The European Union

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Europe’s history has been tumultuous at best. It has been the stage for countless domestic revolutions, interstate conflicts, two World Wars and the Cold War. It is not ignorant of this past, nor is it willing to undergo another great war between states; rather Europe is looking to redeem itself and no longer be a burden to the international community. The 21st Century appears promising for the next stage of European history, as the region moves to establish itself a leading political power through the enlargement of the European Union1.

Originally an economic pact between France and Germany after the Second World War, the European Economic Community (ECC) has progressively developed to become the European Union; a power to balance post-Cold War US hegemony, and an example of liberal democracy2. This seemingly utopian theory, though, is not without its flaws, let alone its challenges. In its necessity to expand and incorporate states far beyond the realm of the original Western European members, the EU is discovering the realities of cross political, economic and cultural integration.

Although obviously problematic for the European Union, the United States are taking advantage of the often conflicting interests of states in their attempt to remain the single super power of the present international political order. However this is far from being the only complication for the EU, as Calleo concedes, “as the European Union expands it will either disintegrate or become more imperial”3. He is not alone in his conclusion; although the European Union is not a lost cause, it is apparent its future is far from secure, especially during this vulnerable stage of enlargement.

The European Union is aware of the necessity to establish not only a common political culture, but so too a common identity for it to be successful4. That is to say, in order for Europe to function peacefully as a union it needs to “share a code for human rights and diplomatic behaviour”. A realistic concept in theory, it is not so simple in practice. European states need first overcome their desire for nation-state sovereignty, and identify a common European vision.

Nations cannot develop a political culture over night, it is a long historical process that generally incorporates a shared language, culture and historical memory, and therefore it seems inconceivable at this time for the increasingly heterogenous European Union to construct a political culture of its own. This point feeds into the issue of confederacy; without a European political culture the union will be unable to work as a state in itself, it is more likely that it will function as an interdependent confederacy than a federal nation-state5.

At the same time member states are prepared to work collectively, provided that the collective action fulfils the national interests of those states. Thus in the meantime the European Union, due to the structure of its parliament, is vulnerable to imperial threats of the stronger member states, such as Germany or France. When the EU grows to 27 members’ national representation will be based on rotation; presently, however there exists an unequal distribution of power in the European parliament.

During the 2000 Nice Summit votes of large member states were tripled, while those of small countries, simply doubled6. This is a cause for concern for many new and potential member states, questioning the relative advantages in joining the EU at the expense of their sovereignty. Furthermore Germany demanded their vote be increased to be larger than other big states, this was refused, however they still attained a majority representation in the European Parliament.

Germany has been a strong supporter of EU expansion eastward in attempts to “increase the weight of Germanic Middle Europe”7, a desire that threatens the Franco-German relationship, and raises issues of the thought-to-be resolved German problem. The potential conflicts that may arise out of the balance of power between member states and the matter of sovereignty, is a consideration the EU must take heed of, without resolving these issues enlargement may lead to further political instability. Calleo suggests that expansion may lead to imperialism, not of one European nation state, but of the European Union as a whole.

For the EU to successful in its Maastricht’s solution and embody the liberal democracy it longs to it is essential that it ‘streamline’ its decision making processes8. In doing so the EU will inevitably turn toward ‘genuine federalism’, this is imperative, Calleo suggests, in order for the EU to realise a pan-European role. Furthermore, for the European Union to sustain itself in the constantly changing political global order, it needs to become a hyper power in itself, to ‘dominate the Russians and replace the Americans9’.

Whether this is an attainable aspiration is yet to be seen, it appears though, that the EU has a choice between this ‘imperialism’ and eventual disintegration. Expanding east had been considered an inevitable step in the EU’s development; however integrating the Balkan region has been a challenge. The internal conflicts and drug and people trafficking of these states have threatened EU security, their economic instability also proves an insistent issue.

Incorporating the Balkan region into the European Union raises concern for the unions cohesion, and has resulted in a review of membership, whether it would be more productive to ‘widen’ the EU, rather than to extend full membership10. Calleo concludes that continuing its enlargement and expanding membership to states with unstable economies and domestic security issues, the EU may be sabotaging its future lead itself to disintegration. The European Union has also faced various economic challenges since its foundation.

After the establishment of the EEC in 1958, this united community had been extremely advantageous for member states and Europe as a whole; however it has become exceedingly difficult for the EU to maintain that stable growth during the process enlargement. Initially absorbing new members into the EU has, and will continue to, require heavy subsidies which will slow its economic advancement. This issue was first realised in the 1980s incorporation of Mediterranean states, such as Greece and Spain, whose economies were not as productive as original Western member states11.

This issue is of relatively little consequence in comparison to the inclusion of Eastern European states. Calleo comments that in post communist states high inflation disguises the major changes that moving from a communism into a capitalist economy entail and therefore is necessary for the effective development of new and potential EU members. There is controversy in regard to these ‘necessary’ high inflation rates, economists arguing whether hyperinflation will work for or against the EU, the dispute fuelling further political conflicts12.

Furthermore, expanding east has raised questions about how to adapt Community Policies and Regulations to incorporate these poorer countries. Finally the advantageous character of post-war Europe was derived from the special constraints that limited its membership scope, the EU now needs to consider whether enlargement through increased membership will be in its best interests, or lead to its disintegration13. Yet another challenge faced by the European Union exists in their relationship with the United States.

At this vulnerable stage of development international actors have an increasing influence on the EU socio-political dynamic; certain actors have both the means and motivations to take advantage of EU vulnerability. The US is increasingly concerned about “losing its military hegemony in NATO” in light of the EUs political, economic and military expansion14. The EU, now that the Cold War has dissipated, is no longer dependent on the US protectorate and seeks to exert a newly independent self in the future.

This has resulted in hostilities from the US, as became apparent during an interview with Rumsfeld in his comments about ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe, and his reference to the EU as merely an expanded NATO15. The US influence on the European Union has become increasingly obvious in recent years with the ‘War against Terrorism’. The US comment that states are either ‘for’ or ‘against’ the invasion on Iraq which has resulted in increased, and in some cases created, conflicts between EU member states.

This single event of 2003 forced member states to make public their ‘position on the EU, NATO and the United States’ Support for the war was offered by Eastern European NATO candidates, and NATO members, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary16. The inevitable response from states opposed to the war was, as France bluntly iterated, that it would have been better had they kept quiet on the issue. The actions of the US, whether inadvertently or intentionally, have affected, and are likely to continue to affect, the stability and enlargement of the European Union.

In the case of the Iraq crisis it brought to the fore issues of sovereignty; states supporting the war were offended by France and Germany’s comments, professing that these nations did not and would not speak for Europe as a whole. More generally, the conflicting perspectives prove that the EU has a long way to go before it can be considered stable, or even successful. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld’s comments regarding the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe simply enflame present hostilities, and Europe’s reaction to such comments shed light on EU vulnerability.

The future of the European Union remains ubiquitous, since its enlargement after the Cold War it has succeeded in securing itself an influential position in the international community, yet is far from establishing itself as a superpower. In order to ensure major conflicts do not break out once more on the continent, the EU must become economically, politically and socially stable. If it is unable to resolve issues of sovereignty, economic distribution, general equality of states and create common foreign and security policies, it seem unlikely that the EU will ever become the Pan-Europe envision during Maastricht.

Enlargement has threatened the disintegration of the European Union, its attempt to integrate such diverse states has resulted in controversies at every conceivable level. As Calleo suggests, the EU has the potential to become imperial through enlargement, at the same time, it may fail entirely in its attempt to do so. Not only does the EU have to deal with its integration of potentially threatening member states, but so too US attempts to ‘drive a wedge’ amongst them.

The opposing interests to the US and EU have already led to various controversies and increasing hostilities, while the EU continues to expand it has not the political stability to combat the US in their endeavours to shake the already vulnerable foundations of Europe. The EU attempted to expand too quickly, it did not fully comprehend the long and arduous task of becoming more heterogenous through enlargement, and as such it has become increasingly unstable and vulnerable. Unless the EU can find a common vision for their future it is more likely to disintegrate than become imperial; the world awaits this answer.

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