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  • Europe Inside Out
  • Robin Niblett (bio)

Six months after the French and Dutch rejections of the European Union's constitutional treaty, Europe is still in shock. Member states remain in a self-mandated period of reflection in the hope that they can reach a new consensus on how to achieve their "ever-closer union."1 Yet, the more time that passes, the more it becomes apparent that the basic foundations on which the process of European integration has been built over the past 50 years are now under assault. The EU's expansion from 15 to 25 members in May 2004 created new fissures that cannot be smoothed over with the sorts of trade-offs arranged in the past by its original West European member states, led by France and Germany. Is this then just the most recent in a series of temporary crises that have punctuated the EU's history and have generally served, in the end, to provide a new impetus for the process of integration, or should a gradual loosening of the EU or even a collapse of its key institutions be expected?

Rather than presaging the unraveling of the EU, the current crisis appears to announce a recalibration of the emphasis that EU governments have placed on each of the three pillars of integration established by the Maastricht Treaty of 1991, which launched a new phase of European integration after German unification and the end of the Cold War. The first pillar encompasses primarily the EU's program of economic integration, including the single market and single currency. The second involves the development and implementation of common foreign and security policies among the EU member states. The third pillar refers to the nascent efforts by EU governments to coordinate their policies in the field of justice and home affairs. Although economic integration has led the European unification [End Page 41] process since its inception, it is less likely to serve as the engine of European integration in the near future. As the focus on economic reform becomes firmly a national preoccupation, with the EU playing a facilitating rather than a driving role, the search for common foreign policies and closer cooperation on issues of domestic security will become the primary, if still gradual, drivers of European integration. This recalibration is necessary and one from which the EU could emerge stronger in the decade ahead.

The Aftershocks of May 2005

From its inception, the EU has offered a formal framework within which France and Germany turned their backs on the competition for relative power that had bedeviled their relations and Europe as a whole during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The two countries and an expanding group of their West European neighbors chose instead to pool their sovereignty, offering a model of cooperative governance whose fruits—peace and economic prosperity—served both as a standard and a beacon for the rest of Europe. After the Cold War, the EU took on a second vocation, becoming the agent for continental European unification, at first through trade and cooperation agreements between the EU and its East European neighbors and then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, through a road map to membership for all European nations that met the so-called Copenhagen criteria of democratic governance and market openness established in 1993.

By the spring of 2005, both of these goals had for the most part been met. In the west, the fear of Franco-German conflict has ended. In the east, the EU has begun to overcome Europe's division, drawing most of the members of the former Communist Eastern Bloc into the EU's institutions and offering a path to membership for those that remain on the threshold. The failure to ratify the constitutional treaty thus exposed a new and growing challenge: the yawning divide between member states' governmental ambitions for the EU and popular frustrations with its performance, especially the disconnection between what governments promised through Europe and what Europe could deliver. The depth of this divide was apparent in the decisive majorities that rejected the treaty in the relatively pro-Atlanticist, free-market Netherlands and the traditionally pro-Europe, statist France. Opposition to the...


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pp. 41-59
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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