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Two events have forced European integration to accelerate in recent times and actually this acceleration is gaining momentum as I am writing this article. The first of these events is the recent economic crisis, while the second is the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.
The economic crisis caught the European Union unprepared, as it brought to the surface serious structural flaws of the single European market. Advocates of the Optical Currency Area theory already knew that this would occur since the creation of the single market and of the single currency, was not grounded upon a comprehensive theoretical framework, but was rather the end result of political discussions in the quest of fulfilling political objectives. The lack of harmonization in fiscal policies Europe-wide, plus the heterogeneity of the tax systems, social funds and wages were potential threats in the healthy operation of the single market. The unchecked fiscal deficits and public debts of European/Eurozone member-states proved to be a great weakness and not surprisingly, became the target of speculators who wished to make money out of the euro and of the states in need for loans. Put simply the Growth and Stability Pact was a complete failure.
The impact of the economic crisis was great and the eurozone was at the verge of destruction. European member-states must coordinate their policies and harmonize the structure of their economies so as to avoid a second wave of speculative war against them and the single currency, which could prove to be the final blow, should other countries face the fate of Greece and Ireland.
The cases of Greece and Ireland had sounded the alarm for European leaders who realized (with great delay) that drastic changes had to take place if the single currency was to survive. The discussions that will soon take place at a European level, are centered around the economic administration of Europe, with everyone’s eye directed towards transferring more powers to European institutions. We shall see.
Coming to the second event that pushes for further integration, we see that the turbulence in the African and Asian sides of the Mediterranean basin, plus the turmoil in the broader Middle East are dynamically shifting the tectonic plates of international relations and can lead to a new balance of power, less desirable for the western world. Towards this end the European Union has to intervene in order to ensure its vital interests. But intervention of the E.U. as a whole means a common foreign policy, which implies that all 27 member-states must agree upon a well-defined strategy, whose process will be cumbersome thus making the final scheme useless since it will be outdated by the time it is finalized. This means that the E.U. in order to play some role in the whole issue must act beyond the scope of the letter of the law, or the law must change, or some way out must be found so as to confer powers to community institutions that will carry out at least a primitive, yet effective, common foreign policy.
The powers of foreign policy still lie within the hands of member-states, and are most likely to remain that way. However in such grand events, that can change the whole global architecture, the Europeans cannot fall victims of bureaucracy and of structural gaps and inadequacies. Integration must be achieved in the area of foreign policy, if not for local matters, at least for world politics and the events in our neighboring areas surely fall within the scope of such an agenda.
So far we can only speculate and discuss things that might only exist in our own minds. To be certain of what is really going on we shall evaluate the process once we have something concrete to comment upon. For the time being we can only make assumptions and produce idealist views.