Josef Janning, head of ECFR Berlin office and Senior Policy Fellow:
EU societies strength is ability to change
The integration could not be built against the will and interests of the people
17 March, 2017
Close-up: Josef Janning is a leading political scientist and researcher in Germany. His expertise and research interests cover a wide area of topical issues such as German foreign policy, EU policy and European Integration, which are reflected in his numerous publications. Between 2001 and 2010 he headed the international programme as Senior Director of the German Bertelsmann Foundation. From 2011 to 2012, Josef Janning served as Director of Studies of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank. In 2014, following a research fellowship at the German Council on Foreign Relations awarded by the German Mercator Foundation, he joined the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. He has also been advisor to the German government on European Affairs.
- Mr Janning, Juncker's five future pathways for the EU after Brexit from his White Paper suggest a dramatic restructuring of the bloc with "core" members and "orbit" nations. The President of the European Commission pointed out that two-speed Europe is a fact, and that some EU Member States should not hinder the progress of others. Doesn’t this undermine the very idea of the European Union?
- Jean-Claude Juncker is acknowledging a development that has built up over recent years. The level of fragmentation has reached a new height in the course of the refugee crisis; decisions taken by the Council were not and are not respected by a number of EU governments. At the same time, the politics of Member States and their interaction in the Council have become the centre stage of policy-making in the EU. Under these conditions, progress in the direction of a more capable EU delivering common responses to major crises seems impossible on the traditional track of deeper integration. A treaty reform process has no chance of succeeding for the time being. Therefore, it will depend on Member States’ initiatives to either bring about consensus among the 27, respectively 28, or to move ahead in smaller circles.
Juncker has understood that this trend could marginalise the role of EU institutions, including the Commission. Also, he wants to shape the direction, scope and process of core group initiatives. Therefore, the White Paper of the Commission will seek to emphasise the treaty provisions of “reinforced cooperation” or “permanent structured cooperation”, which have been included into the treaties to allow precisely for the kind of flexibility that is needed now. Using these clauses triggers a process in which the Commission has a well defined role to play, as it has evaluated the respective proposals and prepared enabling decisions by the Council.
- Juncker conceded earlier that social Europe is the neglected side of the European project, that there is a great divide between regular people and politicians. Is this not the real key to the EU’s development?
- Surely, European integration could not be built against the will and interests of the people. This has been so since the beginnings of the integration process in the 1950s, the difference being a much larger diffused support for the idea of European unity and a much deeper respect for political elites in charge of the project. Both enabling factors have weakened substantially over time. Today, the benefits of integration have become self-evident facts of life, and policy makers mostly fail to properly communicate the significance of policy-making on the European level.
In comparison to 25, 40, or 60 years ago, Europe has been a remarkably successful project in social terms as well. Never before have so many Europeans lived so well, and this includes the south and the east of the EU. Many may still expect more and more state guarantees, but the fact remains, that even those not well off live better and enjoy better protection today than they did earlier.
The EU has a social dimension that is often neglected by its citizens. The solidarity bonds between the rich and the poor may still need strengthening (I would argue more than that they need to be directed at the coming transformation of economy and society), but they already work in many places. The enormous development of Ireland or Spain since the 1990s are cases in point, in spite of the strains both countries went through with the financial crisis of 2008. Since joining the EU, the East Central European countries have developed significantly, deepening their economic and social ties with other European societies, through a further increase in trade and services as well as through personal mobility. Transfers from the EU budget over the past decade have often accounted for more than 2%, 3%, or sometimes 4% of national GDP. All this is a direct consequence of Europe, and can in no way be seen as “natural” or “normal” - without the EU, these effects would not be there.
- We see the so-called new states in the EU being admonished. But their opposition to some of the EU policies is usually based on their different historical experience and sometimes on the unprincipled actions of the older democracies. In your opinion, what is the solution to this conflict?
- European policy-making has to take better account of the diversity of Europe. Often times, the cultural and political differences are overlooked, not least because in the process of approximation to the EU, candidate countries would play down such differences themselves in order to not irritate the members of the club they desperately wanted to join.
Fact is that in many countries of east-central Europe, the political culture was not prepared for integration, and it was not prepared for the domestic policy consequences of deeper integration as it exists today. The current EU has moved quite a distance from the state of play in 1989, when the iron curtain fell. New members joined a community in change.
In light of that diversity, European policy-making needs to be more principled: it needs clear rules and the commitments of all members to the same rules. It needs clear priorities, too. In the refugee crisis, for example, it would have been better to consult among Member States before taking unilateral action, as it would have been better to prioritise solidarity over relocation of refugees, allowing for several ways to contribute to the common cause, making sure that all Member States contribute something. Part of such an approach would also have been to commonly define the range of solidarity measures, and not to allow Member States to freely choose their preferred measures.
- One-third of Bulgaria‘s population has migrated to wealthier countries in search of adequate compensation for their work and another third is likely considering the same move. What does that tell you?
- Bulgaria is the least developed economy in the EU. It is not surprising that Bulgarians seek opportunity and a future for their families elsewhere, and it should be understood as an asset of European integration to make this possible in a way that keeps the door open for their return when the economic situation changes. Remittances have become an important element of social stability already and will continue to be relevant. The skills and experiences economic migrants acquire and could potentially bring back home are also significant assets for the future.
Overcoming economic weakness takes time and effort. Much still happens in a national box, seeking to restrain influence and interference from outside. A much more open attitude, a higher readiness to learn and to adopt practices which have proven to work elsewhere, could shorten the adaptation process. This has to be understood and applied in national politics and cannot be imposed “by Brussels”.
- Corruption is the scourge of the societies in Bulgaria and Romania and it will not go away on its own. We do not see a way out of this situation, do you?
- As wiser people than me have said, corruption is the capitalism within communism. It has strong roots in the former eastern bloc. However, it is neither unavoidable nor invincible. In recent years, anti-corruption policies have made significant progress in Romania. The current wave of protests does not speak against this observation. The protests also have constrained the government's and parliament’s actions, forcing them to stay on track. This is encouraging. In my view, a sustained effort towards better governance alongside economic development, good rules, a capable and independent judicial system, and a growing civil society will eventually control and solve the issue of corruption. It is a mistake to believe that corruption is simply a result of poverty or inequality.
- The world is being shaken by the intense conflict between the West and Russia (one step away from war in my opinion), the Brexit, which some view as the beginning of the end for the EU, and the election of an anti-establishment player as US president, one that has already announced the end of globalisation. What can we expect in the foreseeable future, will political tensions and conflicts abate in 2017?
- Globalisation will not end because of the factors listed in your question, but it will change its course. The world is not integrating into one large open space governed by the same principles and norms, following the same cultural preferences, norms and values. Rather, these developments will reinforce the trend towards mega-regionals, large political, economic and possibly also cultural clusters. These will have a higher level of openness on the inside coupled with tariff barriers, legal norms and value judgements, restricted migration to the outside.
For Europe and its preference of a multilateral and rules-based international order, this is not good news. We have believed that such a world would benefit our interests and values as Europe is highly experienced and well equipped for multilateralist order building. Now Europe has to deal with the re-emergence of 19th century type of great power politics, making use of the means and technologies of the 21st century. Great power rivalry and status politics will shape international affairs, balance of power politics will prevail over international law. Multi-polarity will dominate over multilateralism.
Europeans will have to come closer together in order to protect and to promote their interests. The EU will never become a great power like the US or China and others, but it will need the combined weight of its members not to be pushed around by bullies.
- If I were Russian, I would be concerned by the sharply increased activities of NATO along the country’s border too and would, of course, take the necessary measures in response. Does that not sound logical?
- No, it does not. If I were Russian, I would stop thinking in zero-sum terms. A Europe in which Germany plays a significant role will never launch a military attack on Russia. NATO is not a threat to Russia; Russia wants to see it as one in order to justify its military build-up and political claims.
- The hypocrisies of the European political elite, lobbyism, double standards (let us just remember Panamagate, the Snowden case, Barroso’s and other former commissioners’ new appointments, etc.) are eroding the trust in the European idea. Is there anyone out there able to change this?
- The European elites have to work towards rebuilding the confidence of the public and the electorates - no doubt about this. To a good degree this will be done through elections. The strength of European societies is precisely this ability to change and to renew its political leadership. Pluralist societies and strong media are essential elements in this process.
The many populist movements which have come up and seek to express the “true will of the people” against elites and media challenge pluralism and democratic change. They could attract quite a following as could be seen in the UK. But I have serious doubt that they could win, because they have no workable answers to the challenges of modern society.