EU not out of the woods
28 October 2011
"With the exception of the creation of eurobonds, we got everything we were expecting". If the banker quoted by Le Monde is to believed, the agreement reached on the night of 26-27 October on the devaluation of Greek debt, the recapitalisation of the banks, and the reinforcement of the European Financial Stability Facility will be enough to resolve the Eurozone crisis.
However, the experience of previous agreements hammered out after difficult negotiations should encourage us to hedge our bets. Markets move in mysterious ways, and there is a risk that this latest summit will have been for nothing. With this in mind, it is still too early to draw any conclusions as to its final outcome.
However, in a context where the response of European leaders was informed by the fact that the fate of the EU was at stake, a quick look at the European political landscape in the wake of the October 23 and 26 summits should be sufficient to tell us that the political crisis, which was obscured by the financial crisis, is only beginning.
As many commentators have noted, we are now embarked on a path towards the greater integration of the Eurozone, and this is a move which will generate a lot of uncertainty.
The highly publicised discussions between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have demonstrated that the Paris-Berlin axis is once again the main motor of Europe. But we are no longer in a Europe with just six or 12 member states, and this motor will have less horsepower in the wake of successive EU enlargements and the creation of powerful internal organisations like the European Central Bank.
The spat between Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, and the Commons debate on a UK referendum to decide on Britain’s membership of the EU are evidence that London is also seeking to redefine its role in what is now a shifting architecture. "Merkozy" will be uneager to offer concessions to the British, who have exerted a long-standing influence on the liberal development of the European Commission, without assuming all the political responsibilities that this would imply.
However, the UK is not the only country to wonder about its role in Europe. The nine other EU members which are not in the euro, and in particular Poland and Sweden, are already grumbling about the inception of what will become a two-speed Europe. The Schengen Area and initiatives for European defence have already set a precedent for EU initiatives with a variable geometry. But they do not involve such a developed level of governance as the one implied by the control of national budgets and the appointment of a European minister of finance.
And here, we are touching on the main point about the instability to come: the economic government that Berlin and Paris are aiming to establish, with support from the Netherlands and Finland, will affect the sovereignty of states and raise the question of democratic control – an issue raised by sociologist Jürgen Habermas in a forthcoming essay from which Presseurop has published a number of extracts.
From this point of view, the EU has now embarked on a dangerous transition, in which its leaders will have to demonstrate their political effectiveness and at the same time keep an eye on the practicalities of democracy: especially when you consider that the ratification process for the 21 July agreement has already shown that national parliaments are very slow when they are required to respond to financial markets.
Worse still, as Timothy Garton Ash pointed out this week in his analysis of the debates in the UK and German parliaments, national democracies are expressing conflicting demands that have caused the EU to stall.
But given that no one is ready to establish a European democracy based on a parliament that is elected from transnational lists which take up a position on transnational debates, decisions will continue to be taken by political leaders who meet behind closed doors, and they will continue to be approved by parliaments that have been first and foremost elected to deal with national issues. The euro may be saved, but the EU is still not out of the woods.
Translated from the French by Mark McGovern