John McCormick is a professor and the Jean Monnet Chair of European Union Politics at Indiana University-Purdue. He has written numerous books on environmental policy and comparative politics including 'The European Superpower' and 'Europeanism'.
He was speaking with EurActiv's Craig Willy.
You have studied Europe and European integration. Would you describe yourself as a "theorist" for Europe? Could you describe your work and how you came to it?
Actually "theory" is a word I don't like. I'm not very keen on political theory. I'm a political scientist, which can be interpreted in lots of different ways.
But my interest is in trying to understand the European Union from different perspectives than those that seem to dominate the field of political science, which is heavily driven by international relations.
I'm actually a comparative political scientist so I'm more interested in the European Union as a political model in its own right and I'm less interested in European integration as an outcome of changes in international relations since 1945.
Wouldn't you consider the international context to be important?
It is. It's inevitable for any author. But within European Union political studies people from IR tend to dominate and so theories of international relations tend to dominate the way political scientists approach and understand the European Union.
While many of those theories were interesting 10-15-20 years ago. I don't think they're as relevant anymore.
I suppose you are referring to the military and hard power aspect.
Yes but also looking at the European Union broadly as an international organisation and all of the theories of international organisation are brought to bear on that process.
It's interesting that there are lot of studies being done on the global impact of the EU. Somebody cracked a joke recently that there are actually more people studying the international effects of the EU than there are actually working in Brussels in external relations and I can sort of believe it.
It's interesting to me that there's an inverse relationship between the success of an EU policy area and the number of people studying it. What I mean by that there are more people studying the external relations of the EU – which most people would think of if not a failure then not particularly successful either.
But conversely one of the big areas of success for the EU is trade policy and yet very few people are studying European Union trade policy.
You wrote your book The European Superpower in 2007, just before the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and its entry into force two years later. Most people would say that it's been something of a disappointment and in particular in terms of foreign policy. Looking back on your book would you qualify argument?
I think the only qualification that I would add is that the role of China and India is becoming much more a factor even in the last couple of years than was the case before.
I mean I know all the discussion about the 'BRICs' dates back before that and there has been speculation about China dating back to the 1990s at least. But there's kind of a bandwagon effect which has really picked up speed over the last couple of years.
Everybody now seems to be on board with the idea that China is becoming a superpower if it isn't a superpower right now.
It depends on how you define "power" in the international system and my basic argument in European Superpower is we need to take a new look at power. We're so focused on military power and it seems that almost nobody will acknowledge influence by any actor where there is a state like the US or a group of states like the European Union unless they have substantial military power.
My argument is that we need to look at power differently and we need to look at things like economic power and what political scientists call "normative power". I hate that word but that's what political scientists talk about.
I think the EU plays an enormous role in the world but most people don't appreciate it because they're looking at it from the wrong perspective and I think if we look at it from the perspective of economic influence, even with all of the problems of the euro, and if we look at it from a normative point of view – what kind of model is the EU proposing to the rest of the world, a non-military model? – I believe the EU has enormous global influence.
When we think of power we tend to think of armies and big summits, but perhaps what you're suggesting is more gradual change in the world, less glamorous issues like trying to immigrate to the EU, trying to get FTAs with the EU…
Yes, absolutely, it doesn't grab the headlines. For me the prime example of European Union power is its influence over the promotion of democracy. You can see the effect that integration has had on Spain and Portugal, for example, and then how that model is being used in Eastern Europe and then the influence not just on the member states of Eastern Europe who came in over the last few years, but also the fact that the Balkan countries, the Ukraine, even Belarus – the last outpost of tyranny in Europe as it's often called.
The idea of the potential access to the European marketplace and the potential membership of the EU has been enough to influence the way that these countries think about democracy and free markets.
The thing is it is a very gradual progress. It doesn't grab headlines. You don't suddenly get a revolution in Ukraine and they say "Oh yes, we want to join the European Union." So it misses a headline and I think that's part of the reason people don't really pick up on what's happening.
Whereas when the United States goes into Iraq it's "Shock & Awe". It's very striking. You can watch it live on CNN and everyone thinks it's spectacular. Even though military power doesn't always achieve the objectives that it sets out to achieve.
Back to the "normative" side, even if it's a fairly technical word, environmental policy seems a particularly relevant area and you've written on this. How would you assess that going forward, both this idea of an "EU model" and the influence the EU might have over other countries?
As I go back and forth between the United States and Europe, the differences in approaches are really quite substantial. I just got back from two weeks in Germany and a week in the UK and just something as banal as the size of the cars on the road, the fact that public transport is so much more widely available and used by Europeans…
I've been in a couple of university towns recently, Groningen in the Netherlands Göttingen in Germany and the big traffic jam is bicycles. You do not have that problem in the United States. You do not have a bicycle traffic jam over here! [laughs]
In Germany we stayed in an apartment where the owner said you absolutely need to separate every single piece of your trash. You can't just throw it all in one big pile. So these are little things, but there is more of an awareness in Europe about sustainable development and the need to change lifestyles, to prevent environmental problems.
And even if political leaders are unable to achieve agreement on climate change – you know the 2020 programme, whatever – if ordinary individuals are changing their attitude then cumulatively you're going to see big change.
There used to be a crack back in the 90s where people said "California will do something, then the rest of the United States will follow, then the Europeans will follow." And a good example of that was unleaded fuel, where the whole thing started in California and it eventually spread to Europe quite late.
It seems to me things have now been reversed: Things start in Germany, they move to the rest of the European Union, and then they move to the United States. And a good example of this is the REACH programme on chemicals which the United States finds itself having to respond to because if the US chemical manufacturers want to have access to the European market they have to have European standards.
So this is an example again of "influence by stealth" where the EU has a particular model, a particular way of doing things and a particular approach, but it's having an impact but many people don't actually realise and appreciate it.
Interestingly this kind of influence wouldn't be institutionalised initially. It starts off either by citizens or by countries.
Some of it is institutionalised like the REACH programme. But Europeans for a variety of reasons have been compelled to think about the impact they're having on the environment, most likely because there are so many Europeans living in a much smaller area than is the case here.
The fact the price of gas is much higher than it is here.
Europeans have higher petrol taxes…
Yes, gas here is about $3.50 a gallon. I think in Britain at $10 a gallon. When gas is $10 gallon you have to think. Here it gets to $4 and everybody goes into a huge depression "Oh my God, how are we going to afford this?"
So yes tax might change things but it's also the fact there's so little public transport outside of the big cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. People just keep on using their cars. They don't even think about it.
Do you think that is sustainable, as demand for oil goes up?
Do I think it's sustainable in the United States? No. I don't think so. Absolutely not. It boggles my mind that more people haven't woken up to the fact that there's going to be a huge energy crisis in this country at some point and people have been warning about this now for 15 years or more.
The fact that this country relies so heavily on oil imports is feeding into this monster debt and budget deficit problem we have in this country.
But Americans seem to live as if there's no tomorrow. They live for today. Whereas Europeans live for today but they remember the past – sometimes to their detriment – but they're also much more aware of the future. I think it's a psychological difference between Europeans and Americans.
Speaking of living for the future, one criticism that's often made is that the welfare states here are not sustainable because there will be aging populations and Europeans will age somewhat faster than the Americans because they have less children and less immigrants. Do you give much credence to that?
I understand where it's coming from however it's a problem in this country too. Even though immigration is fairly substantial in the United States, the balance between workers and retirees is changing and Social Security presumably will go bankrupt at some point.
So this is not typically a European problem, it's an advanced economy problem. And something will have to change.
Now I don't know how that's going to change. Productivity is going to have to change, retirement ages are going to have to change… But I believe that through the natural process of policy evolution and policy adjustment we're going to get to the point in Europe where the necessary changes are going to be made.
I mean one thing which Europe is doing which I think is good is that population is actually declining although it's kind of ironic that as the population declines so the concern about social security increases in Europe. But we can't sustain increasing population in the way we are now.
I'm optimistic that the adjustments are going to be made. Exactly what will happen I don't know. But just as Social Security evolved in the first place because of a particular need, and we have to remember that Social Security in this country came at a time when life expectancy was probably about 60, so it wasn't expected that there were going to be a lot of people drawing off Social Security.
As life expectancy has increased changes have had to be made as to expectations about Social Security and that's going to continue.
Your most recent book is called Europeanism. You're trying to define what makes the continent special, what sets it apart from others, but also what the countries have in common. What conclusions do you come to as to the essential parts of "Europeanism"?
I wrote it as a response to the ongoing criticism of the EU. You know José Manuel Barroso made a speech in which he talks about the constant aura of negation about European integration.
It's much easier to find people who have nothing good to say about the EU than people like me who seem to be an embattled minority who are kind of the eternal optimists.
I think that Europeans have a lot more in common than most people realise and much of what they have in common has not really come out of institutional development or leadership from particular individuals.
It's come out of change in the economic and social circumstances, out of the change in Europe's place in the world, out of the single market, out of the "Erasmus generation". The fact that so many more Europeans are living in other European countries, they're living there, they're getting married to or living with other Europeans, they're learning other people's languages.
They're just becoming much more aware of the fact they're not just living in their own particular state but they also live in an agglomeration of other states. So what I was trying to do there was build on what Habermas and Derrida did back in 2003 when they wrote a small article in which they talked about some of things in the "European public sphere" as they called it.
I tried to identify things which Europeans have in common and make them distinctive. When we look at discussion of this, people will say "Europeans believe in democracy, freedom, human rights and things like that." Yes, fine but so do the Americans so it's nothing distinctive.
I was looking at what is distinctive and the one very illustrative example of this is secularism. Support for organised religion everywhere in the world except Europe. Europe is quite distinctive. What effect does secularism have on European attitudes towards government, attitudes towards Muslims living in Europe? It's one of things you can say about Europeans that are really distinctive.
I looked at other qualities as well such as support for civilian power, opposition to capital punishment, promotion of sustainable development… These are all things I think are distinctly European, not necessarily uniquely European.
I think the more we understand these kinds of things the more we can look past the "failures" we hear so much about and look at the longer-term successes of the whole European experiment.
Jeremy Rifkin writes on the same subject. He cites multiculturalism as one of the aspects of Europeanism. Would you agree?
I do. People would say, "What the heck are you thinking! How can you possibly when we just heard from Cameron and Sarkozy and Merkel that it's dead?"
That's where I was going yes…
But I think the problem here is that the word multiculturalism is wrong. What they should have said is "multiracialism is dead" but of course they wouldn't dare say that because for them to admit that their societies had failed to across racial distinctions would be just terrible. So they use the word multiculturalism instead.
Europe has failed in terms of black/white issue or the white/none-white issue if you like. Racism is alive and well in Europe. It has been for a long time. You might even argue that Europeans invented racism.
Religious tolerance has not been good. There have been polls which show that there's still quite a bit of antisemitism in Europe although how much of that is antisemitism and how much of that is criticism of Israel is debateable. Certainly tolerance towards Muslims we all know has not been a success.
But in terms of multiculturalism, if you take it literally, and look at different cultures, you know the Germans, the English, the Spaniards, the Italians and the Latvians… Europe has always been a multicultural society to the extent Europeans have experienced others cultures.
The challenge has been really since the end of World War II when Europe has become increasingly multiracial and Islam has played more and more of a role in Europe. That's where the failures start to creep in.
On the other hand you could also argue there have been "nationality problems", for example Northern Ireland or the Basques…
Again on the theme of being optimistic, in [the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries] nationalism was the major cause of war in Europe. And of course it reached its absolute bottom with Nazism and Fascism.
Since 1945 there has been a reaction against that kind of aggressive political nationalism and there's been a rise of a more benign cultural nationalism. I think it's OK for Catalans to say "We're Catalans, we want to promote the Catalan language, we want to promote the concept of Catalonia. We don't necessarily want independence although there's kind of a subtext that at some point in the future Catalonia may become independent."
But if that happens it will not be by virtue of war. The Catalans are not going to go to war with the Spanish central government. The Scots are not going to go to war with the British central government to get Scottish independence.
So nationalism is still alive and well but it's a different kind of nationalism to what we used to have before and it's a much more benign, creative and productive nationalism. It's the kind of thing which is one of the great strengths of Europe which is that you can travel around and experience all these different cultures and national identities and you don't feel threatened by them.
Given the more pessimistic attitude today, with the economic crisis, with the troubles with the Schengen area, with the troubles with the eurozone, looking farther than that, what do you think will happen in terms of integration and in terms of the EU's presence in the world?
Well in short I think there are going to be more crises but I think if you look over the long term what you see is an accumulating success.
I like to quote Jean Monnet because in his memoirs which were published in 1979, so perhaps he was learning from what he had seen, he said Europe would be the result of crisis and you have one crisis after another. Europe would learn from these crises and the end result would be a much stronger, more successful, more effective entity coming out of this process.
Now I agree talking right now, when I've got my copy of The Economist and it's talking of the imminent failure of the euro especially now that Italy is having problems, to say that I can still be optimistic about the future against the background of the euro, it's difficult.
The problems of the euro are kind of self-developed. They should never have let Greece in the first place and they should have given the European Central Bank more power with interest rate issues as well as budgetary issues. So they'll learn from this. They've learned from crises before.
I mean the number of times that the EU or the European Economic Community has been counted out – multiple times – it seems to have been considered dead, dying, comatose, whatever, more often than it's been regarded as a success. I think it's more of a bandwagon effect to agree that the EU is just rife with problems. So I think myself it's going to learn from its successes, there will be adjustments.
If the euro collapses that will be the biggest crisis it has ever had but I don't think it's going to get there because the stakes are so enormous that I think everybody is going to work very hard to make sure the euro doesn't collapse.
So I think the EU is going to continue to evolve as the model of power it has been. What impact it is going to have on the rest of the world really depends on how we understand power and influence. And if we continue to think of it in primarily military terms then we're going to continue to criticise and reject the European model.
But if we appreciate that there is a new kind of model which may be more relevant to the future of international relations then I think at that point that people will begin to realise "Actually this is a pretty successful way of doing things and maybe some of the rest of us should copy this model."
Indeed some are attempting to, without the same level of success…
They are. The African Union is almost a direct copy of the European Union. The chances of the AU succeeding are pretty slim. They're going to have to work very, very hard. But almost every country in the world now is involved in some exercise in regional integration. Some of them more successful than others, but still.