Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Andrew Moravcsik Defends Europe

European Unity Flagging?
Image by Markus Schreiber/AP
(Image from Newsweek)

I recently suggested that Europe can survive as an economic union -- especially if it wants a stable euro that will eventually serve as the currency for the entire EU -- only if it moves toward greater centralization (while also overcoming its democratic deficit), but in his article "In Defense of Europe" (Newsweek, May 30, 2010), Princeton University professor and expert on the EU Andrew Moravcsik disagrees with me:
European countries consistently find common solutions not because they are sentimental believers in the European ideal but because they inhabit the world's most economically interdependent continent. They have no choice but to cooperate. Witness the result of the May currency crisis: a stronger Europe but without the extreme centralized federalism some advocate.
I guess that "extreme" is always bad, but Moravcsik admits some movement toward more centralization:
[A] "United States of Europe" has long been the dream of European federalists. Some movement in this direction can be discerned. European leaders will meet next month to discuss a new stability pact, with real penalties for noncompliance.
But he thinks that it won't go far:
Yet there are limits to any centralized strategy . . . . Brussels has no mandate to dictate national solutions in sensitive areas like pensions, social welfare, and labor flexibility. Such policies succeed only when they reflect carefully crafted deals among parties, unions, and businesses specific to particular countries. Governments jealous of their sovereignty are loath to transfer these policies to technocrats.
Yes, those are barriers, but if the European Central Bank is to have more power to protect the euro and enforce a common economic policy, then greater political centralization seems inevitable to me. Moravcsik believes differently, perhaps based on some musicological belief in a concert of Europe, or at least the EU states' concerted interests grounded in realism:
The EU is succeeding because its policies are not based on idealism but on the recognition that a union of diverse nations can find realistic ways to work together. The commitment of Europeans to one another is not unconditional, as federalists believe, but it is stronger than skeptics fear. The European style of muddling through may be unglamorous, but it works. Those who bet against the economic self-interest of European governments are likely to lose.
Muddling through does work pretty well . . . until it stops works. The British muddled through an empire so well that they muddled their way out of one.

Perhaps the EU's muddling will blaze a different path even without seeing the forest for the trees.

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At 4:24 AM, Blogger Jules Aimé said...

For a long time I had a belief in Europe that was based not on any analysis of the facts on the ground but on what I hoped a successful Europe would say about how we ought to live generally. A belief not that different from that held by a maiden aunt of mine who hoped that certain more modestly inclined female stars would succeed because of what that would say about where cultural ideas of womanhood were going.

Feeling disabused of my hopes, I now wonder to what extend similar hopes drive an analysis like that of Moravcsik.

At 4:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess that we'd need to read more of Moravcsik's writings. The Newsweek article seems grounded in hopes more that realism.

But he's a smart guy, and knows more than I do.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is too early to agree with Moravcsik, even on his basic assumption that the EU has survived intact. Its current crisis still seems to carry the potential to mortally wound the whole EU experiment.



At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Furthermore, I don't see why he should even expend the effort to even try to make the case that the EU experiment is founded on something untouched by idealism. After all, is it really a lack of idealism that made people want to believe that peoples of very different cultures and levels of economic competitiveness could help each other grow in prosperity, in peace, and with success? Something about this smells of false dichotomy of the most needless kind.


At 12:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Moravcsik himself seems to me to appeal to an obscure idealism in positing that the self-interest of the various states will keep the EU together without a stronger political center.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think his argument is interesting in part because of his field of expertise. The "pessimist" talking heads I have watched on American television, who the professor disagrees with, are mostly financial experts and economists, who use numbers to speculate on what may happen. The crisis, after all, is financial in nature. It may be the case that this pessimism is being driven by the concerns of financial experts and economists.

By contrast, this professor is a poli-sci expert who refers to the history of how the Europeans have successfully dealt with past crises to the union to support his argument. He is speculating that this present crisis will likewise be dealt with one way or another without the whole project collapsing. But he bases his belief in his sense that the "union" can deal with this financial crisis as nimbly (pardon this characterization) as a completely independent sovereign government or municipality can. I wonder if the situation is so simple as that.

And about his use of the term, "idealism," he seems to use it in different ways. He does imply that idealism was an impetus in originating the concept of the EU, but that "those idealistic days are long gone."

But in his attack against the "idealists," he is using "idealism" to describe some sort of philosophical-political position in the debate over the fate of the EU. But if you are right, I think I may be reading the twelfth and thirteenth paragraphs wrong. Is he saying that, ultimately, the idealists are the proponents of true federalism, but that at this point, they just want the EU to control the budget of its sovereign members to better deal with financial crises? Or is he saying that the idealists, unlike true federalists, just want to form a "fiscal federalism?" Either way, he seems to be saying that he is against federalists. And logically, in his conclusion, he seems to have substituted "idealists" with "federalists."

He also says this:
"Those who bet against the economic self-interest of European governments are likely to lose."
--Andrew Moravcsik

What's interesting is that some financial experts are actually asking the fundamental question: does the EU comprising much of Europe even make sense anymore to the economic interests of northern Europeans? The professor, of course, assumes that it indeed does. Thus, the pessimists seem to have unmasked the professor as an idealist, of the colloquial sort.



At 3:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You asked:

Is he saying that, ultimately, the idealists are the proponents of true federalism, but that at this point, they just want the EU to control the budget of its sovereign members to better deal with financial crises? Or is he saying that the idealists, unlike true federalists, just want to form a "fiscal federalism?"

I think that he's saying the former about the idealists. Fiscal federalism might be close to his own position, but I don't know quite what he means by the more pragmatic option of restructuring the EU nations' banking sectors. If the restructuring is going to work, it will need to be integrated and enforced, which implies some political center to be effective.

But if he means that self-interest will keep the EU together and working smoothly, well, that's an idealism worthy of Adam Smith's 'hidden hand' keeping an economy harmoniously working, I suspect.

Jeffery Hodges

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