another warning from Polish minister Sikorski in the light of the ‘constraining dissensus’ on European integration

In a speech to Polish MPs in Warsaw on 29 March (via euobserver, link here), Polish Foreign Minister said the EU could unravel, dismantling common projects such as open markets and labour mobility and neglecting new initiatives such as the External Action Service. His warning was apparently of Poland’s fate if the EU disintegrated and the US abandoned its Atlantic orientation and NATO and turned to Asia. Quite clearly, other new(er) member states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia or Bulgaria and Romania would fare even worse than Poland if such a scenario were to materialize. More importantly, however, why should we all take Sikorski’s warning seriously?

Rereading, with my students, Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks’s seminal British Journal of Political Science article of 2008, ‘A Post Functionalist theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus’, I am struck by their precise formulation of what seems to be one of the key problems of European integration today: ‘Citizens care – passionately – about who exercises authority over them. The challenge for a theory of multi level governance is that the functional need for human cooperation rarely coincides with the territorial scope of community’ (2008: 2). The EU’s current set of responses to the crisis, for example the reform package for Greece put together by the IMF/ the Troika, illustrate this point very well: the functional need to resolve the crisis comes up against the lack of a sense of community on both sides – in this case in the North and South of Europe.

But as Hooghe and Marks also state in their article,  when individuals do not have the time and inclination to determine their response to European integration measures, they rely on cues to determine their response (2008:10) – cues provided by the media, by politicians and political parties. The EU has long ceased to be just a vehicle for economic integration, but is ‘a part of a system of multi-level governance which facilitates social interaction across national boundaries, increases immigration and undermines national sovereignty. …(2008:11).  Based on a broad range of studies, they argue that ‘the jurisdictional shape of Europe has been transformed, but the way in which citizens conceive their identities has not’ (12)…but, they further state that  the connection between national identity, cultural and economic insecurity and EU policy issues cannot be induced from experience, but has to be constructed politically, through priming, framing and cueing (2008:13).

Mr Sikorski, to get back to his speech, has been campaigning consistently in the last year or so to provide fellow politicians and citizens in Poland and other EU member states with reasons to consider the positive sides of European integration and the dangers of European disintegration. His speeches provide a cue for possible responses to the current insecurity in Europe by seeing national identity as reinforced and defended  in a broader European framework, rather than weakened.  In my view, it is a  perspective very much worth considering.


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