The Inevitable Re-Birth of European Integration

ATHENS – European integration implies successive transfers of national sovereignty to the Union. But, while member states readily comply with decisions that abolish protective measures – say, import duties – they hesitate to formulate or advance policies that would grant the European Union discretionary powers to take initiatives. Typical examples of this are the stalled Lisbon Strategy, the incomplete Economic and Monetary Union, and now, following the Irish public’s blocking maneuver, the uncertain fate of the new EU Constitutional Treaty (the “Lisbon Treaty”).

A similar weakness is evident in the EU’s attempt to define itself in the global system. Energy security, climate change, the rise of China, and the revival of Russia are among the many issues that require effective responses. Often, however, the EU cannot respond or can do so only slowly, because its structure obstructs quick decisions and fast action. This structure was appropriate in an era when the free market was practically the only issue that the EU had to confront at the global level. But that era is over.

Change is rendered more difficult by the insufficient democratic legitimacy of EU bodies. The lack of a direct relationship with Europe’s people deprives these bodies of the pressure required to bring about rapid action and responsive policies.

There is no easy solution to these problems. Democracy in the EU cannot be guaranteed by the models and rules that apply in the member states. The scale of the problems makes more elaborate solutions necessary. When dealing with the EU, member states usually aim for arrangements and regulations that ensure cooperation within agreed-upon frameworks. And, as the Irish referendum showed, they do not readily accept unifying initiatives that would make the EU an autonomous center of power.