The Nature of the European Union

The European Union is a complex political body that is very difficult to summarize under simply one category. However, I believe the most important categorization to help explain the European Union and how it operates is whether it is viewed as a primarily supranational or intergovernmental organization. The main difference between whether the European Union is viewed as a success or failure hinges primarily on this classification. Derek Beach asks the question: “Are we witnessing a transformation of the EU from a strong supranational institution into a weaker Union dominated by governments? ” (Beach, 2012, p. 49). I think the answer to this question is crucial to determining how the success level of the European Union is viewed, and many more focused questions hinge on this answer.

Is there a common European identity? Is the euro a success or a failure? Does the Union need a common defense policy? Does the European Union experience a democratic deficit? All of these questions can be analyzed best by determining the nature of the European Union and its governance. Uwe Puetter notes that “It is hard to ignore the constantly growing activism at the top-level of intergovernmental decision making in European Union politics” and goes on to say that “the enquiry as to what next step the EU will take is directed towards the capitals rather than the Brussels-based bureaucracy” (Puetter, 2012, p. 56). It is under this consideration that I propose that the answers to these questions are best explained by viewing the European Union as primarily an intergovernmental body.

European Identity and the Role of the Member State A fitting place to start the discussion on the success of the European Union is with the concept of a common European identity. John McCormick and Jonathan Olsen remark that, “one of the prerequisites for a successful political system is a strong civil society, consisting of all the voluntary and spontaneous forms of political association that evolve within a state and are not formally part of the state system, but show that citizens can operate independently of the state” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 196).

This strong civil society is important in the sense that citizens must feel as though they are part of their government, that they have a voice in their government, in order for a political system to succeed. In the European Union, I genuinely believe that, especially over the last decade, a genuine sense of European identity has burgeoned throughout the continent. This is due largely to the fact that each member state has to deal with the same problems as their neighbor. Ulrike Liebert, when arguing for the emergence of a European identity, notes that, “increasingly, EU policy issues – from the 2004 EU enlargement and the 2004-9 treaty reforms to the eurocrisis management – appeared on member states’ public agendas at the same time, as questions of similar concern, looked at through comparable lenses, and triggering exchanges across national boundaries” (Liebert, 2012, p. 99).

Member states, and in turn, citizens of said member states, have increasingly realized the benefits of tackling problems not as a solitary actor, but as one of many in collaboration with each other. “Incrementally, these processes helped overcome the segmentation of national public spheres, while preserving their diversity” (Liebert, 2012, p. 99). Jurgen Habermas notes that there is an “interest in preserving culturally influential ways of living… which the citizens recognize as part of their collective identity” (Habermas, 2013, p. 42). European citizens have come to enjoy a type of citizenship rather unique to Europe, one in which political identity is meshed together while maintaining unique cultural identities. Habermas states that “citizens of the Union have a justified interest in their respective nation states continuing to perform their proven role as guarantors of law and freedom also in their role as member states” (Habermas, 2013, p. 41).

Citizens in individual member states have maintained the expectation that the primary purpose of their national government is to serve its own citizens, though they have realized that their national governments maintain and even improve upon their capacity to do so within the context of the European Union. Habermas notes that EU member states preserve their autonomy “within the framework of a European federation through the principle of subsidiarity” (Habermas, 2013, p. 42). The level of autonomy member states enjoy is clearly a very defining factor when it comes to classifying a political institution such as the EU. Via this principle of subsidiarity, which McCormick and Olsen deem “one of the key principles of European integration” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p.229), EU member states possess a level of autonomy that prevents the European Union from being classified as a supranational organization.

Success has been found and is still being found in achieving the ultimate goals of a well-defined European identity a fully integrated European continent. Instead of supranationalism, intergovernmentalism dominates EU policy-making and I believe its domination is a key factor in achieving these goals. The Single Market and the Euro “What we now know as the European Union began life as the European Economic Community, and therein lies a fundamental clue to how the process of European integration has evolved” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 239). Before it was anything else, the European Union was an economic institution, founded upon the need to rebuild the European continent after the destruction of World War II. McCormick and Olsen comment that “economic integration was intended to promote peace and prosperity by generating wealth and opportunity that would allow Europe to recover from the ravages of war” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 239).

The implementation of the single market is without a doubt the biggest success story of the European Union. It has allowed for the free movement of people, money, goods, and services within the borders of the European Union, as well as removing the physical, fiscal, and technical barriers inhibiting ideal economic relations and policy. “The near-completion of the single market has helped boost productivity and wealth, European corporations have become bigger and more competitive, trade and foreign investment have grown, and inflation has been stabilized” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 239). The introduction of the euro in 1999 was of utmost importance to the continued growth and preservation of the single market.

Amy Verdun, in her argument for the future of the euro, quotes Jacques Rueff, advisor to French President Charles de Gaulle in 1949, who “famously said: ‘L’Europe se fera par la monnaie ou ne se fera pas [Europe will be made by the currency, or it won’t be made]’” (Verdun, 2012, p. 114). People within the Eurozone enjoy the convenience of not having to exchange currencies when traveling between countries and multinational corporations have been rid of the headache that comes with conversion rates and multiple currencies while conducting business within the Eurozone.

McCormick and Olsen point out the significance of the euro, stating, “although it was primarily an economic achievement, in that it represented the final realization of the goal of European economic and monetary union, it was also a political achievement, in that its creation involved the surrender of significant national sovereignty by Eurozone governments” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 248). For some, this may call into question the status of the European Union as primarily an intergovernmental institution. However, not every country was obligated to join the Eurozone; Britain, Sweden, and Denmark all declined due to public opposition against the adoption of the euro.

The fifteen countries that established the Eurozone were “a group of sovereign nations [that had] voluntarily given up their national currencies and adopted a common currency” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 248). That coupled with the fact that the Maastricht Treaty, which outlined the basic principles for a common currency, had to be signed by each EU member state before going into effect significantly reduces any claim to an argument that the adoption of the euro was a primarily supranational decision imposed by Brussels upon EU member states.

McCormick and Olsen quote Mark Gilbert, who “argues that Maastricht represented an ‘unprecedented voluntary cession of national sovereignty,’ and that it was ‘less an international treaty than a tentative constitutional act’” (McCormick and Olsen, 2014, p. 79). For the adoption of something as radically new as a common currency among sovereign states, it was important that there was no impression that said adoption was anything but voluntary and that the process towards adoption was discussed multilaterally among sovereign states acting in their own national interest.

Any discussion about the euro cannot avoid mentioning the Eurozone crisis that began in late 2009 following the 2007-8 financial crisis. Verdun admits that “the euro was created without a fully fledged federalist framework and thus lacked the necessary institutional structures to deal with difficult times” (Verdun, 2012, p. 117). Habermas addresses this problem as well, supplementing Verdun’s statement by pointing out that “a common market with a partially shared currency has developed in an economic zone of continental proportions with a huge population, but without institutions being established at the European level capable of effectively coordinating the economic policies of the member states” (Habermas, 2013, p. 121).

The problem lies within the fact that requirements to enter or remain a part of the Eurozone were never enforced to their fullest extent and had no institutional backing should the financial economy deteriorate or sovereign debt enter a crisis. “The creators of the euro had put their confidence in a so-called ‘no bail out clause’ and rules that would ensure that budgetary deficits and public debt of member states would not exceed agreed ceilings.

Putting their trust in those rules, they chose to eschew institutional structures for situations in which a massive economic crisis would lead to heavy indebtedness in member states” (Verdun, 2012, p. 117). Clearly, there are deep-seated institutional problems associated with the euro, and these are not problems that are going to be solved overnight. It is going to take a restructuring of the financial framework to ensure that a problem for a minority of Eurozone countries like Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, does not have to be dealt with by only the economically stronger countries such as Germany.

Habermas sets forth that “the Eurozone countries are heading towards a situation in which they will have to choose between a deepening of European cooperation and relinquishing the euro” (Habermas, 2013, p. 122). A considerable increase in intergovernmental cooperation will have to take place in order for these institutional frameworks to be adjusted to standards capable of withstanding such critical economic situations as Europe has experienced over the last five years. That said, the euro can be viewed in a light of success simply because of the ease that it has brought to international trade and simple civilian convenience.

It is not time to abolish something only a couple of decades old. A Common Security and Defense Policy Foreign relations, security, and defense are all sure to be on a list of discussion about the European Union. It is one of the largest international organizations in the world and certainly one of the most influential. Within the Union, military spending as a percentage of GDP, at 1. 55% in 2011, is second only to that of the United States and the combined strength of the EU’s active duty personnel is second only to that of China (European Union, 2013, p. 4).

It is clear that the European Union meets all the numerical requirements to command a military force to be reckoned with in the world, but it lacks the application of cohesive policy to use its military resources efficiently, and member states cannot always reach a consensus on any sort of common policy with regards to foreign relations, security, and defense. The European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), renamed the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, consists of the Petersberg Tasks (humanitarian, rescue, and peacekeeping operations) and the European Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), which carries out the Petersberg Tasks. To understand the scope of the CSDP, Ojanen offers her thoughts:

“The existence of the CSDP cannot really be explained in ordinary terms of converging interests… There is no [shared] external threat that would compel the member states to cooperate” (Ojanen, 2012, p. 221). It would appear based on this statement alone that, based on the varying national interests of EU member states, the mere existence of the CSDP does not make any sense. “In traditional terms,” Ojanen states, “cooperation between states in security and defense develops because of shared security concerns” (Ojanen, 2012, p. 221). This is exemplified by organizations such as NATO, which was formed under the common interest, in the words of the first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” (Coletti, 2005, n. p. ). If the CSDP does not exist to address shared security concerns, then what can explain its existence? Within the European Union, different countries participate in the CSDP in response to different incentives and different goals.

Ojanen gives the examples of Germany, which “might appreciate the added legitimacy the shared framework gives,” the United Kingdom, which sees the CSDP as “a way of strengthening its position in the EU,” and Finland, for which “CSDP is seen to strengthen national security in a rather tangible way given its close proximity to Russia” (Ojanen, 2012, p. 221). In the sense that each member state benefits differently from participating, maybe the CSDP is a success story of the European Union. Just because the incentives for participating may vary from country to country does not mean that a common security goal cannot be achieved.

How then, should the application of the CSDP be approached? One would think that with a word such as “common” in the title, a strong element of supranationalism would be present in decision-making and implementation. However, that is only true for the latter, in which qualified majority voting is possible. In regards to actually determining which security and defense policies are pursued, Ojanen remarks that it “still remains for the main part strictly intergovernmental” (Ojanen, 2012, p. 224).

This seems to follow logical thinking; one would hope for the nonexistence of a supranational organization that could command a member state unwillingly to provide troops for a cause or interest not in line with that member states own national interests. In this regard, it is highly improbable that a progressive and modern institution such as the European Union would ever be allowed to exercise that sort of power; member states would defect immediately. Because of this aspect, the Common Security and Defense Policy has succeeded and will continue to succeed in allowing EU member states to have it serve any purpose they please while providing the framework for a cohesive and consistent security and defense policy within the European Union. A Democratic Deficit? “The classic justification for democracy is to check and channel the arbitrary and potentially corrupt power of the state” (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 606).

In a modern democracy, as is the nature of the beast, citizens of a state want their voices to be heard; they want to have a say in how their government runs and what decisions it makes. Furthermore, when a government operating in a democracy starts making decisions that its citizens feel are in violation with their rights, they have the right to bring light to the situation and attempt to amend the institutions that violate them. This would be the rationale behind the argument put forth by the proponents of a democratic deficit within the European Union. They would offer statements similar to that of Richard Bellamy: “Unless the citizens of the various member states possess a sense of belonging to a single European people, who share certain common values and collective purposes, then a pan-European democracy will not produce a system of popular self-rule, whereby a people rules itself” (Bellamy, 2012, p. 65). However, such arguments are unfounded.

There is no democratic deficit within the European Union, and support for this claim can be found within the fundamental framework of the system of EU institutions. McCormick and Olsen comment on this framework, stating, “elections to the [European Parliament] have been a fixture on the European political calendar since 1979. Held on a fixed five-year rotation… they give European voters a direct link with the work of the EU” (McCormick and Olsen, 2012, p. 201). The argument cannot be made that European voters do not have a say in the process of legislation within the EU; the European Parliament is a fundamental actor in the creation of new legislation. Members of the EP, like any other politicians, seek to maintain their positions and keep their constituencies happy for as long as possible. If there is enough negative public sentiment towards a proposed piece of European legislation, members of the EP will do everything in their power to oppose said legislation.

Furthermore, as a requirement to join the EU, each country must be a functional democracy with regular elections. Under this condition, it is a given that citizens of each country directly elect national leaders, who in turn have a seat in the Council of Ministers, giving European citizens another direct link to the institutions in Brussels. Moravcsik makes the claim that “the threat of a European superstate is a myth” (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 606). There was never any imposition of power by the European Union down on its member states. Christopher Lord’s “central claim is that EU member states have chosen to associate on the basis of certain qualifications to their own statehood (Lord, 2012, p. 75). Each member state knew what it would be giving up by joining the European Union.

Lord ends his argument by positing that the EU “has innovated beyond what is normal for international bodies in providing elements of public control, political equality, and justification through a representative system that does not depend entirely on member states” (Lord, 2012, p. 78). Based on those qualifications, it is safe to say that the European Union does not suffer from a democratic deficit any more than any democratic sovereign state, which in and of itself, given the nature of the institution, is a great achievement. Conclusion The European Union is an institution of intrinsically intergovernmentalistic nature. European identity and integration are on the rise.

The single European market and the implementation of the euro are two of the greatest economic achievements of the recent past. A Common Security and Defense Policy allows for member states to pursue overarching security goals how they want, and the promise of the European Union is greatly accentuated by its democratic goals and achievements. The story of the European Union is one of success, and it is still being written. Works Cited Coletti, Guillermo. “NATO’s Real Purpose: “To Keep the Germans Down”” National Journal. 11 Feb. 2005. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. European Union. European Defence Agency. Defence Data 2011. Ed.

Eric Platteau. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. Habermas, Jurgen. The Crisis of the European Union: A Response. Cambridge: Polity, 2013. Print. McCormick, John, and Jonathan Olsen. The European Union: Politics and Policies. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2014. Print. Moravcsik, Andrew. “In Defence of the ‘Democratic Deficit’: Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union. ” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 40. 4 (2002): 603-24. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. Zimmermann, Hubert, and Andreas Dur, eds. Key Controversies in European Integration. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.