Is the EU Paralyzing Itself?

European integration has been compared to a bicycle that must be moved forward, because otherwise it falls to the ground. According to this analogy (which does not imply that Europe is a Tour de France) integration is an ever-moving process that always demands new stimuli, otherwise the forces of stagnation and disintegration will gain the upper hand.

The introduction of Euro coins and notes, as well as the looming enlargement of the EU eastward, should provide the needed stimulus, and add to the economic dynamics of the EU. But when the EU expands to include 27 members, its decision-making process will risk becoming deadlocked.

The economic heterogeneity of such a large number of members, when paired with the unanimity required for core decisions to be taken on issues such as taxation, the budget, fundamental rules and other areas, means that the common denominator for decisions in the EU will become smaller and smaller. National interest and the status quo will become even more dominant, deepening the chance of paralysis.

The arrival of these problems was foreseen long ago, but the Treaty of Nice failed to improve the means for intergovernmental decision-making within the European Council. On the contrary: the threshold for a qualified majority has been raised from 71.26% (68 of 87 votes) to 74.79% ( 258 out of 345 votes). With increased membership, the enlarged EU will move towards greater unanimity, which makes decision-making even more difficult, and increases the likelihood of blocking coalitions of members. But correcting this will become harder after new members have joined.