Rejoinder to Moravcsik

by Henry on June 17, 2005

Katia Papagianni has a great letter in today’s FT responding to the Andrew Moravcsik article that I criticized yesterday. Key section:

The European Union constitutional crisis demonstrates, as Prof Moravcsik writes, that debates over institutional reform do not generate an engaged public because citizens respond only to salient ideals and issues. However, EU debates do not only address opaque institutional reforms, but also salient issues that EU citizens care about such as immigration, foreign policy, development and humanitarian assistance, in addition to monetary and competition policy. The fact that European-level politics has not engaged the public so far and has nevertheless progressed successfully does not mean that the public’s engagement is impossible or detrimental to the EU’s future. The EU’s citizens were asked late to join the constitutional process and to participate briefly in an abstract debate as opposed to engaging in meaningful discussions on concrete policy issues over a long period of time. Europeans should not be asked to decide whether they feel European or whether they aspire to a federal Europe. These are not relevant questions. Europeans should rather be asked what types of policies, combing national and EU-level responsibilities, they prefer.

This is exactly right – and what has been missing from the debate so far. The answer isn’t to shroud the processes of the EU still further in technocratic gobbledygook, or to engage in publicity stunts designed to make European citizens ‘identify’ with a process in which they aren’t making the choices. It’s to have real debate on the fundamentally political choices underlying the specifics of EU integration.



otto 06.17.05 at 5:31 pm

“Europeans should rather be asked what types of policies, combing national and EU-level responsibilities, they prefer.”

But that’s what the EU constitutional convention said they were doing: The Laeken remit even stated, explicitly, that competences could be withdrawn from the EU.

The result: A proposal for massive further centralisation of power at the EU level, both by moving many areas from unanimity to QMV, and lowering the QMV threshold. The only debate that the EU and national elites can have is one where centralisation is the answer. Which is why Pappagianni’s proposal is going nowhere.

See this news item, almost appropriate for an Onion article on Europe:
“EU wants renewed dialogue, but no changes”

“EU leaders have agreed to postpone the November 2006 deadline for ratification of the EU Constitution. Juncker now wants a Plan D for Dialogue and Debate but has ruled out a renegotiation. “


ab 06.17.05 at 10:49 pm

[The answer is] to have real debate on the fundamentally political choices underlying the specifics of EU integration.”

Yes, absolutely correct. I guess you should be supporting Blair’s stance then, since he’s the one pushing the EU to debate its fundamental political future — though I guess you don’t like the particular direction Blair wants to push.


Jack 06.18.05 at 3:53 am

This is all very disorienting. Blair was an ardent pro-European with a highly redistributive agenda whose impulses have been tamed by the popular belief in the UK that the EU is an overwhelming, interfering organisation that is going to drown the UK in banana curvature regulations and working time directives. Now however it seems that that is all wrong and he is in fact some kind of European Milton Friedman.

I think this is symptomatic of the way the EU gets used as a bogeyman and scapegoat in much the same way the the UN is treated in US politics. How else to explain the EU’s bizarre position as both neo-liberal and paleo-socialist plot?


Antoni Jaume 06.18.05 at 6:31 am

As otto thinks, democracy is when a minority of powerful individuals can impose their will to 400 million people. QMV is a move toward one individual one vote, and that is more democratic than the present status.



Henry 06.18.05 at 8:10 am

Otto – you are missing the point here. Papagianni’s position, if I understand it correctly (and certainly mine) are as critical of the constitutional convention process as it took place as of the Moravcsik defence of technocracy.

ab – for what I think on this, read “this post”: .


otto 06.18.05 at 9:01 am

My point is that Papagianni’s suggestion is wildly unrealistic. The call for a full and open “debate”, but with only one predetermined outcome, is in the EU’s DNA. It can do no other.

Making a competence QMV rather than unanimity is equivalent to transferring competences to the central authority. It’s entirely reasonable to have a debate about central competences in a federation, and saying that some cometecnes shd stay at the state level is not anti-democratic.


Henry 06.18.05 at 9:08 am

bq. The call for a full and open “debate”, but with only one predetermined outcome, is in the EU’s DNA. It can do no other.

That’s a remarkably sweeping claim, and barring some very serious evidence that would somehow prove that the EU (unlike all other federal or pseudo-federal democratic systems) must inevitably suck everything towards the center, and magically predetermine all debate about whether this is a good or bad thing, I just don’t buy it.


otto 06.18.05 at 10:47 am


Well, it’s a sweeping claim. But there is certainly evidence for it in the case of the EU. The EU project as a whole has been one erosion of national competences after another, whether by judicial means (see Weiler on the ECJ’s disregard of usual presumptions about competences in international organisations) or by political agreements. There has never been any return of competences to the national level, and among the mass of “Brussels” operators, both E Commission and national officials and general hangers-on, not to mention EPers, it is taboo to even raise the topic. Subsidiarity, following the Danish No, is often interpreted by the Commission and others as a rational for centralisation. And, very relevantly, the Laeken process, which explicitly claimed to be open to returning competences to the national level, produced a treaty which could not find one single area of policy which this would be appropriate for. Even Al Gore’s review of affirmative action, after the Gingerich victory of 1994, found (IIRC) one affirmative action program to drop (even though Gore probably didn’t think it was a bad one, and for all I know it wasn’t). The Convention didn’t even throw a token bone in this direction.
So I dont have a wider theory of federal government leading to concentration of power. I just have 50 years of EU politics providing no instance of anything approaching what Papagianni asks for – even (especially?) when the EU process goes through the motions of doing exactly what Papagianni recommends.

“How else to explain the EU’s bizarre position as both neo-liberal and paleo-socialist plot?”

The EU offers (among other things) free trade and mega-regulation. Some people dont like the free trade, others dont like the mega-regulation.


otto 06.18.05 at 10:48 am

“Your comment is awaiting moderation.”
We’re back to this again. What is the CT policy on “moderation”, and when is it applied?


Henry 06.18.05 at 11:30 am

Otto – it’s not big news that those in the Commission and Parliament are in favour of more EU integration, although your claim that it’s “taboo even to raise the topic” is untrue – it’s been a serious topic of discussion in Brussels over the last couple of years. Among other things, it’s what led to the right for national parliaments to blow the whistle – something which would almost certainly have been expanded if the constitution had somehow made it through. But I just don’t think that you can reason from what has happened in the past to what is happening today. If one thing is clear, it’s that the old elite-driven debate is exploded – this isn’t going to push formal institutional change in the future. Those actors just don’t have the power to persuade mass publics to let this stuff go through on the nod any more.

The moderation thing – we have an automated system which should let comments through by established commenters here, but sometimes is a bit ropey, so that the comment has to wait until one of us logs in and goes through the moderation queue. If it is any consolation, it bites us too occasionally – I rescued one of Dan’s comments from the queue yesterday.


Henry 06.18.05 at 11:31 am

And that last comment of mine was caught up by the moderation system too – it seems to be acting up a bit today.


otto 06.18.05 at 11:43 am

Thanks re. moderation.

Well, overall we agree I think that there’s little in the EU’s history to be optimistic about Papagianni’s proposal. The question is whether the current crisis will force a change. Count me sceptical. The most likely outcome remains 1. referenda again until the right answer 2. implementation of much of the Constit Treaty in treaty agreements not requiring referenda.

Count me sceptical too on powers for national parliaments. The Maastricht declaration on powers for national parliaments turned out to be worthless as a constraint (just as “subsidiarity” did), and I expect the constitutional treaty’s proposals to have been the same. They are most likely just a little sand-in-the-eye for opponents of further centralisation (look what we are doing for national parliaments! now sign here) than any real constraint on centralisation of EU policy-making.


Henry 06.18.05 at 11:48 am

I think you would have been proven wrong on the national parliamentary whistle-blowing option. It was a real power – which I think would have been expanded substantially over time. It would have proved hard and embarrassing for the Commission/Council/Parliament to press ahead with legislation that a substantial number of national parliaments objected to, and over time would very likely have become an effective veto power, just as the Parliament’s consultation power expanded over time. But obviously under the current situation, there’s no way of knowing what would have happened.


otto 06.18.05 at 12:24 pm

Yes, who knows? But it was the ECJ who first turned the EP consultation into a veto, which would be in line with its ideology of empowering EU institutions. It’s difficult to see the ECJ doing the same for national parliaments. Past practice is the best guide for future performance, and previous initiatives for national parliaments have lead nowhere, and do in fact suspiciously coincide with the need for political cover for more centralisation (like reforming the Irish parliament’s Europe Committee after losing the Nice Referendum).

On national parliaments as on Papagianni’s proposals, my views are based on how the EU has always worked, even when confronted with very similar suggestions and criticisms again and again in the past. You hope for something different this time around.


Jack 06.18.05 at 2:39 pm

Otto, where is this sort of thing being done right?

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