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In which direction is Europe heading?

23 June 2015 prof. Tomasz G. Grosse Analysis 2 min

In 2008, the European Union entered an economic crisis that at first affected the financial system and then turned into a crisis of the Eurozone. This meant serious implications for the on-going processes of European integration. The purpose of this analysis is an attempt to assess how Europe has been overcoming economic crisis and in which direction the political system has been heading. 

The events of the crisis mobilised the national and European elites (the latter defined as trans-national or super-national elites) to respond above all with respect to the economic situation. But in part, the changes concerned also the political dimension or precipitated consequences of a systemic character (related to the mechanisms of European integration in the system aspect). These reforms were undertaken after a serious delay and after lengthy debate. Some ideas were only discussed and did not gain practical implementation due to differing opinions and interests among the leading political actors, above all the EU member states. As a result, the crisis was overcome to a partial or incomplete extent both in the economic and political respect. This resulted in an unnecessary prolongation of the crisis situation and generated serious economic, social and political costs. This lead to a rising wave of social dissatisfaction with both national governments and the processes of integration, and of peaking popularity of extreme anti-systemic and anti-European groups. In certain cases these parties opposed the continuation of European integration in the current form and questioned the purpose of further participation in the currency union (this took place in France, Germany, Italy, Greece and the UK).

In this analysis I would like to present the thesis that the basic systemic dysfunctions at the root of the crisis have not been overcome. Anti-crisis activities was to a great extent directed at restoring the pre-crisis status quo, not only in the sense of stabilising the economic situation but above all to maintain the earlier competitive advantages of the central states and minimisation of the redistributive costs borne by those states on behalf of the countries most hit by the crisis. The time of the crisis also served to strengthen the power of intergovernmental institutions in the Union, as well as the leadership of the largest and most wealthy member states, mainly Germany. It weakened the autonomy of certain European institutions, above all the Commission and Parliament, as well as reducing the cohesion of the European legal system, amongst other things as a result of the application of various forms of exceptions, activities almost beyond the remit of treaties in force or other informal anti-crisis policies. A range of anti-crisis institutions were introduced by separate international treaties and therefore beyond the order of Union law. Furthermore, the tendency deepened for an EU divided into two tiers of integration (the two-speed Europe) with a more strongly integrated Eurozone and the remaining European Union states. All the abovementioned phenomena were effects of adjustment to the crisis situation and were systemic in nature (they concerned the fundamental features and way of functioning of the EU political system). However, they do not overcome in any basic manner the ongoing systemic political dysfunctions and deficits of the uniting Europe (for example, they did not improve the pace, nor the accuracy of decision-making nor did they even out the democratic legitimacy deficit). Nevertheless, it would seem that the earlier model of community integration (or community model) has been seriously weakened, leading to the danger of further problems and political costs in the future.

This is an updated English translation of a research paper published in April. For Polish version click here.