Is the European Union Going Forward or Going Backwards?
The many crises that have hit the European Union during the last decade and a half have made many observers pessimistic about the future of the organisation. The deep economic crisis of the eurozone has been followed by a north-south political divide and the exit of Great Britain from the EU coincided with conflicts on the meaning of democracy with some notable eastern member states. The conclusion of a European Union going backwards is nevertheless premature. As in the past, great failures, such as the Constitutional Treaty, coincided with great steps forward.
Only a few years ago the usual theories regarding the process of European integration and the inner-workings of the organisation seemed insufficient to explain the EU’s ambition and increased complexity. Daring new approaches drew on categories of political philosophy that seemed out of use, such as empire, confederation or even federation, to explain what the EU might look like. However, the recent crises at the core and in the periphery of the EU questioned the viability of the whole enterprise. The Covid crisis, while exogenous to the EU structure, has only reinforced the sense of EU integration malaise, despite the central role the European Commission has played in the acquisition and distribution of vaccines. This might be justifiable at first glance, but in reality, the EU has continued to build new institutions and mechanisms of collective decision-making during this period that rival the extension of its powers during times that are more tranquil.
Thus, the EU has now issued Eurobonds to finance infrastructure spending in the member states, particularly those with a low rating; it has created a European Prosecutor office to investigate fraud with EU funds; and its courts have increased their judicial activism in the defence of democracy in countries such as Poland, Hungary or Romania. All this amounts to the EU being strengthened rather than weakened by the multiple crises of the last decade and a half.
Still, the present is not always a good observational point for large movements in politics and political institutions. Nevertheless, the supranational EU has a track record of getting out on top out of almost existential crises, as exemplified most notably by the 1966 “empty chair” crisis. If the past is any guide, the present situation is no exception.
Note from the editor: For an intellectual/heuristic inroad into the perspectives of the European construction, out of many other publications from the foresight/prospective literature, see here the study The Future of the European Union: Risks and Scenarios for 2030. A Cohesive Union Facing Global Challenges, by Octavian-Dragomir Jora, Ene Dinga and Gabriela-Mariana Ionescu, issued in 2021, under the auspices of the European Institute of Romania, as part of the SPOS 2021 series (available in Romanian, with an Executive Summary in English).