Sorry, No Comments Please!

Sorry. No Comments Please.

Since we have no time to moderate or manage comments we do appreciate if you send your message to

Thank you!

Időszűkében sajnos nem tudunk kommentekre reagálni. Ha üzenni szeretne kérjük, a címre írjon.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The threat of intergovernmentalism

There is considerable irony in the current phase of the Eurozone-crisis. The single currency was brought into being as a step, a major one, towards the “ever closer union” that the aim of EU integration has always accepted (pace the Eurosceptics, who don’t read the small print).  The irony is that it is precisely the single currency which is threatening to undermine – at any rate to erode – the community method and to reenergise intergovernmentalism.

The Franco-German plans to govern the euro are expressly designed to circumvent the Commission and the European Parliament, indeed they are very largely to one side of EU institutions. Eurozone governance is to be structured in such a way as to keep the EU and the community method at arms length. This may very well reflect majority opinion in the large states, Germany most obviously, and to that extent is arguably an expression of democratic aspirations, but it does raise another, equally important issue. The large states have self-evidently embarked on placing their state-national interests first, not least because the European interest has been allowed to fall into oblivion or something close to it.

What this development overlooks is that while the large states might at first sight reasonably expect to secure their positions on the basis of prioritising the state-national interest, for the small states of the EU this pattern becomes distinctly worrying. Their state-national interest is best guaranteed by a higher rather than a lower level of integration. The pressure to reassert state-national interest over a European-level interest neglects and probably damages the EU’s conflict resolution function.

It all rather implies that forgetting rather than memory is driving intergovernmentalism. The interwar period may have been a long time ago, but anyone with even a nodding acquaintance of those two decades will recognise that the absence of any broader consensual European level integration contributed to the constant friction that constantly intensified insecurity and constrained small states into uneasy alliances with one or other of the larger states. France’s system of client states in Central Europe, the Little Entente, failed in the end because France was too weak a patron to sustain it; Germany took France’s place. We know the outcome.

The central problem is that with well over 30 states in Europe, there are just too many sovereignties. They have to be regulated in such a way that no state feels that its interests are disadvantaged. The EU (and its predecessors) have done this fairly successfully for over half a century and the success was built precisely on the movement away from intergovernmentalism.

Lest anyone – anyone from Anglo-Saxony presumably (this assessment is a good example) – come along and say, don’t worry, we can settle these things pragmatically, they should be reminded that in the context of a disparity of power (larger states v. smaller states, for one), pragmatism becomes an instrument to intimidate the weaker actor, a form of bullying. Smaller, weaker actors need values as much as they have interests to pursue.

So those who argue that the role and function of a state is to pursue the state-national interest, and that intergovernmentalism is the most effective way of achieving this, they should be reminded not only of the lessons of history, but, crucially, that different states define their nationhood differently, they define their interests differently and they define their relations with the large states differently. Unless there are recognised, overt mechanisms to ensure that the conflicts that can and will arise from these differences in definition are settled, the future for the smaller states in Europe looks bleak.

On this scenario, the outcome could conceivably be a loose alliance or, maybe better, a loose coalition among the smaller states that takes wariness towards the large states as its starting point and seeks to find common ground for European-level solutions. A multi-speed Europe could certainly evolve along these lines and leave the larger states with a more uncomfortable outcome that they seem currently ready to appreciate. Alternatively, the small states can try and find a patron, one that recognises that its own state-national interest is bound up with the security of the smaller states, something that Germany, France and Britain seem ready to neglect.

If we are to be serious about the state-national interest and at the same time accept the need for effective conflict resolution mechanisms in order to secure the selfsame interests, then riding roughshod over the interests of small states is a recipe for intensifying tension and friction. It should be blindingly obvious that small states have just as strong an expectation of being able to exercise agency as do large states. Indeed, much of democratic practice is about this exercise of agency and finding ways of ensuring that the agency of different actors is successfully composed.

In other words, and this is the heart of the matter, the large states have to recognise that the pursuit of their state-national interest must include a proper recognition of the interests of the smaller states of Europe and it is, and should certainly be, the urgent task of the state-national elites to make this case to their electorates. The alternative is unquestionably a steady rise in insecurity, friction and conflict without adequate resolution mechanisms.

When small states feel that they are deprived of agency, then they will very likely find ways of recuperating it, directly and indirectly, and will rely on patrons with similar aims, even if they thereby become unreliable partners in the eyes of other large states. This development will very probably produce negative sum outcomes for all those involved, especially when large state patrons find themselves dragged into conflicts in which they are involved only or primarily through their smaller clients.

And to the foregoing scenario should be added the European strategies, whatever these may be, of the US, Russia and China. A weaker EU will give rise to a power vacuum and that vacuum will certainly be filled by someone’s power, affecting both large and small states. Not a particularly alluring prospect, it would seem.

Sch. Gy

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.