Be reassured. Despite the crisis which has been tormenting the EU since 2008, European integration shows progress, so we say. Indeed, but can we talk about integration in its classic sense? Certainly not. The crisis is in the course of changing the very nature of the European Union. Integration moves forward in an aggressive way, which comes close to a form of expansionism.
The European expansionism is expressed in two ways. On the one hand, it operates under the auspices of the nation-states. It is formalised by the conclusion of different intergovernmental agreements on fiscal policies. On the other hand, it counts on the increased use of the European technocracy, i.e. the European Commission, the ECB and other regulatory bodies with regard to banking and finance. This is how France and Germany, more conscious than ever of the fact that the crisis renders higher the risk of a political breakdown, have to accommodate their disagreement on the direction of the European project; a disagreement that is, otherwise, anchored in the history of European integration. France aspires, somehow, to be the guarantor of ‘integration solidarity’ – according to F. Hollande, invited to debate with MEPs at Strasbourg last February – all the while insisting that any new cooperation on matters of economic policies have to be coordinated fundamentally on an intergovernmental basis.Germanyplaces itself as the ultimate guardian of the ‘responsible politics’ on matters of fiscal policy and advocates the reinforcement of the European Commission’s and the ECB’s power, as system supervisors.
In order for this bureaucratic model of regulatory expansion to be deployed painlessly, two things were necessary to be done. On the one side, the simplified procedure (art. 48 TEU) is being used every time the European treaties needs to be changed, as for the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism ; shortly it will be used in the context of the EU banking union in order to transfer tasks of supervision to the ECB. This fast-track process takes place within Council’s inner circle, without having to convoke an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). This practice tends to become regular. It seriously weakens the integrity of the European legal order. On the other side, the use of the Memorandums of understanding – contractual agreements on economic policy and structural reforms between creditor European institutions and indebted member states – leads to a real transgression of the rules in relation to the allocation of competences between the EU and the member states. The exclusive national competences on wage, fiscal, social and administrative policies, are transferred in a discretionary manner to the European level. In this context, national parliaments are transformed to a simple body of formal ratification of the decisions already taken at the European level. This situation is all the more preoccupying as it adds up to other controversies around the anti-constitutional character of a certain number of policy measures in the Memorandums. The latter are also in conflict with fundamental European documents (art. 9 on the poverty threshold of the TEU, art. 51 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, various provisions of the European Social Charter); on this subject refer to the decisions of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe concerning Greece (decisions n° 65 and 66 of 2011 and decisions n° 76-80 of 2012).
In addition, the Memorandums, although they belong to soft law acts, produce a series of binding consequences, equivalent to acts of hard law. Their implementation becomes a priori condition for any financial aid to member states under the auspices of the European Stability Mechanism and to European banks in need for recapitalisation after 2014. This kind of trade-off causes an adjustment cost for European countries facing financial difficulties that exceeds their expected gains. In the same line, the structural funds grants for 2014-2020 – a basic EU tool for the economic and social cohesion policy – will be subject to the following condition: to having previously conformed to the criteria of the third Stability and Growth Pact. Here, as well, the implementation of the ‘acquis communautaire’ in relation to the structural aids becomes conditional and serves as an instrument of pressure. As a matter of fact during the latest European Council of December 2012, the European Commission was implicitly committed to bringing forward concrete proposals in favour of the generalisation of Memorandums for all member states, by proposing a system of financial support on the basis of a so-called “solidarity fund” in return for structural reforms.
Pursuing an expansionist strategy is the choice made by the ruling elites of the EU in order to face the serious threat of disintegration. This strategy, however, is far from the old method of integration employed over a period longer than half a century in Europe: that is to converge in national policies on various fields and politicise the European political system; and all in a progressive and concomitant manner. Far from it, there is a hypertrophy of norms, rules, and institutions of control via an unbelievable proliferation of « pacts », « mechanisms », authorities and platforms. Unfortunately, this leap forward marks a mutation without precedent. European integration no longer proceeds by consensus; it is imposed as an adaptation imperative. A historical rupture, a paradigm shift, this new cycle of European integration in the making, remains to be seen.
H Δρ. Φιλίππα Χατζησταύρου είναι δικηγόρος και εξωτερική συνεργάτης του Τμήματος Πολιτικής Επιστήμης και Δημόσιας Διοίκησης του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών.