8 min read — Analysis | The EU at a Crossroads (series)

EU Legitimacy: The EU at a Crossroads (Part 5: Conclusion)

Amidst numerous crossroads the EU faces, one theme remains the same: EU legitimacy is at the heart of the problem. (Part 5 of the series)
EU Legitimacy
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By Nathaniel Thomas Carrier

First published: 2020 | Electronically published: March 11, 2023 at 12:00 

Note: This article is the fifth in a five-part series, “The EU at a Crossroads: Facing Strategic Dilemmas”. The series is taken from the author’s, Nathaniel Thomas Carrier’s, university thesis first published in 2020, Jagiellonian University (Uniwersytet Jagielloński) in Kraków, Poland. To see all five articles of the series, click here.

Dissertation Conclusion

To conclude this dissertation, it is essential that each chapter is reviewed and reiterated here. The essence of their findings was to decipher the question that has been repeated throughout the text: what is causing the gap between functional institutional reform and EU legitimacy? Many controversies have been analysed and discussed, however, the theme remains the same: EU legitimacy is at the heart of the problem. Each debate discussed throughout this dissertation is not only helpful to further the European integration project, but it is also the act of discussing these debates that proves the discussions are intrinsically meaningful. There cannot be an answer to the debates examined before unless the reason for the debate is to ultimately produce a resolution to the ongoing predicaments.

In chapter one, the debate of deepening vs. widening as analysed and discussed. The goal of the chapter was to explore how the debate has caused rifts in the European integration project, but also how it is utterly related to the Unions democracy deficit and legitimation crisis. Included in this discussion was the notion of modernisation, and how that provision measures in terms of the debate. As mentioned in the beginning of chapter one, modernisation is heavily reliant on economic, political, and social actors as agents for meaningful change. What the chapter has discovered, therefore, is that these actors are hindered in their progress for change because of the ongoing deepening vs. widening debate. To deepen the Union is to surely integrate most aspects of the Member States’ institutions to that of single, European institutions. By using the aspects of neofunctionalism for functional institutional reform, the EU has accomplished this, but only to an extent.

The deepening of the Union has also exposed the relationship between institutional change and sociological thought. Just as much as neofunctionalism has been used as the basis for change, so too has the conception of intergovernmentalism and the widening agent associated with it. As the chapter has shown, deepening and widening cannot be viewed as separate agents of European integration, for one cannot exist without the other. To widen the Union is to transfer the EU more national sovereignty, thus the deepening of the Union occurs at the same time. For if EU legitimacy is to exist, Member State sovereignty, therefore, must be limited. However, doing so undermines the nature of that nation-state, from which the EU gathers its legitimacy. It is from this that one can understand that providing the EU with national sovereignty is also the process that ensues a deficit of democracy within the Union. Knowing these details, however, one can understand the impracticality to continue the debate. This shows that the deepening vs. widening debate is not the cause for the gap between institutional reform and EU legitimacy, for to widen the EU is to change or add to the Union’s treaties, which is an act of reform in itself. The reason for the gap must be complacent only when reform has already taken place.

Chapter two, having analysed and discussed the core-periphery debate, exposed its relationship with the deepening vs. widening debate. However, the relationship lies only with that of the problem that exists between the Eurozone and state sovereignty. By surveying the effects of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism at the level of EU governance, the chapter has shown that the Eurozone is the absolute core to the Union. This core emphasises the need the EU has for state sovereignty, in terms of adopting the Euro. To adopt the Euro, however, is also an act of deepening the Union due to the relationship between the Eurozone and the Union itself. Although, initial research examined in the chapter has exhibited the underlying existence of the balance of power controversy. The V4, having and continues to be divided not only within itself, but also against mainstream EU policy efforts, shows that the balance of power adds to the core-periphery debate. The groups’ division in itself and with the Union thus ensues a matter in which EU legitimacy cannot transpire. Since European integration is reliant on the societal integration of Europe, it is by extension, related to the Union’s legitimation crisis. Because no appearance of reform can be seen in this debate that has not already come to pass, it must be concluded that the aspects of the core-periphery debate are a cause for the gap between EU legitimacy and institutional reform.

The final chapter of this dissertation, while mainly theoretical in reality, does not change the hypothesis of this dissertation, as it has still shown the need for institutional reform within the Union. Its purpose was to explore how the UK’s departure from the EU and the global health pandemic has exposed that constitutional reform is not only needed, but is inevitable. As Brexit has manifested the essentiality of reform, so too has the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the geopolitical divisions in the Union, exposing that the balance of power must also be reviewed. With Brexit, the form of change needed comes in the structure of constitutional reform within the EP and EUCO. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for change that is solitarially structural. Moreover, the chapter and the research associated with it provides a basis that leads to the following conclusion: the debates that exist around these events are structural in nature, and can be shown as another reason for the gap between institutional reform and EU legitimacy. While reform may be needed, the reform has already mostly occurred, and the nature of the reform only furthers the Union’s legitimation crisis.

In concluding remarks and those of personal beliefs, the debates that exist in the Union and the legitimation crisis that emerges from them, leads to that of a simple settlement: the major assumption here is that the Union is on a path of inevitable multi-speed integration, but also on a path to fragmentation at the same time. As complex as these predicaments may be, to allow the Union to remain in a constant battle with itself, is to allow possible disintegration. However, the path of which the Union determines, must be that in compliance with the will of its people, but only if that will does not invoke extremity. A post-Brexit and post-health pandemic Europe shows that the Union cannot return to what has existed before. The only way forward is to continue focusing the discussion on the future of Europe.

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