Is the EU finally under compulsion to reform?

Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.

Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.

What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?

-Klaus Segbers

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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 11 months ago

    Critique is fruitful when it is 100 % rational. In each of the mentioned questions (Euro crisis, Russia, Eastern Ukraine, Skripal case, Hungary, Cyprus or Italy positions etc.) there were different views and double standards, however the alternative voices were not heard hence quarrels and contradictions. EU without consensus is not the EU. Populism is the simplification of fears and alternative positions. If the common position is rational and can be clearly explained, consensus can be found. If certain opinions are irrational and tend to exert force on others or dismember rational majority voices, it must be rejected and violators must have repercussions.

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  2. Dmytro Sherengovsky 11 months ago

    Even though the normative power of the EU is usually considered to be one of its main strength, it doesn't deprive the possibility of reinterpretation of the European values declared in Article 2 of Lisbon Treaty, especially when it comes to national interests. Here lies perfect opportunity for eurosceptical and populistic governments, aiming to win electoral bonuses in the times of crisis. It is hard to argue with their right to ensure their interests, the EU itself was formed basing on interests that should unite, rather than values that should be shared. However, if the basic organizing principles of regional community are violated, the community should take any neccessary actions in order to restore the status quo, despite the internal or external nature of threat. Otherwise both interests and values could turn out to be the suitcase without handle. Moreover, the absence of action will only increase the corridor of possibilities for populists governments.
    However, the sanction process regarding EU member countries is too complicated and requires a consensus of other countries, therefore could hardly be implemented when Poland and Hungary stated that they would support each other and block any tough decisions.
    In any case, we should not expect marginalization of selected countries inside EU as the variety of coalitions and interest groups will secure at least representation of Eastern European voices.

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  3. Justas Paleckis 11 months ago

    Indeed, the European Union is now experiencing the hardest time in its history. Disagreements over unregulated immigration, policy towards Russia, finally, Hungarian and Polish behavior "on the brink of foul" weakens the EU. But even more so does the confrontation between Brussels and Washington, which was unthinkable a couple of years ago, and the disagreement over the future of the EU - more or less federalism in a crisis situation? Even in calm times, when the wave of populism was only shaping, Brussels was limited to speaking and admonishing towards spoilers. The current withdrawal from the EU by the UK shows that Brussels practically loses the power to punish the "rebellious", because the bad example is contagious. Countries that want to go deeper into co-operation and comply with the very precise rules will drift away from countries that will tend to behave more independently. A multi-speed or multi-tier Europe will form. And this is not the worst scenario yet.

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  4. Andrey Makarychev 11 months ago

    The EU definitely should, in my view, be as consistent as possible with applying its normative criteria to member states, otherwise what kind of normative power Brussels might have towards its neighbors? The paradox is that in most of Central European countries infected by right-wing nationalism the bulk of political communities is pro-European (at least this is what they think). The feeling of impunity comes exactly from this sense of taken-for-granted belonging to Europe that no one can challenge. Apparently, even symbolic sanctions against governments who intentionally detach themselves from the European normative order might send a clear message to their populations: your European identity is not an axiom, but rather a theorem. Ultimately, despite a - somehow misleading - self-naming of these countries as "central" European, they are not the UK that even after the disastrous Brexit remains a major European power; should the EU turn away from Hungary or Poland, these countries are very likely to return to their in-between tottering that many times in history has been catastrophic for them.

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  5. Stephanie von Kanel 11 months ago

    The European Union presents a unique partnership in which nation-states harmonise certain sovereign rights, policy and law to produce an enhanced collective standing. For its various past and present faults, one must not forget the European Union has produced many positive outcomes. While championed by some, it is indeed discredited by others. The most noted recent forces/events acting against the EU have been: The United Kingdom voting in favour of leaving the EU in 2016, the Greek debt crisis and eurozone bailout, ongoing concerns regarding refugee and migrant flows, a resurgent Russia, and increasing threats of terrorism. Amid such difficulties, the future shape and character of the EU is increasingly under question.
    There seems a confliction between the EU as it is, and the image of the EU as an idyllic post-state safe haven. Forgoing the latter, relevant stakeholders must consider the EU in a realistic sense; as a union of varying perspectives and visions constantly deliberating to reach an equilibrium or at best mutual understanding. The issues of populism challenge this norm, as those against this trend will not accept it’s return. This internal ‘conflict’, amid external influences and rising pressure to act on issues occurring within non-member state jurisdictions, indeed seem to alter perceptions of the EU’s leverage capacities.

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  6. Nikoloz Tokhvadze 11 months ago

    By now, it is clear that two prominent success stories of the biggest EU enlargement - Poland and Hungary - have embarked on an unfortunate road of democratic backsliding. Slow but steady erosion of rule of low in Poland and curtailing of civil liberties in Hungary have been going on for a while now threatening the founding values of the union. Strong domestic popular support of both regimes makes it very unlikely to leverage the change from the inside, while EU's pressure from outside will only fortify Warsaw and Budapest as martyrs of EU's forced globalization.
    Whatever EU does, it is unlikely to lead to any resolution. Both, Poland and Hungary wowed to veto any of the EU's punitive measures and most probably they will be backed by several other EU members (Bulgaria volunteered recently). Losing in its own game will further deteriorate EU's authority and send out dangerous signals to potential "rogue members" of the Union.
    In this situation, the EU should very carefully pick its battles and focus on issues that are not only problematic but also have strong consolidated support of the member states. “Brexit”, as challenging as it is, can have the power to unite the remaining members and reconcile some differences.

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  7. Lwin Cho Latt 11 months ago

    After the wake of migrant problems and financial crisis across the EU, rising conservative nationalism is a global menace; especially Poland and Hungary are currently under this illiberal trend. The core values of European integration are threatened by ‘state sovereignty’ and attacked by defenders who may have fears about foreign influence and freedom of movement. No doubt that the political and socio-economic globalization has limited the states and peoples to manage their capacity and policy formulation that may indirectly favour the right-wingers to win the elections. Rationally, both Warsaw and Budapest are likely to depart from the liberal project when the EU comes to use its political and economic control over them. So, the EU ought to urgently find a new version of reunion although there is challenging ahead.

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