Contradictions of European Integration

By Carchedi, Bruno; Carchedi, Guglielmo | Capital & Class, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Contradictions of European Integration


Carchedi, Bruno, Carchedi, Guglielmo, Capital & Class


The central thesis of this article is that, besides the imperialism of some of the EU member countries (national imperialisms), there exists also imperialism of the EU as a whole. The thesis is argued theoretically and illustrated by considering the following: first, relations between the EU and the Central and Eastern and European Countries; second, the Common Agricultural Policy; third, the common military policy; and fourth, the Schengen System li.e., the common immigration policy).

1. Introduction

The emergence of the EU can be interpreted through different theoretical perspectives. The most influential, nowadays, are the (neo)institutionalist and the intergovermentalist. The former explains integration basically as the result of a structural necessity: once an institution has been formed, its effects spill over to other areas of integration. The `spill over' is the basic dynamic factor. New forms of institutionalism have abandoned the automatism implied in the spill over effect and recognise the possibility of set backs in the process of integration, i.e. the `spill backs' due to, for instance, political factors. The intergovernmentalist approach, on the other hand, stresses the different states' interests as the principal dynamic factor. Within this approach, integration advances when the interests of the major European states in it are mutually compatible.l

While these two approaches differ on many theoretical and analytical aspects, they also share some important elements. Basically, in discussing the socio-economic factors which gave the initial impulse to the process of European integration, they both stress the following aspects. First, the realisation that European nations were no longer large enough to hold their own in world markets. Second, the desire to avoid economic protectionism which was widely thought to have been one of the causes of the second world war. Third, the desire to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union and of the European communist parties. And fourth, the desire, especially by France, to contain a possible resurgence of German expansionism by integrating the German economy into a European context.3

A third option, based on class analysis, while potentially much more fruitful, has been expelled, for obvious ideological reasons, from official and academic discourse. This is, nevertheless, the perspective to be adopted in this work. From this perspective, given the imperialist past and nature of the countries founding the EEC4 (with the exception of Luxembourg), the body emerging from their integration could not but contain the same seeds and develop into the same weed. Thus, the argument concerning the relatively small size of the European nations hides the expansionary nature of the European project after decolonisation (in the post-war period) reduced Europe's international weight,5 and after the weight of the dominant nation, Germany, had been further reduced through its splitting into West and East Germany; the thesis concerning the desire to avoid protectionism carefully avoids mentioning the protectionist nature of the EEC vis-a-vis the non-EEC (including Third World) countries; the view stressing the urge to contain the ex-Soviet Union reveals the desire to destroy it not only for ideological and political reasons but especially for reasons of economic expansionism; and the claim that France wished to contain German expansionism barely disguises France's own expansionist project, a project which (due to France's insufficient economic weight) could be realised only within a new context of `cooperation' with other ex-colonial powers, i.e., within a united Europe.

These are so many facets of a process moved by the interests of (inter)national capital6 in which, not by chance, popular participation (not to speak of real democratic decision-making power) has been remarkably absent. This article examines these and other related features. It should be clear that only a few of the many aspects of EU integration are examined here and that no claim to comprehensiveness is made.

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