This blog entry is a partial response to the Presseurop / The Guardian My Europe series

Andrew Moravcsik - photo Princeton UniversityThe man in question is Princeton Professor Andrew Moravcsik, mastermind of the theory of liberal intergovernmentalism, that goes further than any other to explain the EU’s current predicament. The three stages of the theory – domestic preference formation, followed by interstate bargaining and finally the creation of supranational institutions – are the mirror for today’s EU.

Of crucial importance just now is the matter of domestic preference formation, for this is the ingredient that has undergone most change in the last decade. The historical imperative of reunification of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall was enough to keep a supranational EU on track until the end of the twentieth century; not so any longer.

An EU of 27 created internal tension (not least due to immigration) that had not been foreseen. Military intervention in Iraq drove a wedge between Member States. A baby boom generation of leaders took over from their predecessors born in the 1930s and 1940s; keeping the boomers happy has become more of an imperative than forging an optimistic model for the EU for the future. 24 hour news and the internet, coupled with fracturing of party political structures, make it harder than ever before to take tough, long term decisions.

So there are no grand statements from Merkel, Sarkozy or Berlusconi. Each takes what his or her state can get, individually behaving in a rational way in the EU, and when something is adequately pressing and vital a surpranational, institutional solution emerges. Moravcsik would be proud.

The institutions themselves, developed in another era with other imperatives, suffer from the same malaise. The Commission is limited in its vision as – rationally – every Member State doesn’t want its Commissioner to outshine its national government. MEPs are too often second raters drawn from national political parties so lacking in ideas as to be unable to muster up visionary leadership nationally, with little left over for Brussels.

The civil servants, the fonctionnaires previously attacked by British tabloids as the drivers of ever closer union, are few in number, feeble in motivation, and large numbers of them have more of an eye on their pensions than they do on the future of the EU for mid-century. Worse still, their efforts are occupied with the defence of programmes designed for times past – the Common Agricultural Policy being the most striking example.

So where for the EU now? Here I share Tim Parks’s concerns; I see nothing ahead but more of the same. The danger is not some supranational monster, nor is the danger the complete disintegration of the EU. There will be a further corrosion of public support, renewed bickering about the important matters of the day, more irrelevant fights among ‘pro-Europeans’ and ‘eurosceptics’ – all perfectly rational from a national preference point of view. Yet 27 national preferences do not a union make, but I’m stumped as to what alternative to this rather hopeless EU is going to be available any time soon.


  1. french derek

    Happy New Year, Jon.

    What a depressing note to end the old one, though! You seem, to me, to present your views of the EU and of the players in the EU institution from a very British point of view.

    For example, Merkel and Sarkozy were very forthright in their New Year messages: both in support of the EU but also in support of the Euro. Also, though the UK may send “second best” as MEP fodder, other countries’ politicians see a spell as an EMP as a career step. Same with civil servants seconded to the EU (one such was a very good friend of mine – but he’s now flying too high for old friends to catch up with him).

    As for the Commission and Commissioners: there the problem is Barosso. Several of the older hands still insist upon acting in the interests of the wider EU. Barroso feels the need to satisfy his “big noise” leaders: and to harass Commissioners to review their reports, etc, accordingly.

    It will always be difficult to get the national leaders to leave their home concerns outside the meeting-room doors. But crises are the way in which the EU has (but slowly) arrived at a supra-national improvement in the way things are done. Because the Euro crisis is still not settled there is still time for those leaders to agree the next important step.

  2. Merkel and Sarkozy have *got* to support the Euro now – they have no other option! Or, the other option(s) are worse. So their statements are rational from a liberal intergovernmentalist perspective.

    There are a couple of countries (Netherlands, Sweden) that don’t send second raters to the EP, but any country with closed lists or lists controlled too much by party elites has problems. France sends too many has-beens (although at least the Greens have a couple of interesting ones).

    I don’t deny there are clever fonctionnaires but those on secondment are never going to be a driver of integration – secondments are one way to make sure the administration doesn’t get out of hand. Overall the old age structure of the institutions, relatively little recruitment, and an administrative structure that stifles free thinking and innovation are not good.

    Who are the older hands in the Commission who are doing decent things? Kroes for sure, but others? One of the oldest hands – Reding – is dire.

    As for the Euro’s woes and the current year, I see no prospect of progress in the next 12 months. Any solutions are going to be taken because the alternatives are worse, and will probably be enacted too late and reactively rather than proactively.

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