Affluence and Influence

The European Union may, with profit, be regarded as a qualitatively new type of security organization, one that seeks to create cooperation and harmony through a high level of economic and political interdependence. Whereas NATO remains at heart a military organization, the EU defines its security concerns in terms of an ever widening "sphere of affluence", rather than a classical "sphere of influence." This distinction is more than just a play on words: it underscores the importance of economics and trade as the current basis for stability and democratic development. Although EU member states pursue what they still imagine to be their "national interests", already those interests are essentially reduced to rather modest policy preferences, constrained within a tightly bounded multilateral framework. A myriad of treaty commitments now limits the room for maneuver of European states and locks them into dense networks of activities created by institutional and political decisions. It is these sunken costs of European integration that preclude "sovereign" member states from tearing up the Union's founding treaties, packing their bags, and returning to a policy of national autarky.

The EU has transformed once proud and sovereign nation-states beyond recognition, changing their role and place both in Europe itself and in the world at large. A wide range of traditionally national prerogatives is now either pooled collectively or shifted to the supranational (or federal) level. Whereas the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia inaugurated a European system of autonomous states, the 1991 Maastricht Treaty has de facto ended any hopes of saving that system.

Despite this, most analysts and policymakers continue to think about the EU, not as a radically novel entity, but as one that merely mirrors the qualities and drawbacks of the traditional nation-state. The simple fact that we continue to classify certain actors as something-national (subnational, supranational, transnational) indicates that our thinking remains based on and bound by the hegemony of the "nation-state" that has characterized recent centuries. But just as employing hammer and nail to fix one's personal computer would be counterproductive, so bringing "modern" concepts to bear on postmodern European politics will prove similarly futile.

Very early in the new millennium, a new Europe will come fully into being. It will have three defining elements, already clearly visible. The first and most essential of these involves a changed attitude toward national sovereignty and territoriality. The second is a novel understanding of security, which is rapidly shifting from the traditional military concept to a much broader one. The third innovation concerns the way the Western part of the continent (which up to now has constituted the "new Europe") is adopting an open, decentered approach toward enlarging its sphere of affluence into Central and Eastern Europe. Taken together, these three changes are destined to transform not only Europe itself but the international system as a whole. The consequences, not least for America's involvement in Europe and NATO, will be momentous.

Malleable Sovereignty

The Westphalian state-centric framework that is now being undermined by globalization and European integration relies on a territorial conception of politics. But the commandment of Romans 13:1--"let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God"--has been corrupted since Nietzsche declared God dead. Intellectual inertia in coming to terms with this systemic change has produced a somewhat schizophrenic state of affairs, one in which Europeans continue to worship the nation-state as the optimal cultural and democratic area at a time when most West European states are in the process of selling the remains of their national sovereignty to the highest bidder. European nation-states cling desperately to as much political authority, democratic legitimacy and problem-solving capacity as they possibly can, while they also seem prepared (and are occasionally coerced) to relinquish their sovereignty as the price for remaining geopolitically relevant.

The EU is seen as the only available raft, not so much to ride the waves of globalization as to break up these waves into more manageable and human proportions. The hope is that the EU, by merging the power and influence of individual member states, can restore the primacy of politics over global commerce. Monetary union and the euro are considered the paramount instruments to this end. Europeanization is thus perceived essentially as a protective strategy, one devised to guard Europe against the onslaught of forces that threaten its uniqueness, its identity and the independence of its constituent states--and which involves surrendering some of that identity and independence precisely in order to prevent their total destruction.

Philip Cerny's concept of the "competition state" best captures the eu's novel role in European politics. Cerny argues that the state constitutes the main agency of the process of globalization, driven by its concern both to fit into that process and at the same time to remain relevant to "its" people. More precisely, the central challenge to the EU member states is to maintain at least rudimentary domestic welfare systems while promoting the essential structural reforms necessary to improve their international competitiveness. It is not easy to maintain a balance between these two ends. In the not-so-long run, maintaining the first depends on success in achieving the second, for an increasingly expensive welfare state requires maintaining a thriving, competitive economy.


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