Has Europe lost its heart?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This paper, by Charles Wyplosz, has been prepared for the international conference entitled “Europe after the enlargement”, to be hosted by the Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE) in Warsaw on 8-9 April.

1. Introduction 

Once upon a time Europe was a small group of like-minded countries determined to integrate themselves politically and economically tightly enough to eliminate forever the specter of war. After centuries of recurrent devastation, this was a hugely ambitious project built on Jean Monnet’s prudent step by step strategy, now called functionalism. Integration always progressed in fits and starts, but recurrent crises did not prevent achieving amazing results. Not only is war all but ruled out, but economic and political integration has deepened to a degree that the most Euro-enthusiasts never dreamt of. More amazing even is how the project has spread. Nearly the entire continent is now part of the Union, and Turkey might even join by the end of the decade. Two hundred million people share the same currency and enjoy borderless travel. 

But success has had its price. Twenty-five countries do not cooperate as six used to. Each enlargement inevitably gives the impression that the undertaking is being diluted, and perceived dilution means more weight to national interests and less willingness to take the next integrative step. Or so it seems. This paper argues that this perception is misguided. The EU-25 group is considerably more integrated than the EU-6 ever was. Dilution is not a necessary consequence of enlargement, rather enlargement is bringing to the fore a number of institutional failures that were present all along. 

What is needed now is a clean-up of European institutions and practices. Fifty years of negotiations have lead to good and less good agreements, which warrants re-examination. Anyway, times have changed and old agreements, including old acquis communautaires are outdated. The European Constitutional Convention, a consequence of the failure of the Nice summit in December 2000, offered a unique opportunity of sorting out this legacy. This opportunity has not been well-exploited. By refusing to open the Pandora box that a clean-up requires, and by adopting wholesale all the acquis communautaires, good and bad alike, today’s leaders have failed their duty. The Constitution is not bad per se, it is just too small a step to justify its grand name. 

This paper reviews a number of politico-economic issues. The next section sets the scene by offering a broad review of the task allocation principles. Section 3 examines the links between widening and deepening, to conclude that the two are not substitutes, but possibly complements. Some solutions that go beyond current debates are presented in Section 4. The last section concludes.

To read the paper in full, visit the Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE) website.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe
Contribute