Thursday, February 5, 2004

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The debate over the European Union, continued

Over the past six months Henry Farrell and I have had a friendly debate over how to define the European Union. It it a supranational organization transforming itself into a state -- as Henry argues? Or is it a garden-variety international organization that is managed by its most powerful member states -- as I have argued?

Henry's last post on this matter argued that what really mattered was the Euroopean Court of Justice:

[T]he real evidence that the EU is not the mere plaything of its more powerful member states can be found in the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ has succeeded in effectively ensuring the primacy of EU law over the law of the member states, which is not something that you would expect if the European Union were a simple international organization. Even big member states such as France and Germany, have complied with ECJ rulings that went against their interests.

Henry makes a valid point -- but if the ECJ acts strategically, it will be reluctant to issue rulings that powerful states would flout, weakening the ECJ's repitation.

Which brings me to this Financial Times story suggests that beyond the ECJ, compliance is tough to come by:

Brussels delivered a double blow to the French government on Wednesday, combining a legal challenge against a French law on awarding government contracts with an order to repay more than €90m in farm subsidies.

France will now have to defend its public procurement code in front of the European Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, amid allegations that tendering procedures fall below European Union standards.

In a separate development, Paris will also be forced to re-examine the way it distributes the billions in farm aid it receives every year, after the Commission found that payments to cattle farmers had not been properly supervised. As a result, France will have to repay €91.12m ($114m, £62m), almost two thirds of the total farm subsidies recovered by the Commission in the most recent period.

The two decisions are likely to reinforce France's position as one of the worst performers on implementing EU legislation - a standing that has led to clashes between Paris and Brussels.

France's poor record on this front is matched only by Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, all of which are founding members of the EU and frontline supporters of a two-speed Europe led by Paris and Berlin.

Their poor record in following EU law has led some to question whether these countries can provide the leadership required. Earlier this week, Frits Bolkestein, the internal market commissioner, launched a thinly-veiled attack on this drive for a two-speed Europe. In a speech in London he said: "It is about time certain member states put their money where their mouths are. The self-appointed vanguard should begin at home by implementing existing community law."

Paris and Berlin, traditionally the Union's leaders, were also berated last month for their poor record in implementing EU law, as well as for running big budget deficits and for their failure to push through reforms.

posted by Dan on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM


The European Union may be akin to a Rorschach test. It’s ultimate goal is whatever you think it should be. Many people almost certainly wish to turn it into something similar to the United States (I don’t want to hurt Henry Farrell’s feelings, but Canada will probably disintegrate sometime in the next fifty years). To the French, though, they are probably using the European Union to scam their neighbors. All nations are equal, but some are more equal than others.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

Completely agree Dave. The Frog's are going to ultimately be completely committed to the push to dissolve Canada IOT see it 'reborn' as a Francophile republic. All else (EU included) is simply going to be a facade.

But then again, it's their word - why wouldn't they be good at it?

posted by: Tommy G on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

One of the key tests will be what comes of the lawsuit the Commission has launched against France and Germany about breaking the Stability & Growth Pact.

With the addition of the ten it the big/small divide becomes a lot more complicated as well, and a rich/poor divide becomes more evident. Of course, France and Germany may now be trying to co-opt the UK into their axis, which if successful would seem to support your view. If Tony Blair resists making stitch-ups then I would say the chance of wider alliances forming and being effective more often will increase.

posted by: Lewis Maskell on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

I don't have much time to post since I'm at work - however, I'd say that you and Henry Farrell are both correct, after a fashion. His argument is what the ideal of the EU is, while yours is the reality.

posted by: Prague on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

Another key question to ask is this: "Who controls the money?" Here in the U.S. the method of centralizing control has been via the dollar. Much state money flows first through the federal level and is thereby subject to the federal level's own priorities and preferences. I daresay answering that question vis-a-vi the E.U. would be a good step in determining what final form it would take.

posted by: Hal Duston on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

You are wrong on the issue of the EU. It is already a superstate inserting itself into the daily lives of its citizens. Judicial, economic (not just monitarily) and political. No sensible forward thinking person can deny that the EU will continue to "integrate" and grow in daily influence over its nation states. It is the inertia of a federal government. And there few structural statutory limits to the EU bureacracy. The current EU fed/state relationship may be similar to our pre-US Civil War condition, but the resulting concoction is not in doubt. The issue is when not whether it will occur. Blair et al can laughably put a lable on it "a state of nations" rather than "a nation of states" but as they say...if it quacks like a duck....

posted by: ken on 02.05.04 at 02:03 PM [permalink]

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