Analysis: A portrait of the Union in a puzzling state of mind

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

This issue of “EU-25 Watch” addresses key issues and challenges to European integration.  The internet study was published by Barbara Lippert and Timo Goosmann of the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP)  in Berlin within the framework of EU-CONSENT a “Network of Excellence”. It  sheds light on key issues like the “Lisbon process” or the “role of the EU in the World”.  The analysis is based on reports by institutes from all 25 EU members states as well as from the four acceeding/ candidate countries Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey.

Introduction

The Union’s agenda is shaped by demands of deepening and widening on the background of economic globalisation and transnational threats to security and welfare.  After the big bang enlargement of 2004 and the setback in the process of ratifying the Constitutional treaty (TCE) that occurred in spring 2005 the European Union is in a puzzling state of mind.  The December 2005 European Council withdrew its original neutral term “period of reflection” for dealing with the constitutional crisis and re-instated the positive formula “future of Europe” that had been declared at the Laeken summit in 2001.  This shall signal that big issues (Why EU? What kind of EU and Europe do we want?) beyond the usual EU-business are at stake.  The 25 heads of state and government also acknowledged the importance to follow closely the “national debates on the future of Europe underway in all Member States”.  This exactly is the underlying idea and purpose of “EU-25 Watch”: to learn more about preferences, mind sets and other domestic conditions which shape positions of governments and other actors in the EU arena and which drive European integration.

This issue of “EU-25 Watch” sheds light on how key issues like the “Lisbon process” or the “role of the EU in the world” are framed, debated and addressed in the 25 member states and in four acceding/ candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey).  Regularly, authors not only refer to policy makers but also to pressure groups and the media, thus giving a comprehensive insight into national discourses and current as well as upcoming issues.

  • Out of the richness of information and interpretations and the many details that are given from the perspectives of 29 countries four general observations shall be put forward for further discussion:
    Heterogeneity and diversity of preferences, conditions and capacities is a dominant feature of the EU-25. Member states are currently going through different cycles of modernisation and adaptation. The diverse and uneven implementation of the Lisbon strategy is a case in point. While old member states like France, Germany and Italy are particularly slow, countries like the Nordics and other newcomers with a recent history of Europeanisation via membership are on path of reform and still have an impetus for change that others lack. Expectations are high that the EU should combine competitiveness with social security and solidarity.
  • Across the EU a gap between the citizens and the political class is widening. Considering the lack of trust it is not enough for European leaders to go on with business as usual, especially since the political crisis is widely interpreted as a crisis of leadership at both national and EU level. The future of the TCE is open, a wait and see attitude is prevalent in most member states.
  • Consolidation and limits of the EU in political, functional and also geographic terms is becoming a major concern in member states. Enlargement fatigue sweeps through old member states.
  • European integration is currently largely driven by external factors that set priorities of action for the EU. However, an attractive integration project à la single market or EMU is missing that would strengthen internal political cohesion of the EU.

To draw a picture that captures the whole of the EU-25 and come to overall conclusions from this analysis is difficult.  We have to simplify and generalise from country specifics in order to crystallise trends and patterns in the EU-25.  Readers are invited to follow their own guiding questions and make comparisons between the member states. In the future we will surely need to devote more time to understand what is going on in the member states and how Europeanisation works both ways, down from and up to the EU-level, thus making sense of the puzzling state of the Union.

See the full version of the survey “EU-25 Watch No.2 – January 2006” as well as a summary in the “IEP Policy Brief 1/06“.  

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