Thursday, October 23, 2003

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The verdict is in for the European Union

Chris Lawrence writes the following:

Two months ago, Daniel Drezner noted the split over whether the European Union is an international organization or a supranational authority among IR scholars... and that upcoming events in France and Germany would help settle that question—in particular, whether those countries would be punished for violating E.U. treaty commitments.

At which point, Chris links to the following Glenn Reynolds post, which links to this story from the Scotsman:

France escaped hefty fines today despite flagrantly breaching EU rules on running the single currency.

The let-off from the European Commission triggered fresh attacks on the euro’s credibility, with warnings that the UK could not be expected to join the currency while others were allowed to ignore the rules.

The Commission acknowledges that the French government is failing to keep its economy in line with EU requirements...

In theory, France could have been fined up to 0.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) for transgressing the rules, but the Commission this afternoon recommended merely that fellow EU governments “request France to take new measures to reduce the budget deficit“.

Pieter Dorsman has more on small country reactions to this decision. Chris concludes:

Not only does this event help confirm Dan’s thesis that the E.U. is, at its core, a regular international organization, it should also give pause to those Americans and others who urge the United States to commit to international agreements involving France and other states.

Weeeellll....... I wouldn't go that far. The difference between French behavior in the EU and French behavior in a multilateral organization that includes the U.S. is that France is a great power in the context of the former and only a middle-range power in the context of the latter. When the U.S. is a member, France's ability to defect from the rules carries much greater costs.

Although the media tends to focus on instances in which France makes life difficult for the United States, there are a welter of organizations and clubs -- the G-7, for example -- in which France plays a constructive role.

A final thought on the European Union. It has been pointed out by many that the macroeconomic rules that France is breaking are pretty stupid. This is undoubtedly true. However, two points in response. First, as I pointed out here:

[D]issolving the Maastricht criteria is probably the smart move. However, such a decision would be supremely ironic for Germany and France. Those two countries insisted on establishing such stringent macroeconomic criteria in order to exclude Southern European economies like Spain, Italy and Greece from the Euro, because they doubted those countries fiscal prudence.

Second, instead of actually changing the rules, France is simply flouting them. Neither the European Commission nor the European Council seems prepared to punish France for defecting.

In other words, at present the European Union, for all of its supranational characteristics, remains an ordinary international organization.

posted by Dan on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM


"at present the European Union, for all of its supranational characteristics, remains an ordinary international organization."

This is certainly true in some policy areas, but it is certainly false in others. The EU now sets consumption tax levels for all member states. In regulatory policy, for instance, the EU is more centralized than the U.S. Decisions by qualified majority vote that become the law of the land and an elected parliament with codecision powers on many issues are hardly characteristics of an international organization. But of course you are right on those policy issues where integration has not (yet?) gone as far.

posted by: zaoem on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

BTW, for those who won't click through, here's my more nuanced addendum in response:

"(That France is more likely to abide by its commitments in treaties involving the United States) is undoubtably true—and I was being just a tad hyperbolic. Nonetheless, if France wants to be taken seriously as a negotiating partner in international agreements where (a) the U.S. already has serious reservations about signing on and (b) France has a self-declared national interest in getting the U.S. to participate (as applies in the cases of both the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court), it might want to consider whether handing a loaded gun to its most fierce critics in the United States is going to be effective. When a hypothetical President Dean sends those treaties back to a Senate already skeptical about the motivations of France and other signatories, it's not going to look very good when critics point out that France has already violated commitments to its closest neighbors and trading partners."

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

However stupid the rules that France broke may be, they, along with Germany arethe one who insisted on its inclusion during the 90's boom era.

posted by: BigFire on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

I say the rule should stand.. but instead of fines as punishment there should be automatic (ie, not pending a vote) sanctions. These sanctions should be something along the lines of restricting trade with other members in certain non-essential areas. Y'all can elaborate from there.

And if I keep hearing how "ironic" the situation is... damn I know already!

posted by: bubba on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

France has intl import ONLY because of its veto at the UNSC.

In ALL other respects France is nothing more than a second rate power, with a third rate economy, a fourth rate army, saddled with a reactioanry attitude that depends on statism, elitism, and mortal relativism to defend its limted hegemony, its limted language, and its moribund culture.

posted by: o'danny boy on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

Some people here got no sense of historical perspective. Once upon a time, Germany and France as well as Japan used to be the terrors of the world. The remnants of their struggles were what created WWI and WWII. The UN was created as much to defang them and to keep them docile as it was to provide a counterweight to the resurgent power of Russia and later the rising power of China.

In other words, the UN veto was the bribe to keep France happy and sipping wine and eating bree rather than starting another world-war. Of course with the old system getting rattled around, everything may go back more or less to how it used to work.

Oh and btw, France and Germany are still important for another reason. They still basically control the reins of power and set the agenda for the EU. As far as picking allies go, "new Europe" and Britainia are on the weaker side of the ledger.

posted by: Oldman on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

Oldman is a little off in saying that Japan, France and Germany were once terrors of the world, and "the remnants of their struggles were what created WW1 and WW2." Japan wasn't a power in any sense before the late 19th century; I'd argue it only really got great power status with the Sino-Japanese war in 1894. And it had certainly had no significant "struggles" with any European power in its entire history before then. Nor was Japan involved in the start of WW1. It joined the war, but, key point here, on the side of the Allies.
And as for the UN being created to provide a counterweight for the rising power of China: this is very, very far off beam indeed. If he can come up with any backing for this, I'd be interested to see it.
The reference to France "starting" another world war is just bizarre. Please explain how France started WW2.
As for the UN veto being a bribe to keep the French peaceful - again, like the "rising China" remark, I have no idea how he can come up with this interpretation of events. The prospect of France launching aggressive war on the European continent after 1945 was so remote as to be laughable.

And it's spelt "Brie", not "bree."

posted by: aj on 10.23.03 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

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