In a recent lecture in Oxford, the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that “the crisis is helping to advance the European project.” In a sense, he is of course right. The crisis has been the catalyst for a process of accelerated integration – albeit at gunpoint – in which member states have transferred powers to the European level, particularly over their economies, that would have been unthinkable under other circumstances. The banking union that is now being created may be followed by a fiscal and even political union of some kind. For many people such as Schäuble who are thought of as exemplary “pro-Europeans”, the crisis has been an opportunity.
However, during the last three years this process of accelerated integration has been accompanied by two worrying developments that distinguish it from earlier phases of European integration. The first development relates to the role of coercion in the EU. The second development relates to the role of Germany. These two developments may be temporary phenomena that will pass if and when the crisis is resolved. But there is also a danger that they may transform the European project into something quite different from the European Union to which we were used. In that case, a project that was meant to overcome the domination within Europe might become a vehicle for domination in a new form.