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POLI3180 Politics - Policy and Government: European Union

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The EU can be seen as one of the most successful modern experiments in international cooperation, yet it is also contested across Europe. Why?

Answer:

Introduction:


As an international organization comprising of as many as 28 countries across the globe, the European Union was formed in the year of 1958, with the purpose of ensuring free movement of goods and services within the member countries, as well as for enacting legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintaining common policies on trade. Although during its inception, the European Union was primarily confined to Western Europe, gradually it started expanding in other parts of the world as well, especially in the Eastern and Central European countries. Since the time of its formation in the year of 1958, the European Union witnessed unprecedented success and growth (Cini and Borragan 2016). After the World War II, Europe witnessed political instability as well as economic downturn. Hence, the European Union was formed with the purpose of integrating Europe as well as creating social, economic and political alliance amongst the European nations. For the contribution to bring about peace and stability in Europe, the European Union has also been conferred with the Noble Peace Prize Award in the year of 2012.

Apart from the fact that the European Union has been able to restore peace, stability and harmony amongst the European states, the EU is primarily known as a body that provides practical benefits to the member countries. The EU member states are not required to pay any duty for conducting trade in Europe, and consequently importing and exporting goods across these member states is much simpler and easier. Besides, the members of one European Union state can easily relocate to other European Union state, and in case one is being treated unfairly by any EU official, one can appeal to or ask for help from the European Ombudsman. Hence, it becomes clearly evident that the European Union has emerged to be one of the most significant experiments of modern times, regulating the common economic, social, and security policies across Europe (Richardson 2015). However, at the same time, modern day critics and scholars like Neil McCormick has pointed out that EU has emerged to be a system where different countries are competing against each other, since none of them is able to achieve the ascendency. The following essay intends to discuss, critically analyse and evaluate why EU despite being one of the most successful experiments in international cooperation is widely contested across Europe.

Discussion:

Before analysing the reason behind the contested nature of the EU member states, it would be interesting to discuss why the European Union is considered to be a successful experiment in today’s world. The European Union is considered to be one of the most successful experiments in international cooperation. There has never been any international project anywhere in the world where as many as 28 countries decided to collaborate and coordinate in a wide range of areas (Wagner 2014). It indeed has been surprising to find so many countries working together on the executive, judicative and legislative aspects of the country and covering domains, ranging from common fiscal policy to common environmental policy and protection of customers. The EU has also attained much success and applause for being a free trade area that in turn has helped in promoting peace and stability amongst the member nations. The very reason why the EU is still considered to be the most successful modern time experimentation in the world, is that it has brought about 60 years of peace and stability in Europe, raised the standards of living of the citizens of the member states, and has also helped in creating a single Europe-wide free market for goods (Jeffrey 2015). However, despite the unquestionable success of the project over the last decades, the project has been a target of fierce criticism over the last years. It has become indispensible to gain an insight into the reasons for which the EU is regarded as a contested organization across Europe.

According to two critics, McCormick and   Bankowski, The European Union is actually an entity of “interlocking normative spheres” where a single nation is not privileged. This is the reason they have described the EU as a legal system that is at risk in today’s world. According to these two critics, the EU is an international body where none of the competing systems is able to gain ascendancy over the other (Beetham and Lord 2014. The EU has been encountering explicit contestation over the years. One of the major reasons as to why the European power has been teetering on the edge of failure, is the political instability that exists among the EU nations, and the inability of the member states to take independent action on its own. There is no point in stating the fact that the burning political issues of the time are leading to the spread of Racism, Xenophobia and Islamophobia amongst the most placid places of the EU, such as Scandinavia. The killings that occurred in the Munich Olympic during the year of 1972, as well as the recent attack that occurred on Charlie Hebdo, there are obvious reasons behind the increasing problem of Islamophobia amongst the EU member states as well (Slapin 2015). However, the European Union has introduced a migration policy that intends to help the migrants integrate well in the EU countries, and it ensures that the legal migration in the UK is well-managed as well. However, countries like Britain have been threatened by mass immigration, especially because of the lack of political, economic and social security with the arrival of migrants. With countries like Britain, where approximately 50% of the residents claimed that they believe immigration to have a negative impact on the lives of the people, the prospects of effective EU integration became impossible, with Britain leaving the EU for curbing the problem of its migration (Hanf and Soetendorp 2014). In the process of formulating the policies, the greater coordination amongst the member states is needed, and that is exactly missing here. The European Union policy of free movement of people across the EU states has led to the problem of huge number of people flocking in Britain and Wales, and the consequent split was expected.

Again, it is also important to state here that the two critics, namely Ejik and Franklin have described the European integration as a “sleeping giant”. The very reason behind the same is that the union is actually anti-integration. The left right opposition is one of the major reasons why the European Union is suffering from such a huge problem who are known for attacking the European integration as an extension of their domestic opposition. The extreme left on the one hand has been viewing the issue of European integration as an extremely elitist, capitalist project that ends up isolating the decision-making power of the ordinary citizens in the interest of the powerful corporations (McCormick 2014).  Again, needless to state that on the other hand, the right has been viewing the EU as a merely supranational project that intends to weaken the national autonomy and traditional values. There is no doubt regarding the possibility of the left-right union in the EU project, and yet the problem is that the right remarkably differs in its political agenda from the left, that ultimately makes the possibility of union impossibility. The left usually seeks more integration in respect of employment policy, while the right seems to favour the market integration as a whole (Borzel and Sedelmeier 2017). The weak association between the left and the right has been one of the major reasons why the integration achieved through the European Union is still questionable.

Despite being the largest intergovernmental organizations in the world, the European Union is confronted with the problems of economic downturn, high rate of unemployment and inflation across all the states of EU. The unemployment rate has been soaring in most of the EU member nations, with the rate being approximately 17% in Portugal and 27% in Spain (Bache et al. 2014). The severity of the unemployment issue in most of the EU nations, clearly shows the failure of the EU institutions. The European union has been incapable of adopting effective macroeconomic policies that can successfully mitigate the problem of unemployment. Given the different nature f economies across the EU member countries, more effective and integrated macroeconomic policies have to be implemented. Most of the policies adopted by the European Union has been centralized, and thus has not been able to offer solutions to the problem of unemployment. As per the current economic scenario in Ukraine, Central and Eastern European nations are expected to suffer from the gas supply issues, even though it would have little or no impact on Irish economy (Howorth 2014). Hence, the EU policies have to be customized in a way that it can serve the country that needs assistance as per its situation. However, the EU policies usually seek to achieve consensus that have ultimately worsened the unemployment situation. The major problem with the macroeconomic policies adopted by EU is that they seek to ensure the stability of the Euro, helping countries to borrow while they offer little that would help mitigate the fall in employment in exchange for the loss of the option of devaluation (Howorth 2014).

There is no doubt over the fact that the European Union has been able to effectively look after the well-being of the citizens of the member states, making each state safer, allowing them to work in collaboration with the Euro-partners in order to tackle the terror scourges like the ISIS. However, the undemocratic nature of EU has compelled most of its member states to think of an alternative option. Every EU member should be granted the right to consent to the political system it is governed by, and yet the EU is known for thwarting that right (Wallace et al. 2015). While the great authorities such as the EC and the European Court of Justice are being granted all the power in the decision-making process, they remain mostly unaccountable and unreachable. The EU has been accused on more than one occasion to be an international body that outsources the important parts of the national political life of different states to the unreachable and unaccountable realm of the European Commission. As a deeply conservative project, the European Union instead of uniting the people of Europe, ends up weakening them nation by nation. The EU in fact dilutes the democratic authority and reduces them in many instances to people who are being governed for their own good, rather than by their consent. In this case, it is worthwhile to mention Portugal, a country the economy of which is expected to contract by 2.3% within this year (Bache et al. 2014). However, as the Portugal government decided to strike down the austere measures adopted by constitutional court of Portugal,  in compliance with the decision of the European Commission, the EC officials started pressurizing the government to avoid the ruling (Wallace et al. 2015). The Portugal government was also being threatened about the possibility of them losing badly needed funding from the EC, prompting constitutional crisis. This is how the EU officials are being found to insert their autocracy into the governance of the member states. Although the ordinary citizens are finding it tough to deal with the decisions imposed forcefully on them, the citizens of the respective EU member states cannot “vote out” as well. The lack of democratic accountability creates much problem amongst the EU states.

It should be remembered that the noble purposes for which the European Union was being formed are to enhance mutual prosperity amongst the participating nations, reduce any form of political animosity in Europe and to offer the Europeans the convenience of currency. However, the impact of the formation of the EU has not been favouring most of the EU states (Hill et al. 2017). Although the officials of the system are largely responsible for the faltering economy of different nations, none of them is directly accountable to the millions of unemployed people. Thus, these are exacerbating those tensions rather than alleviating them. Besides, it is equally important to mention here that in order to successfully integrate the financial markets, specifically at the wholesale level, the EU had introduced the single currency of Euro as well. This has undoubtedly helped in eliminating any kind of difference between the national and cross border retail payments. The introduction of a common currency has not only helped in promoting economic stability, but has also facilitated proper political unanimity amongst the member states as well. However, as the participating countries started giving up their national currencies, they lost any form of power to control their currency (Glanville eta l. 2015). Consequently, even if the member countries would start experiencing any form of wage inflation, they cannot any longer deflate their currencies so as to make their exports more attractive. More importantly, those countries which fall prey to the problems of economic downturn cannot even solve their problems by printing their money for financing their own impoverished and unemployed people.

The lack of transparency has always continued to remain a major problem with European Union. There should be a system of formal and informal checks and balances that can help in the proper removal of the officials who are not efficiently delivering their works. The EU authorities are not at all subjected to the power will and they have in fact made the decision-making process incredibly complicated that makes ordinary citizens unable to understand. The EU is also being regarded as an example of a bloated bureaucracy where the legislative process is itself very complex. In fact according to a recent research conducted by Open Europe claimed that the actual number of people required to run the EU is 1,70,000, which is almost 7 times more than the existent number of workers actually serving it. In order to implement the legislation in an effective way, the European Union actually needs a minimum of 62,026 people (Bulmer and Lequesne 2013). Despite the absence of sufficient workforce, the EU drafts legislation for almost half a billion people, and this is one important point on ground of which the EU is being criticized. The system of shadow decision-making that is an integral part of the EU does make the process of drafting the legislation easily vulnerable to corruption and special interests. The transparency, integrity and accountability of the EU are highly questionable. According to a survey conducted by the Transparency International, approximately 70% of the EU members believe that the EU system is largely corrupt and that they do not have any kind of faith in the complex decision making process of the EU, that do need real-time accountability rather than the rather crude verdict that elections offer (Schimmelfennig et al. 2016). Besides, most of the people living in the EU member nations have lost faith in the EU system mainly because the costs and risks that the EU system has. For example, the fiscal debt or even the banking problems in the relatively small countries such as Greece and Cyprus have touched off major crises for the EU. However, at the same time, a very comparable situation in the US — where a state such as Rhode Island or Louisiana, or even huge California, were to go bankrupt — would amount to nothing more than a blip on the radar here (Dinan 2014). The European bureaucracy has been accused of being too slow and inefficient by most of the people. Besides, some critics have also further pointed out that the expansion of the Euro zone has been too rapid and fast, and consequently it has led to the creation of disparate economies in the end.

Conclusion:

Although during its inception, the European Union was primarily confined to Western Europe, gradually it started expanding in other parts of the world as well, especially in the Eastern and Central European countries. Since the time of its formation in the year of 1958, the European Union witnessed unprecedented success and growth. After the World War II, Europe witnessed political instability as well as economic downturn. Hence, the European Union was formed with the purpose of integrating Europe as well as creating social, economic and political alliance amongst the European nations. The EU has emerged to be the first organization that has been able to integrate so many nations together. However, at the same time, modern day critics and scholars like Neil McCormick has pointed out that EU has emerged to be a system where different countries are competing against each other, since none of them is able to achieve the ascendency. There is no doubt that in special cases, the EU is even better than most of the national administration systems. However, it has to employ effective measures so that it can eliminate the problem of bureaucracy, adopt different policies for different states and does not merely stay with the kind of complacency it has been governing so far. The introduction of a two tier parliamentary system within the European Union can help in making the EU far more democratic and transparent than before. The transfer of power from the hands of the unelected administrators to that of the directly elected MEPs can also make the system far more accountable. Further, the quality of the EU laws and policies should also be improved in order to ensure that the legislation is able to serve people in a better way. As far as the formulation of better regulation is concerned, three things have to be taken care of- transparency throughout the process, evidence always informs policy and law-making and last but not the least citizens and stakeholders are actively involved in the decision-making process.

Reference List:

Bache, I., Bulmer, S., George, S. and Parker, O., 2014. Politics in the European Union. Oxford University Press, USA.

Bache, I., Bulmer, S., George, S. and Parker, O., 2014. Politics in the European Union. Oxford University Press, USA.

Beetham, D. and Lord, C., 2014. Legitimacy and the European union. Routledge.

Börzel, T.A. and Sedelmeier, U., 2017. Larger and more law abiding? The impact of enlargement on compliance in the European Union. Journal of European Public Policy, 24(2), pp.197-215.

Bulmer, S. and Lequesne, C., 2013. The member states of the European Union. Oxford University Press.

Cini, M. and Borragán, N.P.S., 2016. European union politics. Oxford University Press.

Dinan, D., 2014. Origins and evolution of the European Union. Oxford University Press.

Glanville, J., King, S., Guarner, F., Hill, C. and Sanders, M.E., 2015. A review of the systematic review process and its applicability for use in evaluating evidence for health claims on probiotic foods in the European Union. Nutrition journal, 14(1), p.16.

Hanf, K. and Soetendorp, B., 2014. Adapting to European integration: small states and the European Union. Routledge.

Hill, C., Smith, M. and Vanhoonacker, S., 2017. International relations and the European Union. Oxford University Press.

Howorth, J., 2014. Security and defence policy in the European Union. Palgrave Macmillan.

Howorth, J., 2014. Security and defence policy in the European Union. Palgrave Macmillan.

Jeffery, C. ed., 2015. The regional dimension of the European Union: towards a third level in Europe?. Routledge.

McCormick, J., 2014. Understanding the European Union: a concise introduction. Palgrave Macmillan.

Richardson, J. and Mazey, S. eds., 2015. European Union: power and policy-making. Routledge.

Schimmelfennig, F., 2016. Good governance and differentiated integration: Graded membership in the European Union. European Journal of Political Research, 55(4), pp.789-810.

Slapin, J.B., 2015. How European Union membership can undermine the rule of law in emerging democracies. West European Politics, 38(3), pp.627-648.

Wagner, E., 2014. Translating for the European Union. Routledge.

Wallace, H., Pollack, M.A. and Young, A.R. eds., 2015. Policy-making in the European Union. Oxford University Press, USA.

Wallace, H., Pollack, M.A. and Young, A.R. eds., 2015. Policy-making in the European Union. Oxford University Press, USA.

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