The EU Future: Global Power or European Governance?
Speaker: Dr. Achilles Skordas, Professor, University of Athens School of Law
The Southeast Europe Project, in conjunction with the East European and West European Studies Programs, held a discussion on Tuesday, March 29, 2005.
Whether one considers the European Union a superpower or a regional form of governance lies in how the EU is perceived and will continue to be perceived in the future. Dr. Skordas emphasized that the EU should not be looked at as a hierarchical system or a system of coordinated actions by its member states. Rather, the essence of the EU should be considered as "a system of governance with an economic center and a political periphery."
He cited the National Intelligence Council 2020 Project "Mapping the Global Future," which emphasized that the extent to which Europe enhances its influence in the region depends on its ability to achieve greater political cohesion, and on its ability to be a model of global and regional governance to the rising powers, especially if they are searching for a western alliance other than the U.S. The report further states that if the EU is able to attract and integrate legal immigrants and increase flexibility in the workplace, it could indeed become a superpower. In Dr. Skordas' assessment, this is unlikely to happen by 2020. He explains that a superpower has the capacity to structure its national interest and to define international and global interests in terms of its own interests, which he believes the EU lacks at this time. However, he believes that it can have global appeal if it concentrates its vision on effective regional governance and free markets in accordance with the 2000 Lisbon strategy (note: The Lisbon Strategy, agreed to in March 2000, is an ambitious EU plan to strengthen employment, economic reform and social cohesion based on a knowledge-based economy. It was designed to promote competitiveness and innovation, modernize the European social model, and sustain favorable economic growth by 2010.) For now the EU is hesitant about its strategic course.
While current European debate has been centered on constitutionalism, Dr. Skordas believes that the focus should be more on economic integration. Some may argue that the adoption of the constitution will be a major step toward the development of a European political identity, which is a major prerequisite for a superpower status. But Dr. Skordas contends that there is too much uncertainty surrounding the ratification of the constitution. Even if ratified, the benefits of the constitution will not be realized until 2009, and it still provides no radical course of action for the EU. He notes that the last radical change taken by the EU was the decision in 1992 to introduce the Euro.
Even though the constitution allows for the incorporation of an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Skordas sees this as just further development of the existing position of the High Representative for the common foreign and security policy. Pointing out that under the constitution, major foreign policy issues will still be decided by the 25 member states which must vote unanimously in order for a policy to take effect.
Although not a proponent of introducing the qualified majority rule, which would serve to heighten tension on already difficult topics like foreign policy and security, he notes one of the consequences of the system in place is that the EU can only make foreign policy decisions on a case by case basis, rather than developing a comprehensive policy. Even when the EU intends to make decisions on major issues, the decisions are not embedded in a global vision. One example he cited was the arms embargo on China. A hot topic in the EU, the discussion falls on two levels: the impact that the arms embargo has on the effect of human rights, and prospective changes in the code of conduct for arms sales. What is lacking, says Dr. Skordas, is a comprehensive strategic policy that the EU would have toward China and Taiwan.
Furthermore, Dr. Skordas believes that the European security and defense policy is even weaker than the general foreign policy framework. He notes that past efforts of the European Commission to promote the integration of the national armament industries have failed. Although the draft constitution provides for the possibility of building a useful framework, there is still no clear commitment by the member states to cooperate in that respect. Moreover, the debate between the EU and NATO aggravate the EU's efforts to establish its own defense structure, despite the so-called "'Berlin plus arrangements" which lays out the "Framework for Permanent Relations between the EU and NATO." For the time being, the core of the European security and defense policy is concentrated on, and limited to, peacekeeping and economic sanctions. Dr. Skordas comments that while peacekeeping is an essential and valuable element for the maintenance of international peace and security, the exclusive reliance of that policy instrument is hardly evidence of an emerging superpower.
Expanding on the idea that the EU can best be described as a functional system of governance with an economic center and a political periphery, Dr. Skordas explains that "the economic center is composed of three elements: fundamental economic freedoms like free movement of goods, a common market and a single currency." He further says "the economic center of the European system generates wealth by promoting integration; on its turn, integration stabilizes the national political systems and rule of law by interconnecting societies and by opening them up to communication and competition." Newer member states are attracted to this aspect of competition because they are eager to work hard to compete. This causes older members to shield themselves from this new wave of competition which could cause major setbacks to the aspiration of the EU to eventually become a major power.
When the EU introduced the Euro, it also initiated the so-called "Growth and Stability Pact" that states that member states should avoid excessive government deficits. However, the system has been recently reformed to broaden the circumstances of which deficits are justified. Even more unfortunate, according to Dr. Skordas, is the recent rejection of the draft directive for services by the European Council (note: The Services Directive would serve to open up the services market, facilitating the provision of services across borders subject to the regulations of the state of origin, not the state of provision of services.) He believes that the services directive could have been the single most important integration step since the introduction of the Euro, and its significance would have, by far, outweighed that of the Constitution. Furthermore, he adds that instead of focusing on reform and market opening, EU leaders spend their political capital on urging Europeans to adopt the Constitution, an enterprise without visible and concrete benefits.
Dr. Skordas concluded by reiterating that the EU will most likely not become a superpower by 2020. However, he thinks that Europe can become a global player under certain conditions. Domestically, European governments need to confront established corporate and trade union interests that obstruct reforms. The EU must enhance economic policies, create a truly single market with a single currency, and liberalize the service sectors. In its foreign policy, it is necessary to reconsider the question of enlargement and extend the Stabilization and Association Process to Ukraine and Moldova. Lastly, he asserts that the debate on European constitutionalism may have turned attention away from the real issues of effective European integration and governance.