European Union: Power and Policy-Making

By Jeremy Richardson | Go to book overview

Preface

The first edition of this volume was published in 1996. That year brought the start of another Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) dominated by many of the familiar debates which have dogged the European Community and the European Union since the first steps towards integration were taken in 1951. Issues on the agenda included the powers and organisational rules of the main European institutions; relationships between those institutions; the difficult problems presented by the possibility of further enlargement; the role of non-governmental actors such as interest groups and citizens in addressing the democratic deficit, and above all, the fundamental question of whether the gradual erosion of national sovereignty should continue or, indeed, whether it might actually be reversed. Most of these issues were still on the agenda in the 2000 IGC, and problems such as the weakness of the euro in the first phase of monetary union were added complications. These fundamental questions were discussed in the context of strong globalisation tendencies and increased pressures for transnational regulation, which force all policy actors, public or private, to recognise the benefits of collective action beyond national borders.

Cries of ‘Europe in crisis’, of Europe ‘having lost its way’, of ‘Europe entering another period of Euro-sclerosis’ were as familiar in the year 2000 as they were in 1996. However, the doomsters are almost certainly exaggerating the current difficulties of the EU and failing to appreciate just how resilient most political systems are. It usually takes long-term and fundamental trends, as developed in the old Soviet bloc, for systems to fail. This is because modern, pluralistic systems are dynamic learning organisations, capable of change. The key institutions and individuals operating those systems have enough intelligence to know when to draw back, when to change tack, and when to lie low and let issues stew. The more cautious and humdrum period through which the EU is passing currently can be seen, therefore, as a natural response by governing elites to a more difficult climate of public opinion. In a sense, nervousness about public opinion within the EU is no bad thing. Indeed, it might suggest that the Union’s democratic deficit might not be quite as bad as is often suggested. Despite a much more cautious approach to further integration, the ruling elites in the EU still have a keen sense of the risks of moving away from a process that has been underway for decades. Perhaps it is foolish to make political predictions, but I suspect that the now quite long period of self-doubt and criticism will be just one more phase in what has been a fairly continuous process of Europeanisation.

-xv-

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