The European Union needs to admit its mistakes to regain legitimacy


Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics, Oxford



Professor Jan Zielonka discussing Ivan Krastev's After Europe

European experts ask: Will migration lead to the end of the European Union?

07 November 2017

Will the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ lead to the collapse of the European Union? That was the question at the heart of a Foundation for Law, Justice and Society Book Colloquium on After Europe, the provocative latest book by public intellectual Ivan Krastev.  

Professor Denis Galligan chaired a panel discussion with Professors Jan Zielonka and Stephen Weatherill at Wolfson College last night, by laying out some of the key themes of the book, including the effects of immigration on EU member states, a growing “voter rebellion” against meritocratic elites, and the sense that democracy in the European context is increasingly seen as a vehicle of exclusion rather than inclusion.

Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics at Oxford, offered his critique of the book by arguing that it did not sufficiently develop a pessimistic and contested outlook for the EU. He viewed as overstated the author’s focus on the impact of migration and the fall of Soviet Union on Europe’s current problems, arguing that the fall of Habsburg Empire was a far more significant historical moment.

He also regarded the EU’s policy of Economic and Monetary Union as inherently flawed, and that having a common currency without a common fiscal policy was part of the faulty design that had upset the balance between credit and debt across Europe, contributing to the economic crisis of Greece, and, to a lesser extent, of Italy.

Professor Zielonka agreed with some of the author's views on the influence of the EU, arguing that it was now operating as a perversion of liberal principles by generating inequalities, invading other countries in the name of multilateralism, and transferring powers to institutions run by experts instead of those accountable to the electorate. He closed with the message the the EU “needs to admit its mistakes to regain legitimacy” in the eyes of voters.

Stephen Weatherill, Professor of European Law at Oxford, agreed with Professor Zielonka’s analysis that the book raised multiple ideas, but which suffered for being incompletely articulated. However, he identified the “serious weakness” of the author’s argument as “that Krastev chooses to elide the distinction between refugees and migrants: that is mistaken and it weakens the force of the book.”

Professor Weatherill identified the main challenge for the EU as being to manage interdependence and diversity among its member states. Whilst acknowledging the principle of subsidiarity and the possibility that member states can opt out from certain treaties, he found that the EU is much less good at managing diversity than interdependence.

He concluded by outlining the inherent compromise that the EU had to resolve between globalization, democracy, and self-determination. Since all three cannot be entirely satisfied, national self-determination was increasingly winning out, and both “constitutional courts and voters are showing increasing resistance to European integration.”

The Book Colloquium was the latest in a termly series of events, the next of which will discuss the book Law and Memory: Towards Legal Governance of History at Wolfson College on 17 January.

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