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  European Union crisis: destructive or creative?

Benas Brunalas
2011 11 14

The crisis usually means loss or decrease of stability and vitality of something, which leads to negative evaluation of a crisis-driven effect. But does political, economic or social crisis necessarily mean a loss? Couldn’t it bring something new and more valuable? The European Union context full of striking crisis examples could be a good example. The same is with the Euro zone crisis and doubts related to the EU future. The crises urges to search for a positive counteraction to this shocking situation.

Europe was devastated by the two global wars which demonstrated that non-institutionalized competition of states for domination led to nothing but cataclysms and discredit of a propagated power balance method directed toward peace security. Therefore the wars were a perfect pretext (no matter how cynical this may sound) to change the status quo and look for new ways of national cooperation. The European Coal and Steal Community with its economic motive served as a guarantee of a long-term peace. Actually this Community was the beginning of the political and economic unification of Europe.

Not only the European integration but also another global crisis - the cold war - was caused by the wars. When the United States and USSR competed with each other, Europe was transformed into the Eastern firewall against communism. That’s why the focus was given to the consolidation of the part of Europe which was free of USSR, and for its involvement into the fight against communism. Consequently, a reduced version of Europe – the Western Europe – emerged.

Military experience forced to reconsider the place of a national state in Europe, whereas the emergence of new political institutions allowed to shape the future in a different reality.  Events after another crisis – the fall of USSR – demonstrate that a new Europe’s reality is attractive: practically all states of the old continent expressed their will to join the political phenomenon of Western Europe. Further EU development could be presented as one of the key features of this union, as well as the European neighborhood policy aimed at reducing crisis opportunities in the unstable countries around the EU.

EU integration encompasses minor and major local crises, but let’s discuss the most relevant.

EU military situation. EU military integration has different interpretations.  According to certain positive evaluations and expectations integration would proceed; it is also an opinion that the achieved cooperation level as irrelevant.  The necessity to coordinate defense and crisis management actions of EU Member States resulted from the inability to effectively respond to the crisis in Yugoslavia during the last decade of the 20th century. When crisis began, cooperation in the sphere of crisis management increased: during the EU Summit in Helsinki Member States agreed on the expansion of military forces. In Goteborg the European Council has agreed to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least 1 year military forces of up to 50-60 thousand persons. Although not all the plans were fulfilled, active involvement into the crisis management operations demonstrates that possibilities to use military instruments under the EU flag are quite realistic. Thus, the Balkan crisis evidenced: if the EU wants to be a credible actor on the international stage, joint military forces are instrumental.

Quite soon another – Iraq – crisis highlighted the necessity to unify efforts. In view of this, in 2003 the European Council adopted European Security Strategy (ESS). The Strategy committed the EU to a multilateral approach to security.

But the Libyan crisis in the context of the Arab Spring demonstrated that possibilities of the EU to participate in the problem-solving actions in neighboring countries are limited.  Thus the issue of joint and effective forces will again be on the agenda and there is a rationale for this.

EU energy situation.Power sector faces crisis frequently and usually consequences are very painful. EU imports about 80 percent of oil and nearly 60 percent of natural gas. Thus, in case of deteriorated relations with exporters of raw materials energy crisis is quite possible. For instance, in 2006 Russia cut off its gas supply to Ukraine; in 2007 energy conflicts took place between Russia and Belarus. The crisis and Moscow’s inclination to relate energy to policy forced to search for the ways of preventing these disorders and possible political pressure. Therefore EU tries to increase gas storage capacity, develop energy security mechanism and effective local energy market. Moreover, monopoly of the raw material supplier (Russia) is at the same time the main reason of crisis in the power sector.

Unfortunately, power crisis didn’t foster EU integration in this area; moreover that Russia concluding bilateral energy agreements with separate EU Member States was against the integration. But the idea of the single energy market is under development and most likely the main steps will be taken in the future.

EU financial situation. The Euro zone crisis that started in Greece doesn’t seem to calm down. Moreover, it might also affect major EU economies: Spain and Italy. International rating agencies diminish their financial credibility, thus crisis expansion is very likely if relevant and fundamental decisions are not made.

The increase of the European Financial Stability Fund from 440 to 780 billion Euros could hardly be treated as an essential step. It seems that even Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy speak about the necessity to increase integration in the Euro zone. One of the main solutions is an issuance of new Euro bonds. This would allow Euro zone countries to borrow under the control of the European Debt Agency and these bonds would be the responsibility of all Euro zone countries. Although this scenario would be a burden to the countries like Germany, Angela Merkel says that her country is ready to sacrifice in centralizing EU fiscal policy.

Euro zone finance ministry could be another major step toward crisis management. This institution could accumulate funds for the entire Euro zone and take care that all zone countries pursue a fiscal discipline. Such a ministry could pursue a common control and strategy facilitating economic unification and economic growth. Consequently, one more prerogative of a national state – freedom to plan own economic life – would be under the influence of EU institutions. Thus, Euro crisis might result in higher EU integration.

EU Constitution. It is worth while mentioning one more – EU Constitutional crisis. In 2005, the rejection by France and the Netherlands regarding the ratification of the European Union's Constitution has caused a great deal of uncertainty as to the future course Europe will take.This crisis highlighted another important feature of the EU development: “obstinacy” and supranational nature of the EU integration. Management of the EU Constitutional crisis in adopting the Lisbon Treaty demonstrates that Member States found difficult to resist the common EU direction toward the subject. However, the Lisbon Treaty preserving most of the content of the Constitution, demonstrated that though rejection of the Constitution was referred to as crisis, actually it has become a precedent indicating that the future EU integration practically has nothing to do with the expectations of Europeans. The system, though based on the consensus of all Member States, seems to be self-creating. A similar trend could be discerned in Slovakia’s veto regarding the Euro zone rescue plan. Although related to the internal national policy issues, this veto was soon revoked.

There could be two different attitudes toward the above. A negative attitude is based on fear. A perfect example is Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism where crisis is identified with the shock therapy. But in crises we could also discern a trend indicating that all crises have elements of creativity and unification (e.g. the EU). Another question is: how to evaluate hardly controllable EU integration? If the reduction of autonomy of national authorities is referred to as an infringement on our identity, integration would be evaluated negatively. But if we treat the same authorities as a tool for the assurance of safe and full-fledged human life, certain modifications applied to these authorities by the EU could be treated as a progress.

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