Moravcsik on the European Constitutional Settlement

Andrea MoravcsikOne of the greatest benefits of studying at LSE has been to attend public lectures by world leaders and academics. So far my highlight had been the 3-day “tour de growth” with Philippe Aghion. After last night I feel that the most (academically) stimulating experience has been Andrew Moravcsik’s lecture on the “European Constitutional Settlement”.
As a committed federalist I have often found it difficult to agree with Moravcsik’s analysis of the process of European integration. Since his landmark studies in the early 1990s he has long been the defender of the intergovernmental method – acknowledging continuing control in the hand of EU member states. My experience working in and around EU politics over the last 9 years has been different but I have always valued Moravcsik’s contribution as a valid intellectual and academic challenge to any federalist.

With this blog entry I will try to sum up Andrew’s speech and include some observations and comments from myself. It is surely not complete and anyone who wants to hear the real Moravscik is more than encouraged to attend any of his inspiring lectures!

Andrew in short:

The centre of gravity of the study of European integration has shifted to Europe (where it belongs) since the 1990s.

EU citizens do not spend much time thinking about the EU because they do not care much. However, the EU does have some significant distributive effects. Consequently, there are many reasons to be concerned about the “democratic deficit”.

Moravcsik’s main argument is: The core of the democratic deficit stems from relative unimportance of EU issues in the mind of voters – i.e. the relative lack of issue salience.

There are three myths
1. The EU as an emerging super-state (libertarian myth)
One of the most misquoted “facts” (from an old Delors statement) is the idea that 80% of laws emanate from the EU. In the meantime several studies have shown that only 7-20% of laws originate in the EU – and there is no increase over time.
2. Voters cannot influence EU politics (pluralist myth)
The EU is possibly one of the most transparent polities. In fact all actors (except maybe the Commission) are directly or indirectly elected and fully accountable. Moreover, decisions are usually taken with super-majorities.
3. EU institutions are distant
In recent referendums there has not been a serious protest vote. Only a margin of “no” voters in Ireland voted specifically anti-EU. More than 70% of the Irish had a positive view on the EU on the whole (at the time of the referendum). Other surveys have found that citizens trust EU institutions as much or even more than national institutions.

Why are EU citizens not interested in the EU?
The non-participation has a very simple reason. It is because EU issues are not salient to EU voters. There are no really fundamental decisions taken on EU level that really get the broad majority of voters excited.
Europe is boring!
Attempts to mobilise people (for Europe) is counterproductive. The best (negative) example are random (national) referendums.

According to Moravcsik there are three kinds of proposals to overcome the democratic deficit.
1. the institutional proposal (Simon Hix et al.)
There is no focal point in EU elections. Therefore, the election of the Commission President needs to be made the central contest.
I very much agree with this line and it is also supported by federalist organisations like JEF and UEF who have launched the campaign “Who is your Candidate” to demand from European political parties to nominate their Commission President candidates before the elections. Unfortunately, only the European People’s Party (EPP) has in some way declared its support for a second term of Barroso.
However, Moravcsik claims that this proposal lacks empirical grounding. It exaggerates the Commission’s role because priorities emerge from Council and the European Parliament, and he doubts that such a minor change would be decisive in changing Europeans’ perception of EU politics.

2. the social-democratic argument (Habermas, Scharpf and others)
These people argue that more important issues should be directly tackled by the EU. This would include such vague challenges as globalisation or the “race to the bottom”.
Again, Moravcsik is convinced that these topics are not concrete enough to mobilise sufficient voters.

3. the “informed” social-democratic argument (Giddens, Schmitter)
These people argue that the EU should help to reform the welfare state in member states. Concrete examples suggested are a guaranteed income for farmers or rules for the treatment (and subsistence) of immigrants. This would surely get people out and interested. But even Giddens himself suggests that such suggestions are maybe not necessarily legitimacy-enhancing because citizens are broadly against EU interference in their welfare policies.

Moravcsik’s conclusion therefore is that we will continue to live with the status quo.

In a final remark Moravcsik suggested that China is “over-rated” and that studying the EU (the other global super power next to the US) is the most fascinating thing to do. More on this in my previous comment.

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7 thoughts on “Moravcsik on the European Constitutional Settlement

  1. Andrew Moravcsik

    Nice to read your gloss–and to see LSE students are living up to their reputation for academic engagement.

    I’d say you got it about right. Some small nuances: (1) On Scharpf, the evidence simply suggests that the “race to the bottom” isn’t a very significant phenomenon to date. We are really just talking about a few issues, e.g. perhaps corporate taxes, that could be handled. (2) Everything I claim in that lecture is relatively uncontroversial empirically: e.g. what are the salient issues in advanced democracies, that voters always only attend to a few issues, what happens when they don’t, etc. This is very basic undergrad political science. I believe that anyone who advocates institutional quick fixes is arguing upstream. Lots of articles on my website full of charts and graphs supporting this.

    (3) On China, I think there are many fascinating reasons to study China–after all, I spent a year living there in 2009-2010. It is one of the great political experiments of our times. But it is far from being a great power.

    Final anecdote: On my way back out to Heathrow I quizzed the cabby about the European elections. Exceptionally, he was not treating it as a “second-order election” on national politics but seemed really concerned about Europe. This meant–predictably–he was voting UKIP, consistent with the principle that extremists are disproportionately mobilized around Europe. Why UKIP? “We signed on for a free trade area,” he said, “and now Europe is taking over British politics, one issue at a time.” I asked him what issues concerned him most. “Not really sure,” he said. When I pressed him, he named human rights and criminal law (Council of Europe not the EU), and troops in Afghanistan (NATO), and third-country (Moslem) immigration (not a European competence at all). Only an anecdote, but multiply it by a million and you have the record of every West European EU election and referendum of which we have records. Need we say more about the prospects for meaningful deliberation on European politics?

    Andrew Moravcsik

  2. Jan Seifert

    Thanks for the clarifications. Really appreciated (incl. all fellow students preparing for exams :)).

    I see your point about the taxi driver, but I have a bit the impression that you tend to get cynic about things. Of course most people across the EU have other worries than EU politics. But after all you do have significant differences in turnout at EU elections (and in EU knowledge). So some countries seem to do better. Learning from the best is the least that can be done I would say!
    I am spending these days in Germany and I can see the first clear difference in the fact that German political parties have put their posters out in the street while I have not seen any in the UK!
    It’s all very fine to understand and present the underlying challenge as you do. But it would be a bit too easy to say that suggesting ideas to improve the situation is the job of politicians and academics have nothing to do with that.

  3. Marko

    Before reacting on the essence of the point, could Andrew or Jan direct me to any of those studies that shown 7-20% of laws originate in the EU?

    Thanks, M

  4. T P

    1. 80 Percent: Myth or Reality?

    Maybe the 80 percent go back on a statement by Jacques Delors. However, there was a study by Annette Töller last year on the Europeanisation of German law:

    According to her study, 40 percent of German laws were following an EU impulse. However, in some areas like agriculture or environment the quota is rather 80 percent, in some areas like research and education 0 percent.

    What is more, she has not counted the directly applicable EU regulations. If you count these in you will easiliy get above 50 percent and higher. 7 to 20 percent are way too low.

    2. EU and Immigration

    Officially the EU may not have the full competence for immigration. Factually the competence for asylum and visa policy plus the ECJ jurisprudence have led to a significant influence of the EU on third country immigration.

    The EU Commission had just suggested to grant the same rights to asylum seekers as national social benefits. This would have led to more immigration.

    The ECJ has for example decided that partners from third countries of EU citizens can live in the EU without having to fulfill national immigration rules (Metock, C-127/08) and that contrary to EU law and German law Turkish people do not need a visa when entering Germany (Soysal, C-228/06).

    This means that the EU is increasing the (Muslim) immigration into the social systems of the EU member states – even without an official competence.

    3. “Democratic deficit” of the EU

    The main problem is that there is no European people and no European public. Democracy only works with a (more or less) homogenic people whhich understands each other and which has a public and media spanning the whole population. That is currently not the case and will not happen in the near future.

    More (formal) rights for the EU institutions will not make up for this “democratic deficit”.

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  6. Andrew Moravcsik

    (1) I am of course quite familiar with Annette Toeller’s work, since I co-authored a piece in FT Deutschland on this very topic with her. Those of you who read German can read it on my website, under PUBLIC COMMENTARY. She counts laws but not regulations, so that greatly underestimates regulatory impact. (If we are going to count EU regulations, we need to count national regulations as well–other studies are better at creating a level playing field.) Also, she focuses on a selected set of regulatory policies only, particularly the environment, rather than all laws; no budgetary actions, etc. So one would not want to conclude that 40% of all national law-making comes from the EU. Of all scholars working on this, she is way on the high side. Her work is very good, just not suitable to draw this sort of global conclusion. Far more appropriate for that purpose is the work by Koenig and Mader on Germany, Marcelo and Muller on Austria, Bovens and Yesilkagit on Netherlands, McShane’s parliamentary data on UK, Petit-Laurent on France, and others. There are a number of very rigorous studies underway.

    (2) The story about immigration illustrates the usual way such debates are conducted. Someone interested in the EU tells a story about a way in which EU law has infiltrated a “non-EU” area and generalizes from it to conclude that the impact is large. This is no way to conduct a debate. Anecdotes do not make a generalization. Such stories may seem very important to an EU specialist, but how do we know whether they are typical, or whether they are, as I believe they are, unrepresentative or exceptional? (This is the classic error of “selecting on the dependent variable.”) EU studies has been weighed down by such talk: Years ago everyone was arguing, on the basis of 1-2 examples, that the Commission would take over national regional policies by controlling structural funding. They turned out to be totally unrepresentative and temporary exceptions. If we want to understand how much of the national legal order is impacted, we need to start with the national legal order. And if we do so–e.g. by reading the literature on immigration–we find that international impacts are exceptional, which is what I argue. An example is the conclusion drawn by TP above. He/she cites Metock and Soysal. These are cases about whether current EEA citizens can bring in immediate nuclear family members (Metock), which is an international obligation recognized by all EU governments independent of Europe, and whether Turks should be allowed to visit the EU to exchange goods and services without a visa (Soysal). To say that this is more than a marginal cause of “increasing the (Muslim) immigration into the social systems of the EU” is surely an exaggeration.

    (3) As I said at the end of the lecture, I am not the least bit cynical or arrogant. To the contrary, I am the one who defers to the decisions of voters and citizens–and takes them as they are. When they refuse to debate Europe in any forum–national or international–I draw the logical consequences. Perhaps they are trying to tell us something! Moreover, none of the premises of my argument–e.g. that only fiscal issues, social welfare, education, etc. are salient, that voters never actively debate non-salient issues, so trying to create a polity made up of non-salient issues is futile, even if the issues are important–is the least bit controversial among those who study national elections. Rather, I think the true cynics and arrogant people are the true believers in the classic vision of federal centralized Europe, for they consistently treat voters like children. No matter how much they refuse to debate Europe and prefer to devote their excess time and energy to national issues or private lives, these “true Europeans” treat them like lost children, who just need to be convinced that they should really be spending more time thinking about Europe. And if they are not doing so “voluntarily”, they should be manipulated into doing so by agenda-setting (Hix), by exaggerating the effects of EU policies (see above), or the creation of seductive discourses (Habermas). That’s real cynicism!

    Andrew Moravcsik

  7. Julien Frisch

    Dear Andrew Moravcsik,

    that’s a nice polemic finish, one could assume that you are a frequent blogger… 😉

    But to be serious: I accept whatever voters decide, I don’t blame any citizen for devoting time to national or private issues. But as a scientist I can analyse why this is the case.

    What I see is a strong path dependence for national discourses. The magic triangle, voters – the media – the political system, has evolved in national contexts, and so have the discourses that connect these three. They are now heavily intertwined and it’s hard to break these structures.

    Only rarely, actors within the one of the corners of the triangle seem to take the risk to break out from the traditional way of arguing, because their competitors staying within the traditional triangle will be favoured by the support of the other two corners which remain equally inert and non-responsive to such changes. So there are obvious negative incentives for those willing to defect from the status quo of debating things nationally.

    (I think one could also make a game-theoretic equilibrium argument out of this.)

    But if, as a scientist, I conclude that these discourses are not representing the politico-administrative reality, if the status quo discussion is not reflecting the true power lines within the political system of the European Union, if it becomes obvious that because of this situation voters/citizens might be underestimating the importance of influencing European-level decision-making, thus favouring small elites who remain uncontrolled thanks to a lack of public attention, I am at least responsible to raise awareness of this fact.

    If others, like Hix or Habermas, then try to propose measures to break the path dependence – independent of whether their measures can be effective – this is just another step forward from this first conclusion, and is not more or less “manipulating” than the ignorance of the status quo.

    We – politically active citizens (e.g. bloggers) – can come to our own conclusions based on these findings.

    If we agree that EU topics are not giving the attention they deserve, we have to try to raise attention. And if the measures of Hix, Habermas, or other are effective to do this, we should use them.

    This is not “manipulation” in its negative connotation, this is classical politics trying to convince, trying to influence opinions or even preferences of others.

    When we succeed, debates about what is European and what should be European will be more informed, and should be transparent to many more. And only then we should decide collectively what we want from this Union and what should stay on the national level or within our private lives…

    Well, I realise that I could spend hours continuing to elaborate on these issues, but I should better stop here.

    Let me just finish by saying that it’s good to see a well-known scholar in EU affairs join the debate on such a blog – it shows the difference between American and European culture: Our European professors are hardly aware of the existence of blogs, let alone contributing to their debates…

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