European unification is facing a moment of truth. Instead of “deeper and wider integration” among the peoples of Europe, one sees more and more controversies concerning its scope, pace, depth and direction. The need to make sense of these developments is urgent and widely felt.
Only four years passed between the first and second edition of Zimmermann and Dür’s well-received collection of essays. Much has happened to Europe in the meantime: the shock of Brexit and risk of Grexit, repeated terrorist attacks, and the lingering effect of the Eurozone and the Ukrainian crises. European unification is facing a moment of truth. Instead of “deeper and wider integration” among the peoples of Europe, one sees more and more controversies concerning its scope, pace, depth and direction. The need to make sense of these developments is urgent and widely felt. Should the heat of the moment not be enough to justify an update, the new version has been extensively rewritten and restructured. It is now about one-sixth longer, greatly improving its overall contribution to the literature.
Polity and policy
The volume consists of sixteen chapters, each presenting two short essays which advance opposing arguments—respectively in support of and against supranationalism and/or the status quo—about a common topic. Here is why the title speaks of “key controversies”. Indeed, the scope of the volume is remarkable. Some chapters deal with the nature of today’s European Union. John McCormick and Jan Zielonka in Chapter one and Desmond Dinan and Mats Persson in Chapter two debate whether the EU is a success or a failure. While McCormick and Dinan describe it as an unexpectedly effective global role model, Zielonka and Persson stress its overreaching ambitions and little adaptive capacity. In Chapter four, Richard Bellamy and Christopher Lord examine the vexed question of the EU’s democratic deficit, arguing that the EU can only approximate the ideal of government of the people by the people and for the people. Chapter six sees Ulrike Liebert and Jonathan White considering the viability of a common European identity and public sphere, whereas Rachel Epstein and Christopher Bickerton weigh the long term pros and cons of the 2004 enlargement in Chapter 13.
Other chapters deal with controversial aspects of European policy-making. Chapter three by Derek Beach and Uwe Puetter deals with the historical tension between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism, proposing an empirically informed re-articulation of both concepts. Analysing the functioning of the ECJ (now CJEU) in Chapter five, Karen J. Alter and R. Daniel Kelemen contend that the supranational judiciary managed to fill a leadership vacuum that even the member states deemed damaging for integration: a development, Jeremy Rabkin replies, that risks fostering political radicalism within the EU. Chapter seven on lobbying and Chapter 10 on financial regulation offer an intriguing and well-documented picture of the role of interest group in EU regulation.
Yet another group of chapters deals with EU policies. Chapters eight and nine shed light on the achievements and shortcomings of the single currency. Henrik Enderlein and Waltraud Schelkle see it as a minimalist response to strong market rigidities and as an incomplete but desirable risk sharing mechanism. Andreas Nölke and Tel Sadeh look favourably to “differentiated monetary integration”, with options ranging from assisted exit to reinforced supranational oversight on national budgets. Their policy suggestions, however, fall short of addressing how to manage the transition. The volume also considers the pros and cons of three policy domains characterised by strong adaptive pressures and transnational public-private networks: Common Agricultural Policy (Chapter 11) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (Chapter 14). Chapter 12 offers instead a discussion on the normativity of the foreign policy of the EU: here, Mark A. Pollack’s richly documented essay defends the thought-provoking perspective that the EU is, in fact, a power player and an inconsistent advocate of its own values.
Beyond the value of the individual essays, the editing work is also to compliment. Each chapter is opened by a short introduction, where the editors identify the main points of contention, provide some factual and theoretical background and suggest thematic links to other chapters in the book.
Finally, two brand new chapters (15 and 16) address the topics of Brexit and of the resurfacing “German question” in Europe. Matthias Matthijs contends that Germany’s geo-economic power offered the wrong kind of leadership and a wrong understanding of responsibility in all the crises Europe has recently faced. In one of the best accomplished essays of the volume, Miguel Otero Iglesias and editor Hubert Zimmermann conversely characterise Germany’s as a “stabilising leadership” under “a passive mode”. Over the last decades, and so much more under Angela Merkel, Germany has granted the EU stability without assertiveness, mustering enduring internal consensus even on domestically sensitive issues. Martin Rhodes and Alan Sked debate on the new role of the UK, looking at its concern for multi-lateral free trade and its special relation with the US. Confident that, under the umbrella of the WTO, the UK will be able to agree a unique and beneficial trade deal with the EU, Sked advances a few interesting points, but eventually loses out to Rhodes’ better documented case.
An excellent book with some minor flaws
All in all, the book caters to a wide and varied audience. This includes, but is not limited to, scholars wishing to move a first step beyond their narrow field of expertise, teachers designing an undergraduate course in European studies, as well as doctoral students looking for a good dissertation topic. All of them will find the writing accessible, the debates engaging and the discussion informative. Be they interested only in single chapters or parts, or in the entire volume, they will find a wealth of well-discussed arguments, supported by rich and up-to-date bibliographical indications. Beyond the value of the individual essays, the editing work is also to compliment. Each chapter is opened by a short introduction, where the editors identify the main points of contention, provide some factual and theoretical background and suggest thematic links to other chapters in the book. With just a little effort, the editors have taken care of making the volume more accessible and reader-friendly, averting the risk of dispersion with a nice “hyper-textual” approach.
A feature of the book that may leave some readers disappointed is the heterogeneity among the essays. Some let their final evaluation stem from a careful examination of their sources; others sharpen their arguments, taking an uncompromising position on their controversy. Some are richer and more up-to-date in their bibliography; others mostly refer to their author’s own publications. This risks misguiding the reader into thinking that some topics are inherently less controversial or less well researched than others. Teachers assigning the book to their students should be mindful of this perspective trick.
Improvements might also be considered for a third edition. The analytical index could easily be made thicker and more detailed, assisting the work of researchers and doctoral students. The bibliography could also be better structured, presenting court judgements and newspaper articles in dedicated lists. More homogeneity should also be achieved among the quality and scope of the empirical and scholarly sources of the various essays, which would increase the worth of the volume as coursework material.
All in all, these are minor flaws. The book is an amazing piece of work, which strikes a difficult balance between accessibility and depth, positioning itself in an appealing niche of European studies. One can only hope that new timely revisions will keep this essential guide to European integration at pace with tomorrow’s uncertain times.
Photo Credits CC European Parliament
Also published on Medium.