Peaceful change, European Union, regional order, realism, identity constructivism, France, Germany, crisis Introduction The European Union is typically perceived by its proponents as an avant-garde, anti–power politics polity capable of civilizing its own political space and its geopolitical neighborhood (see Manners 2002; Kaldor et al. 2016). For the past decade, this conventional European narrative has been challenged by a series of events and developments amounting to an allegedly existential crisis of the EU. We unpack the nature of the current crisis and identify three long-term developments within the EU. In order to understand the crisis and its potential consequences for peaceful change in Europe, we use two analytical prisms to explore how and why the EU is, at the same time, a successful example of international peaceful change—even peaceful transformation—in international affairs and plagued by existential crisis. The first prism is realist and explains European integration and its development in terms of the interests of the most powerful states. The second prism is identity constructivist and explains European integration in terms of identity articulations. We do not seek to subsume one of these positions to the other in a theoretical synthesis, nor do we aim for analytical eclecticism—letting each theory do what it is supposed to do best (e.g., leaving the explanation of peaceful change to the constructivists and the explanation of crisis to the realists). Instead we aim for an “[i]ntegrative pluralism [which] accepts and preserves the validity of a wide range of theoretical perspectives and embraces theoretical diversity as a means of providing more comprehensive and multi-dimensional accounts of complex phenomena” (Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013, 416). We argue that the creation of the EU as a peace project and subsequent peaceful change in the region were conditioned on bargains between the United States and Europe and between Germany and France, resting on the balance of power, but that the particular nature of this peaceful change and the current crisis is structured by discourses on Europe in Germany and France. Finally, we discuss the prospects for continued peaceful change in Europe. European Nostalgia: Europe after the Post–Cold War Era European history since 1945 is a history of unprecedented peaceful change. Following World War II, the deadliest military conflict in human history, with more than 60 million casualties, Western Europe developed into a mature democratic security community cooperating toward “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” as stated in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community in 1957. The end of the Cold War seemed only to solidify the success of Europe. A series of enlargements with former Warsaw Pact member states and neutral countries expanded membership from twelve to twenty-eight European countries, while implementing an economic and monetary union (EMU) and strengthening cooperation on core policy areas of the nation-state such as defense and internal security. The EU developed into a historically unique, thoroughly institutionalized free-trade area of democratic states voluntarily surrendering sovereignty to create a rich, peaceful, and liberal order, for which it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. The European order, in the eyes of its proponents, is not only different from, but also likely better than, any other political order in the history of the contemporary international system, and it serves as a model for other regions (Murray 2010). Since 2008, Europe—and the EU in particular—has been subject to a crisis that is enduring and frequently characterized as existential, multidimensional, and unprecedented (e.g., Juncker 2016; Dinan, Nugent, and Paterson 2017). From 2008 to 2013, Europe suffered a prolonged economic crisis with low growth and high levels of unemployment. The uneven economic performance of EU member states, with a number of southern European countries—Greece in particular—suffering from very high public-sector debt and current account deficits, and a German-led coalition of Northern European countries demanding strict austerity measures, disclosed deep political and economic divisions between member states, which has added a political crisis to the economic one. Only a year before the beginning of the economic crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy signaled a more self-confident Russia that was less amenable to the preferences of the West (Putin 2007). Reform of the Russian armed forces, as well as the 2008 Georgian-Russian war and the 2014 annexation of Crimea, signaled a new European security order; this demonstrated that the EU's economy-centered approach to Eastern neighbors was badly calibrated to geopolitical realities, delivering sometimes more power than acknowledged and thus upsetting the geo-economic constellations, while at other times failing to match a militarized crisis (Youngs 2017; Wæver 2016). Significant differences emerged among EU member states and between European NATO members and the United States on how to respond. Additionally, from 2012, the number of asylum seekers, mainly from the Middle East and Northern Africa, rose from 431,000 applications in 2013 to 1.3 million in both 2015 and 2016 (Eurostat 2017). This provoked not only a heated debate among Europe's political leaders on distribution of refugees among member states but also a debate on the continued viability of the Schengen Agreement securing the free movement of people within the Union (except Britain) without border checks. The triple challenge of economic, security, and migration crises hit EU-Europe particularly hard because they played into three long-term developments challenging the idea of an ever-closer union. First, the past two decades witnessed a resurgence of intergovernmentalism, creating an integration paradox: EU activity was rising to an all-time high, at the same time as the decision making among heads of state and government in the European Council increased in importance at the expense of the supranational European Commission (Bickerton 2015). While this actually was to be expected from a realist analysis (Wæver 1995; Wivel 2004) because security dynamics drive the state leaders to act in Europe mode, it nevertheless makes the EU more fragile than if integration had followed liberal/institutionalist expectations of separate supranational institutions taking control. Second, and closely related to this development, EU-integration is increasingly differentiated with member-state opt-outs and diversification of member-state interests as a consequence of enlargement from twelve to twenty-eight member states since the end of the Cold War. The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU and the potential inability of Greece and Italy to remain members of the EMU has triggered a debate on whether differentiated integration is turning into differentiated disintegration (Dinan, Nugent, and Paterson 2017, 373). Third, EU politics are increasingly politicized and, since the 1990s, securitized. Politicization of the EU is a dual process consisting of attempts at democratization at the EU level, with the Parliament gaining power at the expense of the Commission and an increasingly politicized debate over EU policy and its consequences at both the EU and national levels. Securitization is dual as well, with EU integration cast as an existential threat to the survival of national identities, while supporters of integration treat critics as a security risk due to the role of the EU as the ultimate barrier against renationalization (Wæver 1995). In combination, these three developments challenge the dominant Franco-German narrative of the EU as a vehicle for peaceful change. In contrast to intergovernmentalism, differentiation, and politicization/securitization, this narrative views European integration as rational and depoliticized and moving toward ever closer union. It tells a story of replacing the many centers of power competing for dominance over Europe with a single power center that provides a stable and rational bulwark against intraregional conflict and a platform for extraregional influence. Why was this dominant narrative challenged and potentially undermined? Rebalancing Europe: The Power Politics of Peaceful Change Viewing European integration as an extreme case of interstate cooperation, realists point to two basic mechanisms in international anarchy affecting the likelihood of successful regional integration—balance of power and hegemonic leadership (Wivel 2004, 10–11). From this perspective, European integration rests on two grand bargains between the most powerful states in the Euro-Atlantic area, one between the United States and the European powers, the other between Germany and France. The first bargain reflected how the interests of the United States and the major European powers converged during the Cold War in creating resilient West European states to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in combination with US military power (Leffler 1992). Thus, the combination of European weakness and the Soviet threat created fertile ground for European integration with a strong US voice (Waltz 1979, 70–71). Accordingly, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States succeeded in establishing a largely noncoercive political order in the Western hemisphere based on a diverse range of diplomatic, economic, and security instruments, including tying economic aid after the war to participation in the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), effectively a precursor to the EU. This created an order that was much cheaper to uphold than a traditional empire and allowed for a change in the structure of production toward more interfirm alliances, increasing geographic dispersion of production-creating efficiency gains, and boosting foreign direct investments among the United States and its allies (Brooks and Wohlforth 2000, 175, 184–86). The second bargain reflected the mutual interests and limited action space of the two most powerful states on the European continent, Germany and France. Unable to compete with the two superpowers, they were left with a limited action space for pursuing their national interest; this led them to pursue a cooperative hegemony—a formalized great power concert—in the development of EU institutions preconditioned on “a capacity for power-sharing vis-à-vis smaller states in a region, for power aggregation on the part of the predominant regional state(s) and for commitment to a long-term regionalist policy strategy” (Pedersen 2002, 684). As the strongest power and with a history of aggression, Germany was likely to provoke a balancing coalition had it attempted to achieve hegemony on its own, whereas France, on the other hand, lacked material power but brought legitimacy to the alliance (Pedersen 2002). Their combined capabilities allowed them to monopolize regional integration in Europe, thereby creating a vehicle for economics of scale and stability in Europe that increased the likelihood of balancing the Soviet Union, while simultaneously creating a forum for balancing peacefully against each other in a within-coalition balance of power with EU member states, trading autonomy for stability and security (Rosato 2011).1 This development was closely intertwined with the US-European bargain, as the United States promoted an institutionalized European order that allowed for the reconstruction and subsequent growth of German power (necessary for balancing the Soviet Union) and acted as the ultimate arbiter among Europeans (necessary for avoiding intra-European balancing against Germany and minimizing the risk of another European war). Looking through the realist prism, the challenges of intergovernmentalism, differentiated (dis)integration, and politicization facing the EU today can be understood as the disruption of these two fundamental bargains due to changes in the global and regional balance of power. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China has reoriented US foreign policy away from Europe and toward East Asia, leaving Europe with a diffuse security agenda comprising Russian aggression against former Soviet republics, terrorism, cyber-attacks, and the societal consequences of mass migration. The reunification of Germany unbalanced Europe, leaving economically wobbly France unable to balance Germany, and the subsequent attempt to curb German power in a political and economic union exposed the different interests of member states; this created “wicked crises,” where attempts to fix one type of crisis would intensify other types of crises. The spill-over of crises contrasted the spill-over of integration from one functional area to another predicted by early integration theorists (Dinan, Nugent, and Paterson 2017, 361; see also Rosato 2011, 251). To what extent is this series of wicked crises challenging peaceful change in Europe? Post-sovereign Intergovernmentalism: Germany, France, and the Challenge to Peaceful Change The peaceful transformation of Europe always depended on the willingness of the major European powers, crucially France and Germany, to make European integration a top priority in a way that would allow for both countries, as well as other member states, to view their own interests as compatible with the European integration project. For that reason, the decision of the United Kingdom, Europe's strongest military power, to leave the EU should be cause of concern. The EU's success as an actor of peaceful change continues to rest on two factors. First, the process of integration—rather than the outcome—has been the most important cause of peace because it is the process that has allowed the construction of EU member states’ identities to be closely coupled to the construction of the EU as a peace project. Potentially, the politicization, securitization, and resentment of the outcome of this process may lead to intensified calls for governments to take care of a national interest that is different from the European interest and speed up a process of differentiated (dis)integration. Second, by replacing the traditional military balancing among many European power centers with a single center, European integration transformed the traditional geopolitical order by channeling “national security concerns and replac[ing] rivalry among competing power centers with cohesion around a single power center, symbolically located in Brussels, but actually in the Franco-German coalition” (Wæver 1998, 47). Rising security challenges in Europe's geopolitical vicinity—a more assertive Russia and instability in and migration from North Africa and the Middle East—and a wave of terrorism in EU member states have posed a serious challenge to the concrete policies of the EU and their implementation, in particular, but only a modest challenge to the idea of a European center of power. Thus, in 2015, when a number of member states reintroduced national border controls, none of them sought to abolish or leave the Schengen Agreement. In contrast, their argument was that it had not been properly implemented. Russia, which in the first decade after the Cold War viewed itself as part of a loosely structured all-European security order, has, since the eastern enlargements of EU and NATO, returned to understanding Europe as a region of competing great powers defending their spheres of interest. However, a more assertive Russian foreign policy, as exemplified by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the rise in cyber security challenges, has created a new impetus to Europe's development as a security actor (Mogherini 2017). When Europe's strongest military power, the United Kingdom, most likely leaves the EU in 2019, this will challenge the EU as a security actor but not necessarily the centrality of the EU in Europe's security order, even though a number of EU and NATO members have forged a strong partnership with Britain in military affairs. However, while this cooperation is pivotal for extraregional military activities (e.g., in the context of NATO), it has a much more modest effect on intraregional peace. NATO—and Britain's contribution to NATO—remains pivotal for Europe's military defense, but the EU's most important contribution to European security continues to be integration and institutionalization, thereby complementing rather than challenging NATO's role in European security (Wivel 2008). While traditional security experts (especially in the United States) tend to see this division of labor in terms of NATO doing the primary hard security and the EU doing the lesser soft security, it is actually EU integration that does the most structural and fundamental job, by deciding what power centers matter most, national ones or a joint European one (Wivel 2004; Wæver 1995, 1998). This underlying formation of the geopolitical landscape is primarily a Franco-German affair. Britain, like Russia, remains a fringe player with a strong impact on the EU's ability to influence the world beyond its borders but less potential for influencing intra-European affairs as long as Franco-German discourses dominate EU developments. Therefore, the extent to which these developments are likely to undermine peaceful change in Europe depends on the continued compatibility of Franco-German policies. Here enters the identity-constructivist element. Germany and France do not have to agree on the outcome (the classical fallacy in liberal theories of cooperation), but, from within each sense-making universe, Europe has to be a productive element of each state's “vision of itself” (Kissinger 1957; Wæver 1998). In both countries, the most convincing narratives of the future of their nation and state have been tied up with the European project. In these dominant projects, European identity is not an alternative to national identity, but the political “we”s of nation, state, and Europe are articulated in a mutually reinforcing constellation. The construction of the European peace project has become integral to the most convincing projections of a future national existence and thereby “self-interest.” In both countries, critical voices from nationalist parties—Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and Front National in France—have offered a reconstruction of national identity centered more narrowly on the nation-state as an alternative to, rather than a part of, the European integration project. However, none of these parties have succeeded in displacing the dominant discourse wedding the distinctive historical and cultural identity of the domestic polity to the construction of Europe. The 2017 electoral success of Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche! movement confirmed France's European commitment and left unchallenged France's traditional construction of the EU as both an arena for French influence-seeking and a vehicle for French self-realization in the absence of sufficient capabilities to act on its own on the world stage—a combination that has been entrenched since the Treaty of the European Union in 1992. Whereas the French narrative on Europe has been relatively stable, German discourse on Europe is changing. German commitment to peaceful change through European integration was always a way of escaping the past—for Europe and Germany (Wæver 1998, 51). While remaining so, European integration is increasingly viewed as a means to shaping the future. While initially reluctant to take the lead, Germany played a dominant role in EU negotiations on how to handle the European economic crisis by promoting its own “ordoliberal” agenda, a predictable and stable economic policy embedded in a strong legal and institutionalist framework, which had served as the basis for German recovery and growth in the postwar years, as well as a framework for the construction of the EU's economic order for the past fifty years (Nedergaard and Snaith 2015).2 In the Ukraine crisis, Germany took on the role of “chief facilitator,” while German policy in the migration crisis was characterized by “moral leadership” followed by “coercive diplomacy” to ensure compliance from other member states (Hellmann 2016; Bulmer and Paterson 2017, 213). German leadership in this series of crises shows a gradually more assertive Germany proactively seeking to shape the future of Europe. Heated debates in the 1990s over “normalization” and “military de-tabooization” rested on an image where Germany, by a small (mis)step, could become a traditional power-state. However, the debate has moved on to acknowledge that Germany does shape the future without waking old demons because the policy remains EU-centered—“the German ‘self’ is in the future found more than ever in Europe” (Hellmann 2016, 12). This vision of the future seeks to preserve the most fundamental characteristics of the European peace project from the past—yet updated to meet the challenges of the present. While Chancellor Merkel has called for a new “union method,” she defines it as “coordinated action in a spirit of solidarity” with the European Council as the most important institutional arena (Merkel 2010). This reconstruction of the traditional German view of Europe is compatible with the new intergovernmentalism, which has come to dominate EU politics over the past decade: delegation to supranational institutions has given way to intergovernmentalist negotiations, but these negotiations are characterized by deliberation and consensus-seeking, accepting that even areas that used to be the prerogative of the state are now included in the integration process (Bickerton 2015, 51–52). In this context, German European policy can be understood as a postsovereign intergovernmentalism, adapting to the new conditions for policymaking in Europe by taking advantage of its strengthened position to preserve the European peace project. While the dominant French conception has been relatively stable, it has also come under increasing pressure. Since the end of the Cold War and German unification, Europe has potentially had more of a French problem than a German problem (Wæver 1998) because the French position is more fragile. In line with this expectation, principled alternatives to the dominant line have gained much more electoral support than in Germany. The French presidential election of 2017 was a close call, where the first round could have produced a run-off between two anti-EU candidates. Eventually, Emmanuel Macron landed a resounding victory and a solid political majority for his reformist policy of “radical centrism,” investing in a joint dynamism for France and Europe. An acceleration of integration with a refurbished Franco-German engine and novel use of differentiation is back on the agenda. Potential deviation in France could most likely come from a challenger discourse, in Germany most likely from within the dominant one. The constellation remains precariously dependent on Germany's gradual upgrade of its powerful role remaining Europe-friendly and on France actually having enough success to sustain the entangled vision of France/Europe against increasingly powerful alternatives. When Process is Outcome and Crisis is Reassuring: Preserving Europe's Peaceful Order The EU is in crisis but not on the verge of collapse. As noted by Schmitter and Lefkofridi (2016, 1), “so far all that has been observed are ‘morbidity symptoms,’ not some definitive diminution or demise.” Realists are right to point out that the rebalancing of global and European power over the past decades fundamentally changes the conditions for continued peaceful change in Europe, but they are wrong to assume that this will necessarily result in the demise of the EU or the end of peaceful change. The current crisis of the EU is multidimensional and unprecedented, but it is not existential. On the contrary, the crisis of the EU and the rebalancing of the European order has shown the power of peaceful change. The rebalancing of European power over the past three decades has strongly favored continued peaceful change in Europe under the auspices of the EU, by strengthening Germany and the importance of the German discourse on Europe. As we would expect from realism, Germany has used this strength and the power vacuum left by the self-marginalization of the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom, but it has used its power to underpin rather than to undermine the European peace project. To be sure, there are good realist reasons for this: European integration has allowed Germany to rise peacefully without provoking a counter-balance, but, by allowing this development, the process of integration has become the most important outcome for Germany. In this context, politicization and differentiation of European integration can be understood not only as signs of a crisis but, at the same time, as expressions of the success of the German understanding of what Europe is and ought to be. It is a politicization of the debate on the European power center and a differentiation from the European power center based on the premise that this is the center and there are no alternatives. Only for the United Kingdom, a European great power with a very different understanding of Europe, was this an unacceptable order. The current crisis of the EU is the strongest evidence of the success of the EU as a vehicle for peaceful change in Europe. The process of peaceful change through integration has become the outcome.3 Europe adapted to momentous power shifts both around it, with the fall and partial re-rise of Moscow, and within Europe, with German unification. The main mechanism in this speaks to the analytical utility of both realism and identity constructivism because peaceful change was achieved by forging a new power and, within it, redefining existing powers. Footnotes 1 For France, under the Presidency of General Charles de Gaulle (1959–69), Franco-German cooperation was, in combination with the development of a French nuclear force (the force de frappe), intended to create a greater European independence of the United States, formalized in the Élysée Treaty (1963), but the version of the treaty ratified by the German parliament kept European integration closely tied to the United States. 2 For a critical discussion of Germany's role and, in particular, the German adherence to austerity policies in the European economic crisis, see Blyth (2013). 3 Thus, our argument both parallels and contrasts the classical neofunctionalist argument of Haas (1958). Both his and our analysis stress processes that are designed to ensure peaceful change and to work in day-to-day affairs without the participants consciously thinking of their own actions as policies of peace. Both have an element of a “conscious hand” designing a “hidden hand.” However, the mechanisms are different. In Haas's theory, functional spill-over between policy areas ultimately leads political actors to shift their loyalties, expectations, and political activities toward the new decision center because it is actually there that decisions are made on substantial issues. In our analysis, power is in focus, not functional problem-solving, and the original bargains are upheld and updated over time through practices of power balancing anchored in identity articulations. 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International Studies Review – Oxford University Press
Published: May 8, 2018
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