The European Union And The Euroscepticism (I)

What is the European Union

In Europe, regionalization after WWII is taking the form of a gradual process of integration that was leading to the creation of the European Union (the EU) which is a collaborative association of some of the European states previously known as several different communities. Since agreeing at a summit meeting in December 1991 in the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands to move beyond a custom union and common market towards full economic and monetary union[i] (up to that time the EU was similar to the European Free Trade Association – the EFTA),[ii] the association of the Member States (currently 28) is now referred as the European Union which is the world’s most highly integrated economic bloc.[iii] The EU was initially a purely West European creation between the original Six Member States (E6) born out of the desire for a historical reconciliation between France and Germany in a context of ambitious federalist design.[iv] Nevertheless, from very limited start, both in terms of membership and in terms of scope, the EU became gradually developed to become today an important political, economic, financial, and institutional actor in global politics whose activities have significant impact, both in external and internal affairs. This gradual process of European integration is taken place at different levels. The start was the signature and reform of the basic EU’s treaties as the result of Inter-governmental Conferences, where the representatives of national Governments negotiate the legal framework within which the EU’s institutions are operating. Such treaty changes require ratification in each Member State. Nonetheless, within such framework, the institutions are given considerable powers to adopt decisions and manage policies, regardless of the fact that the dynamics of decision-making differ very much across different arenas. In some areas, a Member State was obliged to accept decisions which are basically imposed on it by the qualified majority of the Member States, but in some other areas it may be able to use a veto right and, therefore, to block decision.

The EU is created by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that was made up of three pillars:

  1. The European Community (the EC), whose decisions were created by the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. Those decisions were guarded by the European Court of Justice.
  2. The Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is founded on the basis of intergovernmental cooperation in the European Council.
  3. Justice and Home Affairs, subject to decisions taken by the European Council too.[v]

However, the fundamental absence of the EU’s institutions in the decision-making procedure of the second and the third pillars, in fact, led to their visible ineffectiveness. As a consequence, the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty transferred several crucial policies on immigration and border control from the third to the first pillar. Furthermore, the second pillar was at the 2003 Intergovernmental Conference made stronger by the formulation of comprehensive policy goals in the European Security Strategy. A European Defence Agency was created in 2004 for the formal sake to co-ordinate military crisis-management, but, in fact, the EU is warmongering and fuelling such conflicts like in South Serbia’s province of Kosovo-Metochia or in Donbas region. Therefore, the real task of this agency is to maintain the EU’s geopolitical interest in the continent being a part of NATO’s strategy in its war against Russia.

countries-europe-map-2018From the very beginning of its existence in 1992, the EU is faced with several major problems, one after another. Since 1989, among others, Europe has experienced the German (re)unification followed by the post-Communist transitions, economic and financial problems, a migrant crisis, and finally up to now the referendum for continued or not EU’s membership in the UK which had as a consequence the Brexit. In the current political situation in direct relation to the British Euroscepticism which resulted in the Brexit, the question of survival of the EU’s project already became the cancer problem in a global perspective. Fears and/or hopes, that one will witness the decay and final dissolution of the EU and its project of the European unification are surely taking on momentum. Today, with the prolonged Greek crisis, the Brexit vote, the increased popularity of Marie Le Pen in France and the rise of German Alternative for Germany’s party, there are now consolidated political bloc acting against the political unity of and trust in the project of Europeanization within the framework of the EU – a project which is unclear from the very beginning of the integration in the 1950s. As a consequence, today is existing tremendous distrust into the project as the European integration resulted in a complicated framework of rules, legislation, and regulations with institutional irresponsibility followed by incomprehensible bureaucratic machinery.[vi] It is quite natural that people fear and dislike something that is often seen as unfair through the wrong moves and action of those who are in (uncontrolled) political power[vii] as it was recently the case with all Socialist countries in East Europe.

In order to understand the integration process within the EU’s framework, it is necessary to take account of the role which is played by both Member States and supranational institutions. We have not to forget that the Member States are not only represented by their national Governments, since a host of state, non-state, and trans-national actors participate in the process of domestic preference formation or direct representation of interests in Brussels. But the relative openness and transparency of the EU’s policy process and decision-making procedure, in fact, means that different political actors or economic-financial groups are trying to significantly influence the EU’s decision-making as many of them are feeling that their position is not sufficiently represented by national Governments. That is exactly the reason together with the complexity of the EU’s institutional and bureaucratized machinery why the EU is seen by many Eurosceptics as a system of multilevel governance, involving a plurality of actors on different territorial levels as they are supra-national, national, and sub-national which can easily harm the principle of national sovereignty. In essence, the politics of above the level of nation-states are seen as the most significant and influential at the European level and, therefore, supra-national governmental bodies of the EU are regarded as the most dangerous for national sovereignty and independence.[viii]

The foundations of the Euroscepticism

Nobody is going to be surprised with the term “Euroscepticism” concerning the idea, concept, practice, and enlargement of the European Union as the term has organically entered several decades ago both the mass media and scientific literature. As a matter of fact, the number of Eurosceptics is growing to such extent that even entire political parties or movements joined this camp. Interestingly, the Eurosceptics could be found across all EU’s countries as well as in the rest of historical-geographical Europe. Their success at the European parliamentary elections in May 2014 and May 2019 proved that the Euroscepticism needs the most serious attention from several standpoints: political, cultural, social, ideological, and even historical. Here, the fundamental questions are: What do the Eurosceptics want and what stands behind this phenomenon?

In essence, the Euroscepticism as political expression means the skeptical or/and negative attitude to the integration processes (“Europeanization”) of the Old Continent within the framework of the European Union as a geopolitical project.[ix] It became today widely used concept, term, and phenomena to describe the strongly critical and/or even nihilistic attitude towards the project of the EU. Besides the common dislike for the integration processes, the Eurosceptics stand, in general, against the EU’s particular projects, specifically against the introduction of a single currency, the European Constitution, the bureaucratized, centralized, non-elective and non-responsible supra-governmental institutions in Brussels (the European Council and the European Commission), a single citizenship, and the project of federalization. Contrary to the idea of a supranational EU, the Eurosceptics across Europe support the independence of national states and their sovereign rights and voice the concern that further integration (the eastward enlargement) will be irreversibly detrimental for their national states and it will finally result in the loss of the right to self-determination. For instance, one of the most senior politicians who spoke against the EU was the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who repeatedly warned his nation that after accession the Czech Republic would cease to exist as a sovereign state.[x] However, at the same time, Vaclav Klaus as well as argued that the Czech Republic do to the current geopolitical circumstances, in fact, did not have a real choice over the issue of the EU’s accession, and that it had to join the EU for the reason if it did not want to be left isolated both economically and politically.

Eurosceptic countries
Five countries leading a eurosceptitc pushback against Brussels

The political forces labelled as Eurosceptics on the extreme end, tend to oppose all the aspects of the EU and the European integration as its project, emphasizing a patriotic and democratic need to reclaim independence and the country’s exit from the club of the EU which is in many Eurosceptic cases seen as a West Capitalistic USSR. The Eurosceptics can be conditionally divided into two groups: 1) those who entirely reject the integration up to the total exit from the Union (the Hard Euroscepticism) and 2) those who criticize the integration for different causes like economic colonialism, nation-state’s sovereignty, lack of democracy (democratic deficit),[xi] etc. and call for the EU’s internal reformation but without exiting it (the Soft Euroscepticism). However, geographical division of these two types of Euroscepticism is quite visible as the Hard Euroscepticism is common in more westward located countries (for instance, the Brexit case) where the voices requiring either “exit” of their national states from the EU or even the end of the EU. The Soft Eurosceptics are more eastward located who require just the internal institutional and legal reconstruction of the EU but not “exit” of their national states. The reason for such geographical Eurosceptic division is, in fact, of the economic-financial nature as West European states (the West Donor States) are feeding those on the East (the East Parasite States).

The Eurosceptics coming from East Europe are realistically scared of economic hardship and economic-financial neocolonialism, high unemployment, massive emigration and the EU’s legislation that land and real estate property are going to be sold off to foreigners (from West European states).[xii] The farmers were among the most strident Eurosceptics for the very reason as they well knew that they would not be able to compete with their Western counterparts in the EU.[xiii] It is an objective truth that several million farms in East Europe are small and poorly equipped to deal with competition from West Europe. In fact, after the accession, East European farmers initially were handicapped by the EU’s system of direct farm subsidies especially the richest of the candidate states who joined the EU in 2004 (Slovenia and the Czech Republic) stand to gain the least from the EU’s economic package.

In general, five focal factors appear to have the most influence on the rise of Eurosceptics across Europe during the last two decades who are questioning whether the benefits of membership outweigh the burdens[xiv]:

  1. The immediate cost of the accession for the taxpayers from accepted countries.
  2. The fear among the people from the EU’s 15 Old Member States (those who signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and those who joined the EU in 1995) over the massive invasion of the cheap labor force from the New Member States (those who joined the EU from 2004 onward).
  3. The permanent tensions over the post-WWII final settlements with neighboring Germany and to a certain extent with Austria.
  4. The fear of the consequences of the mandatory introduction of a single EU’s currency – the Euro.
  5. The trepidation that East European states with a rising budget deficit (for instance, Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary) will be forced to cut back on their expenditure for health, education, social security, and other welfare policies what in reality finally happened after the accession.

It is impossible to talk about Euroscepticism as a fully-fledged political ideology as different political forces may attach different meanings to this idea and remain Eurosceptics at the same time being major political rivals. Any political spectrum party can for different reasons have both the European integration opponents and proponents. However, in practice, the Euroscepticism mainly exists and develops within the patriotic-conservative and ultraconservative ideology framework which is conspicuously reflected at an all-European level. It is Euroscepticism that serves an ideological cooperation ground for a range of right-wing parties within the EU which are getting more and more popular trans-European support. In this context, it can be defined as an important transnational aspect of the modern European conservatism which is, in essence, anti-federal. For instance, the pro-Brexit British politicians traditionally are deeply skeptical about any steps toward a political federation of the EU and they insist, for instance, on the right of any member to veto decisions on foreign policy and taxation – two areas that cut to the very core of national sovereignty.[xv] Such anti-federalist attitude is at the same time and anti-German approach concerning the Europeanization as (re)united Germany does not have any reason to fear federalization project in which it would be the biggest and strongest constituent part. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty unlocked the door to the federalization process of the EU but it did not open it. We saw that the ratification debates brought anti-federalist Eurosceptics on the political scene and revealed much popular dissatisfaction with the complexity and stupefying language of the treaty followed by popular resistance to the idea of an economic and monetary union (the EMU).

The Euroscepticism made quite a statement during the all-European constitutional project discussion in 2004‒2005, when the majority in a number of the EU’s countries (France, Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Poland) voted against it. The ensuing crisis ended with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 (enforced in 2009) which has as its ultimate goal to transform the EU into supranational state but for such state to exist there would have to be a leadership capable of inspiring loyalty in the hearts of the EU’s citizens of every nationality but how effectively or authoritatively a future EU’s super-leaders can speak and do for the EU under all political and other circumstances is a wide-open question.

The problem of accountability of the EU’s decision-making bodies became, in fact, one of the focal issues to be criticized by the Eurosceptics who called it in to the question in the context of the EU’s attempt to introduce a Constitution, which began in 2004. Even the Eurobueraucrats openly recognized democratic deficit in the EU. For example, in 2001, the EU’s heads of governing bodies on the meeting in Laeken in Belgium declared that the EU’s citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective, and democratically controlled approach by the governing institutions of the EU. For that reason, it has established a formal and up to now not so functional convention in order to get and deal with proposals for the EU’s Constitution. This convention had as its focal three aims:

  1. Clarify where power resides, by defining powers of different EU’s decision-making bodies.
  2. Identify the rights of citizens in relation to the existing powers.
  3. Provide “an indication of purpose, a rallying cry for the citizen”.[xvi]

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

Endnotes:

[i] Viotti R. P., Kauppi V. M., International Relations and World Politics, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2009, 542.

[ii] The EFTA originally was founded in 1959 by the British as a counter-weight to the French-dominated the European Economic Union. Most members of the EFTA are, however, today members of the EU. The UK joined the European Community in 1973 together with Ireland and Denmark.

[iii] Spiegel L. S., Taw M. J., Wehling L. F., Williams P. K., World Politics in a New Era, Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning, 2004, 695.

[iv] Baylis J., Smith S., Owens P., The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 444.

[v] Palmowski J., A Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 203.

[vi] In the bureaucratic politics practice, the decision-making process is the outcome of barging among bureaucratic groups having competing interests. The final decision is an outcome of the relative power of separate bureaucratic players or of the organizations they represent. More about Bureaucratic/Organizational model of decision-making and bureaucratic politics see in [Mingst A. K., Essentials of International Relations, New York−London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, 125−126].

[vii] Bukovskis K. (ed.), Euroscepticism in Small EU Member States, Riga: Latvian Institute of International Affairs, 2016, 8.

[viii] According to all Eurosceptics, national sovereignty and independence have to be in the hands of nation-state that is a form of political organization which involves: 1) A set of institutions that govern the people within a particular territory of the state, and 2) That claims allegiance and legitimacy from those governed, and from other states, on the foundation that they represent a group of people defined in cultural and political terms as a nation [Cloke P., Crang Ph., Goodwin M. (eds.), Introducing Human Geographies, Abington, UK: Hodder Arnold, 2005, 41].

[ix] On the process and politics of the „Europeanization“ within the framework of the European Union, see more in: [Cini, M., Borragan, S. P. N., European Union Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013; Gilbert, M., European Integration: A Concise History, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2012; Hix, S., Høyland, B., The Political System of the European Union, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011; McCormick, J., Olsen, J., The European Union: Politics and Policies, New York: Routledge, 2018].

[x] Shafir M., “Analyzis: Czechs still fear fireworks mark pyrrhic victory”, RFE/RL Newsline, special issue, “EU Expends Eastward”, May 3rd, 2004.

[xi] About on which democratic principles the EU has to be founded, see in [Piattoni S. (ed.), The European Union: Democratic Principles and Institutional Architectures in Times of Crisis, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015].

[xii] See, for instance, the Accession Treaty of Lithuania with the European Union in 2004 [Lietuvos stojimo į Europos Sąjungą. Sutartis, Vilnius: Seimo leidykla “Valstybės žinios”, 2004].

[xiii] Gowland D., Dunphy R., Lythe Ch., The European Mosaic, Third Edition, Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2006, 16.

[xiv] Magstadt M. Th., Contemporary European Politics: A Comparative Perspective, Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education, 2007, 46.

[xv] Sovereignty is the principle of absolute and unlimited power of the state which presuppose the absence of any higher authority in either domestic or external affairs. There are two types of sovereignty: internal and external. Internal sovereignty is a concept of a supreme authority within the state’s borders, located in a body that makes decisions which are binding on all citizens, groups, and institutions within the state’s territorial borders. External sovereignty is a concept of the absolute and unlimited authority of the state as an actor in world politics. The concept, in fact, implies the absence of any higher power or authority in external affairs of the state [Heywood A., Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 113]. In other words, sovereignty is a status of states as legal equals under international law, according to which they are supreme internally and subject to no higher external authority [Mansbach W. R., Taylor L. K., Introduction to Global Politics, New York: Routledge, 2012, 584].

[xvi] Bogdanor V., “Europe Needs a Rallying Cry”, The Guardian, May 28th, 2003. Nevertheless, the real progress towards the Constitution was not entirely smooth regardless of the fact that most of the EU’s Member States ratified their nation-state’s acceptance of it by late 2009, including Iriland which firstly rejected the Constitution when the citizens voted for the issue first time.

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