One 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.
[Picture taken from http://www.princeton.edu/~amoravcs/photos.html]