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European model

by Hans Dembowski
To understand the great success of the European Union, one must look back in history. Until the end of World War II, Europe was shaped for generation after generation by military conflict.

Due to cumbersome and sometimes mind-boggling procedures, the everyday life of the EU is bureaucratic. No, it cannot be denied that supranational ­politics is laborious, but that should not make people overlook how well the European Union has fulfilled the founding fathers’ vision of peace. This success is taken for granted, so people barely notice it anymore. On top of that, the EU can take credit for the peaceful transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War. Change was facilitated by integration into a common system already operational in Western Europe.

It is only in the former Yugoslavia that ethnic chauvinism proved stronger than the desire to join the EU – with bloody consequences. Maybe people there felt closer to the West because they had never been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. A unified Yugoslavia would have had a good chance of joining the EU, but after the disasters of civil war, that path is much more difficult for the countries that emerged from the conflict.

Joining the European Union is no easy feat. All new members must adapt to EU norms. There is only little space for independent national policy making. And that is exactly the point: the EU’s success consists specifically in the transfer of national sovereignty to the union. The EU grew in several rounds of expansion. Time and again economic success proved EU supporters in new member countries right. Although transfers from Brussels did play a role, three other factors mattered much more:
– the huge internal market offers lots of opportunities,
– the EU’s rules and regulations promote a dynamic market economy, and
– investors have trust in the stability of this regulatory environment.

Economic success, however, does not mean that everything is perfect. The closely interconnected economies of our small continent are not free from crisis. The EU is an important part of the world economy and naturally exposed to global shocks. As Greece’s current financial troubles show, even the euro zone is not a perfect world, despite having achieved a monetary union, the next step in regional integration.

Nonetheless, the advantages outweigh the problems by far. And yes, Germany benefits too. True, many Germans fear that the Greek crisis may yet require substantial financial assistance. But they should not forget that the global financial crisis, had it gone along with a fast appreciating Deutsche Mark, would have battered the German economy even more than what we have seen so far. Besides, the euro has fulfilled the German expectations for monetary stability.

The European example shows that regional integration is possible. The EU has been pursuing similar strategies in negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements with regional groups of countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. However, it has probably focussed too much on its own interests. Moreover, the complex topics seem to overwhelm the capacities of many governments of poorer and weaker countries. In terms of international development, the EU and its members have never achieved anything remotely close to the fruits of EU expansion in the continent’s east. But that need not be the end to a successful story: Turkey wants to join too.