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The EU after the crisis

Speakers
Professor Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics, University of Oxford, UK

Date
17 February 2014 and 18 February 2014
Venue
17 Feb (NUS): Master’s CommonsCollege of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), UTown
18 Feb (NTU): Lecture Room 5, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Time
17 Feb (NUS): 4.30pm-6.00pm
18 Feb (NTU): 10.30am-12pm

Downloads

The EU Centre organised two seminars by Professor Jan Zielonka entitled “The EU after the Crisis” on the 17th and 18th February 2014. Below is the report for the seminars.

Seminar Report by Devi Shree Malarvanan (Intern, EU Centre)

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Professor Jan Zielonka began his seminar by emphasizing that he remained positive about Europe but had doubts on whether the EU as it is now would continue to be the engine of integration. Referring to the euro crisis, he pointed out that two years ago people were certain that the EU was on the brink of collapse and it was the end of the project. That, however, clearly was not the case. While the euro crisis seems to have been tamed, he was more concerned about the aftermath of this financial crisis and what it would mean for the EU.

With that, he moved on to talk about the crisis being a little special and somewhat different. General perception of the crisis was such that people thought the entire crisis was about three things: the euro, Greece and a debt situation.  However, it was more than these, and in fact, Professor Zielonka claimed that, the crisis is not just a credit crunch; but it is an intellectual and political crunch

He framed it as a crisis of coherence, trust and imagination. With regards to the lack of coherence, he pointed out that, the EU has different policies across different spheres and what one observes in the EU now is that instead of convergence there is increasing divergence, for example, the distinctions between creditor countries and debtor countries and finally distinction along the lines of policy maker and policy taker.

He explicated this using the European governments’ course of action in the face of the crisis. Following the crisis, all the European governments regardless of their difference in affiliations, made the same three decisions. They decided that the financial sector needed assistance more than any other sector of the economy, the solutions had to be found on the national rather than the EU-level and that tax payers should not have to fill the gaps. This, in theory, is wonderful; however, in reality it has lead to greater divergence. States, which are on the weaker end of the spectrum, have to shoulder the burden of implementing these policies while states in a position to help mostly do not feel the need to share the responsibility and any form of help they provide is always conditional.

With regards to crises of trust and imagination, Professor Zielonka asserted that there is nothing on the table to address the problems that the member states experience because of the lack of imagination. On the issue of trust, Professor Zielonka used the recent survey results by Eurobarometer to show the dramatic drop in trust not just in debtor countries but in creditor countries too. These problems, related to the crises of trust and imagination, unfortunately, cannot be resolved easily.

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He postulated three scenarios that could result from these crises. There could be abrupt disintegration, a “failed jump forward” or muddling through. Abrupt disintegration could result due to further external shocks. In addressing the next scenario that is a “failed jump forward”, he questioned if measures to foster further integration amongst the Eurozone countries, such as creating a second Parliament chamber exclusively for eurozone countries would work. The most ideal effect of a second chamber, he proclaimed, would be tighter integration of all eurozone countries. However, quite the opposite could happen too; if a second chamber materializes non-eurozone countries would be left out from the decision making circle creating a two-class Europe. This, however, does not make much sense granted that eurozone decisions have direct effects on non-eurozone countries too and as such it is not acceptable to leave them out of decision-making. Besides, by drawing comparisons to how Gorbachev’s reforms in USSR essentially engendered the gradual collapse of the system, he argued that implementing reforms in the EU could result in very similar consequences. Muddling through involves choosing not to notice these problems and hoping they will disappear, he said. This entails not addressing the underlying problems but simply hoping that following this crisis the weaker economies most affected by this crisis will not behave like they did in the past.

Professor Zielonka argued that all these scenarios are very real and politicians would want to do everything in their power to save the EU project which has benefitted them in a multitude of ways. In order for that to be possible they need to realize that many things within the EU require cooperation, integration and the recognition that weaker economic states and other issues are interrelated.

He, then, questioned if there is a possibility of reintegration to form a United States of Europe. In order for this to happen, state institutions would have to consent to transfer more power to the EU institutions  so that greater coherence can be achieved.He dismissed this as highly unlikely as all signs are that member states  would be very reluctant to do so. Furthermore, EU has grown too big and complex to be able to reform itself in such a manner.

Another alternative, he put forth, is that of a “Bundesrepublik Europa”, one in which further integration takes place under the direct leadership of Germany. Germany, however, has no plans to provide this leadership. Citing their lack of experience in empire building like the Spanish or Portugal and the fact that such an arrangement would be an expensive affair for Germany, he noted that this is also not bound to happen anytime soon.

On that note, he argued that essentially EU will lose a lot of power and influence in the world but it will keep up an appearance. It could potentially become what the Western European Union used to be; it will not solve problems on the ground.  In 20 years or so, this picture is bound to become more complicated but this does not mean the end of integration in Europe. Instead of this institutionalized integration, one can expect greater ground level integration with cities, regions taking on more important roles. There is a need to think about the concept of EU in a different way and imagine it re-emerging in a different shape. There is still a lot of hope for Europe but EU might not be the main player in this post-crisis configuration.