Wednesday , June 28 2017
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How Much Europe Can Europe Tolerate?

Summary:
CAMBRIDGE – This month the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. There certainly is much to celebrate. After centuries of war, upheaval, and mass killings, Europe is peaceful and democratic. The EU has brought 11 former Soviet-bloc countries into its fold, successfully guiding their post-communist transitions. And, in an age of inequality, EU member countries exhibit the lowest income gaps anywhere in the world. But these are past achievements. Today, the Union is mired in a deep existential crisis, and its future is very much in doubt. The symptoms are everywhere: Brexit, crushing levels of youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, debt and stagnation in Italy, the rise of populist movements, and a backlash against immigrants and the euro. They all point to the need for a major overhaul of Europe’s institutions. So a new white paper on the future of Europe by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker comes none too soon. Juncker sets out five possible paths: carrying on with the current agenda, focusing just on the single market, allowing some countries to move faster than others toward integration, narrowing down the agenda, and pushing ambitiously for uniform and more complete integration.

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CAMBRIDGE – This month the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. There certainly is much to celebrate. After centuries of war, upheaval, and mass killings, Europe is peaceful and democratic. The EU has brought 11 former Soviet-bloc countries into its fold, successfully guiding their post-communist transitions. And, in an age of inequality, EU member countries exhibit the lowest income gaps anywhere in the world.

But these are past achievements. Today, the Union is mired in a deep existential crisis, and its future is very much in doubt. The symptoms are everywhere: Brexit, crushing levels of youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, debt and stagnation in Italy, the rise of populist movements, and a backlash against immigrants and the euro. They all point to the need for a major overhaul of Europe’s institutions.

So a new white paper on the future of Europe by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker comes none too soon. Juncker sets out five possible paths: carrying on with the current agenda, focusing just on the single market, allowing some countries to move faster than others toward integration, narrowing down the agenda, and pushing ambitiously for uniform and more complete integration.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Juncker. With Europe’s politicians preoccupied with their domestic battles and the EU institutions in Brussels a target for popular frustration, he could stick his neck out only so far. Still, his report is disappointing. It sidesteps the central challenge that the EU must confront and overcome.

If European democracies are to regain their health, economic and political integration cannot remain out of sync. Either political integration catches up with economic integration, or economic integration needs to be scaled back. As long as this decision is evaded, the EU will remain dysfunctional.

When confronted with this stark choice, member states are likely to end up in different positions along the continuum of economic-political integration. This implies that Europe must develop the flexibility and institutional arrangements to accommodate them.

From the very beginning, Europe was built on a “functionalist” argument: political integration would follow economic integration. Juncker’s white paper opens appropriately with a 1950 quote from the European Economic Community founder (and French prime minister) Robert Schuman: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” Build the mechanisms...

Dani Rodrik
I am an economist, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. My most recent book is Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (Norton, 2015). I was born and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. I still follow Turkish politics very closely, as you will find out if you spend any time with this blog.

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