After the British vote to leave the European Union several debates have surfaced with regard to how the future of the Union should look. This is, of course, not a recent development. Since its inception there have been debates with regard to how it should function and whether it should be an economic union, a confederacy or a super state. The dialogue has been similar to the one carried out during the creation of the United States of America, with the Federalist and Anti Federalist factions arguing their points.
The neofunctionalist ideas of growing economic interdependence between states and supranational regulatory regimes (the Eurozone and the European common market) and the building of international juridical regimes (International European Law framework) seem to have gained the most ground in terms of interpreting the general basis of the EU’s functioning mechanisms. Intergovernmentalism, on the other hand, where the core value is government control of the speed and indeed level of European integration, was for quite some time, even though still a valid objective for many, not as much present in the day to day functioning of the European project.
Therefore, given the current international situation, there are at present two very different phenomena taking place. The first regards the EU member states which are slowly starting to look into the direction of Great Britain and wonder whether they should journey on the same path towards freedom from the Union.
The second is the one taking place in the very heart of EU leadership, where some directing forces in the Union are now wondering whether the idea of federalization should convert into a concrete expedited process, before the “Brexit effect” starts taking hold of more states. What happens to Britain in the coming years will most likely either encourage other nations to follow suit or have them stay within the comfort of the present status quo.
Of course, the EU is quite the new appearance on the world stage, if one were to look at it from the great timeframe of history. It started off as the European Coal and Steel Community, and evolved into the three important pillars which would eventually give rise to the European Union (EU), namely, the European Community, Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters, and, Common Foreign and Security Policy. The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon united the above mentioned pillars under the political framework of the EU. And even though some argued that the ultimate creation of a super state, a federalist form of political organization might, would make cooperation between states more homogeneous and less bureaucratically problematic,, when faced with the reality of such seldom uttered yet often implied wishes the EU has seen a general lack of consensus among its member states. Moreover, the history of the Union also offers examples of such disagreements. For instance when the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe” failed to be passed unanimously, it became quite obvious that integration was moving at too much of a rapid pace, at least for countries such as France and the Netherlands, which expressed their negative votes towards the project in 2005. Four years later, in 2009, however, the Lisbon Treaty came into existence. It had virtually the same effects as the above mentioned Constitution Treaty would have had, however, it was taking effect under a different name. Giving it another name in the end shows that Europe was not yet ready to take on the full responsibility of an immediate federalization, as national interests and indeed perhaps national pride were involved. Instead of a permanent commitment to uniformity, it preferred to take a more cautious path. Yet even in the face of disagreement, the European project was still moving forward.
The Brexit vote seems to be something very different, however. It shows the unpredictability and unwillingness of a people to let themselves be governed by a central authority which they saw as distant and disconnected from their problems. Perhaps the agitation and inability to cooperate or accept matters as the ones exemplified above speak of a greater heterogeneity than many expected to find in Europe in their mission to unite it under one banner.
Whatever the future may hold for the European continent, whether the current crisis will demand restructuring the foundation of the Union in such a way as to give more authority to national governments or, by pulling together and getting through the crisis Europe becomes stronger in its unity and continues along the path of federalization, it is perhaps safe to say that its current form will not be the one to dominate its future.
This article was originally published as: From the Lisbon Treaty to Brexit- A changing tide in Europe? for the Austrian Economics Center