Written by Joanna Apap with Linus Siöland,
Focusing on transnational governance in the period since the end of World War II, this year’s EPRS annual lecture 2019 was delivered by Professor Wolfram Kaiser, Professor of European Studies at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, who is this year’s non-Resident Visiting EPRS Fellow.
Director General of EPRS, Anthony Teasdale, launching the event, noted that it is the most recent in a series (that began with a lecture delivered by Professor Desmond Dinan), providing an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the history of the dynamics of the European Parliament. In addition, the lecture allows EPRS Fellows to present their research.
Wolfram Kaiser’s introduction then portrayed the peculiar mix of European governance traditions and practices that have evolved since the mid-twentieth century. These are: ‘technocratic internationalism’, the notion of governance by transnational experts in the interests of all; (ii) ‘neo-corporatist or consociational cooperation’ geared towards achieving broad consensus on policy-making, reflecting the EU’s heterogeneous character and government and societal actors’ national preferences; and (iii) the vision of the EU as ‘a supranational parliamentary democracy’, which puts ‘parliamentarisation’ of the EU centre stage.
Kaiser began by highlighting Jean Monnet’s technocratic internationalist idea of the ‘supranational character of cooperation’. Influenced by his work in the League of Nations and his wartime experiences, Monnet appreciated considering issues in their entirety, rather than in the frame of national interest or short-term gain, preferring to depoliticise issues and work towards a common interest. These views strongly influenced the early Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), providing an early basis for expert-driven decision-making. Kaiser continued by illustrating that neo-corporatist cooperation originated in the coal and steel cartels of post-war Europe, with proponents arguing that such working patterns could avoid ‘wasteful competition’. While Monnet was critical of cartels and did not include them in the ECSC, the practice of cooperative cartels nevertheless became embedded in the European economy, only declining with the increased prominence of liberal and free-market norms in the 1970s. Finally, Kaiser explained that the constitutionalisation of European integration followed warnings by French President Charles De Gaulle, among others, against the emergence of an ‘overbearing technocratic bureaucracy’, which lacked wider legitimacy. Kaiser then explained how the drive for a European parliamentary democracy that followed was shaped in large part by the emergence of European political groups, the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats in particular.
For Kaiser, the historical development of European transnational government has produced four main challenges: by focusing on its output, rather than its legitimacy, the Commission has become an ‘easy target’ for criticism; consensus-driven policy-making has led to a perception of a lack of transparency that amplifies the populist rhetoric of ‘us versus them’; a number of Member States sought to blame the EU for a lack of solutions for inherently national issues at European level; the democratic deficit has persisted, despite Federalists’ hope that a stronger European Parliament would attenuate the issue. For Kaiser, the three governance traditions on which his research has focused have created tension and undermined each other, providing an opportunity for Europopulist attack.
Opening the ensuing discussion, Dr Heather Grabbe, Director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, highlighted the importance of taking a historical perspective of the EU. Only by studying these developments, can one properly understand the practices of transnational governance. Whilst Grabbe highlighted how adaptable the EU has proven to be, she also highlighted that, in new areas of policy action such as combating climate change, it is important that the EU takes care to avoid blame for individual states’ policy failures. However, it is exactly on policies such as climate change action, that the EU can make a bigger impact than national policy, looking to benefit future generations of Europeans.
Professor Brigid Laffan, Director of the European University Institute’s Robert Schuman Centre, then argued that today’s ‘joint decision trap’ has become more of a ‘politics trap’, with domestic politics increasingly influencing the work of the EU. Parliamentarisation may have increased politicisation, but the EU machinery has not yet adapted to this new landscape. In particular, she noted the continued and even increased relevance of European party families, with the growing influence of party group allegiance demonstrated in the recent Spitzenkandidaten process. However, Laffan noted, there is no democracy without politics. The period of intense treaty change that concluded with the adoption of the Lisbon treaty resulted in a much stronger EU, and today’s intensive transgovernmentalism. Pointing to the EU’s resilience in the face of financial and migration crises, Laffan also cautions against exaggerating the risk of the EU’s demise. In conclusion, Laffan argued that Euroscepticism should not be equated with nationalism in all cases, and that nationalism is not the same as populism. A liberal form of nationalism can be both pro-European and cosmopolitan. The EU has weathered the crises of the last decade and has emerged as a much stronger organisation. Ending on a positive note, Laffan feels that the EU can indeed adapt to the challenges it faces.
A recording of the EPRS Annual Lecture 2019 can be found here.
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