A lot of the media attention for the European Council meeting of last week has been so far focused on the rift between the UK and the other member states. Apart from a fleeting announcement that Hungary agreed with the UK stance (quickly withdrawn and more indicative of the confusion arising from the populist rhetoric beloved of the Orban administration), Britain’s isolation seems to draw more commentary than the decisions of the summit. It is worth noting that Britain has always, since the time it joined the European Community, been an outlier in terms of its preferences on European integration. As we know from veto player theory, the number of veto players matters, but so do their preferences. If the new member states preferences cluster closer to the older member states preferences, the increased numbers post enlargement need not cause deadlock. And vise versa, with unanimity, as in treaty change, one veto player with different preferences is enough to cause deadlock. No wonder the other member states favoured the 26+1 option.
Thus, often recently I have the occasion to observe that division or deadlock are not the result of the last enlargement of the EU and that the member states that joined in 2004-2007 have had much less difficulty adjusting their preferences and interests to the prevailing consensus or sometimes, like Poland, actively seeking to facilitate one. In several of the new member states (see here for the Slovak stance for example), the memory of hyperinflation is much more recent than in Germany and commitment to monetary discipline is hard-won and not only inspired by external guidance.
One cannot help but wonder at the unshakeable assumptions underlying the statements of those who continue to insist that it was the last enlargement that made the EU ‘ungovernable’. Recent events show that just the three largest member states are capable of achieving this all by themselves.
In other news we find a worrying reminder how fast the EU is losing what Milada Vachudova, in her book, Europe Undivided, aptly termed ‘passive leverage’ with neighbours and candidates. The comments by just retired Turkish ambassador to the EU Selim Kuneralp, that the EU should give up its commitment to democracy and start printing money, remind me that it was doubts about Turkey’s commitment to democracy that slowed down the start of its accession negotiations. Hopefully, the usual enlargement method will still work in this case, namely that the EU helps the candidate reaffirm its commitment to democracy, rather than the candidate helps the EU weaken its own. Then again, Mr Kuneralp was pointing to the existing tensions between a common monetary policy and sovereignty and democracy that have been highlighted in the Dani Rodrik lecture which we discussed in this blog and, in the EU context, by Frits Scharpf in his LSE lecture on the crisis and democracy..