerful and once the European Court of Justice has made up its mind, every member state is forced to adopt the laws in one form or another. But what of the economic side? We have a European Central Bank, which regulates our common currency, but no banking regulation across states and for the longest time, there was no safety net to help member states in need. This is the most crucial oversight. “The euro zone also lacked an effective means to discipline members that violated debt and deficit spending limits set by treaty. Several countries soon exceeded them. In fact, Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor until 2005, was one of those calling loudest for the rules to be watered down so he would not have to cut government spending.” (Ewing 2012, NYT)

The EU prides itself on its social and well fare beliefs and was eager to expand. The European political leaders were so captivated by the idea of a united Europe, that they intentionally disregarded their own rules, to accommodate further increase in size. Due to the lack of banking regulations, French and German banks were allowed to lend Greece money, even though it was known that Greece had obfuscated their financial records. Greed was the deciding factor. Driven by neoliberal ideals, the member states acted in their own interests, without even considering the ramifications of their actions for the entire European Union.

Now, the governments and people of the Union blame the endangered member states for the crisis. Anyone who knows a thing or two about macroeconomics, will understand that the Euro zone as a whole is to blame, not a single country like Greece. “Fitch’s current analysis suggests that these imbalances primarily reflected divergences in real interest rates that combined with much easier access to credit and over‐optimistic expectations of future growth, resulted in over‐investment and inflated asset markets and a rapid rise in private sector and foreign indebtedness in the so‐called “peripheral” economies.” (Riley 2011, p.1)

All of this could have been averted and could now be fixed, if the European and national politicians would simply give up on their greed and personal interests and take the necessary step forward, toward a new European Union. A union, which is not riddled with flaws and loopholes, a real political, monetary and economic union. Only then can the vision of a united Europe really be fulfilled.

Another argument can be made in favour of stronger European Integration. There exists a field of study that is still widely neglected among political scientists and yet so important that states all over the world are willing to pay incredible amounts of money for it: Political Branding. Simon Anholt has developed the concept of Competitive Identity. He argues that product brands such as Coca Cola, are not the only brands out there. In fact, every country has its own brand. For example, if I were to say the word France, some people would immediately think about the Eiffel Tower, others would think about cheese or wine etc. A nation brand can have positive or negative effects for the country in question. As with the capitalist market, branding is no longer something that can simply be ignored. If you do not participate, you lose. “Countries which do not do this run the risk of being saddled with a brand which does not suit their aims or interests at all, and which is very likely based on ignorance, hearsay, confusion or long-past events.” (Anholt 2006, p. 2)


1 The entirety of Chapter 2., with the exclusion of its sub-chapter, is a shortened and edited extract from my small thesis, with a few adjustments, where necessary.


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University of Vienna – Institut für Politikwissenschaft
rethinking european union



Title: Rethinking the European Union