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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is the E.U. More Than the Sum of Its Parts?

In the wake of David Cameron’s announcement that he would try to renegotiate Britain’s obligations in the E.U. then have an “in or out” referendum in his state on whether it should secede from the Union, Francois Hollande of France warned that state interests were in the process of usurping “the European interest.” According to the French president, Cameron was heading the E.U. down the path in which each state “looks for what is good for itself and only itself.” As such, the Union would simply be an aggregation of state interests. The question is perhaps the old one of whether the whole is more than the sum of the parts. In proffering different answers, the European federalists and anti-federalists (or Euro-skeptics) have fundamentally different conceptions of what the E.U. is.
                                              Is the E.U. simply an aggregation of all of its states? Or is there a European whole that is distinct?               mapperywordpress.com
What does it mean to say a socio-political-economic federal entity has a whole that is more than the sum of the parts?  It could mean that the process of negotiation renders the federal legislative output and policies something other than simply a reflection of the dominate state interests operating at the federal level. The whole could also refer to a sense of solidarity, which implies at least some self-identification and even pride in the territory covered by the entire federal system. Put another way, the E.U. is European in nature. With at least some attachment to the European project, which is identified as almost distinctly European, a glue of sorts acts to preclude state governments from picking and choosing federal competencies a la carte as though a state's strategic and economic interests were all that mattered. In other words, the whole means not simply being oriented to the interests of the parts.

Consider the following quote from the article cited below: “Europe is a commitment where each [state] accepts the equilibrium of rules and obligations and the rules are respected, where confidence creates solidarity.” What is the basis of the confidence that gives rise to the solidarity? Surely acceptance of the body of rules and laws is not sufficient. Rather, the confidence must be in Europe itself as a whole—as a society, economy and polity worthy of being a whole rather than a mere aggregation. In other words, Europe can be seen as a self-confident civilization distinct from others in the world.

Ultimately, the E.U. as a whole rather than a mere aggregate depends on pride in Europe as a civilization, as something worthy of man's most civilized instincts and ambitions. Whereas an E.U. state is too small to be itself a civilization, Europe is both large and already integrated enough culturally to stand as a culture distinct from others in the world. As an American, I view Europeans from different E.U. states as being much more similar than they typically realize (whereas they tend to lump all Americans in one homogenous culture, which is an oversimplification).

A sense of pride in being European can encourage Europeans to look out for the interests of the E.U. because it is so publically European in nature. This orientation to the whole inhibits states from picking and choosing among the rules as per the parts' respective interests. Accordingly, Hollande admonished, the E.U. “is a project where you do not dispute without end the [rules] and throw everything into question at every step.” Europe deserves more stability than that because Europe is worth supporting rather than constantly bashing. Two major implications come from this premise.
First, from the “whole being more than the sum of the parts” presupposition comes the implication that the Union is not simply “a market, a collective of rules,” or a sum of sovereign states as though the Union were only a common market or alliance. A market or alliance need not have a whole more than the sum of the parts, at least not as vitally as in the case of a federal Union of states. The latter is ontologically (i.e., as an entity existing) more than the sum of its parts. This is represented in Europe by the E.U. flag, which is distinct from any state flag and thus not a mere aggregation.
A second implication is that the legislative process at the E.U. level should not privilege state interests at the expense of that of the Union. The veto that the state governments enjoy in the European Council and the Council of Ministers should give way to qualified majority voting on more major competencies. Moreover, power in the legislative process, at least in terms of design, should lean more in the direction of the European Parliament so its power reaches equilibrium with that of the European Council (and Council of Ministers). In other words, the “whole greater than the sum” assumption means that the E.U. is a federal system in which the federal level corresponds with a European entity that has meaning to European citizens. Additionally, federal legislative procedure and design do not give the state governments so much power as would enable them to pursue their own interests at the expense of the common good in the Union.

Source:

Hugh Carnegy and Alice Ross, “Hollande Warns on Euro Strength,” The Financial Times, February 5, 2013.