I participated with great pleasure in an online seminar on Francis Spufford’s book Red Plenty, over at Crooked Timber. A bit off topic for this blog, but still, a very interesting seminar. Much recommended.
This coming Wednesday, the Bulgarian minister of the Interior Tsvetanov will be making a presentation and answering questions for the Standing Committee for Immigration, Integration and Asylum of the Dutch Parliament. It is a closed hearing, the main topic is, however, not difficult to guess when one reads that Tsvetanov’s visit is the result of request from the Bulgarian ambassador to the Netherlands. It is the thorny issue of Bulgaria’s (and Romania’s) membership in the Schengen area again and clearly the Bulgarian government feels it has a better chance of overcoming Dutch objections now that the cooperation with the PVV has come to an end. The Dutch (and possibly French) objections are almost the last obstacle to this membership, even if the Bulgarian and Romanian preparations have been overshadowed by problems with law enforcement and organized crime. Technically speaking, Bulgarian airports are ready for at least the first stage of joining Schengen and a lot of other costly preparations have been completed and may yet have a purpose, although if we see the Schengen issue as a result of mistrust from the old member states that reflects their own deep anxiety about the whole Schengen project, as in this very interesting blog post at LSE’s EUROPP blog suggests, it may still not work. As the author of the post Reuben Zaiotti, who also maintains a Schengen related blog, has aptly put it, “Seen in this light, the Romania and Bulgaria affair is not just a cruel rite of passage, in which the two countries are enduring series of humiliating tests in order to become ‘proper’ members of the club, but also a sort of cathartic process in which current Schengen members, by vocally expressing their misgivings about the candidates, yet not rejecting their plight outright, assuage their fears and are persuaded to accept the new round of club’s expansion.”
In more practical policy terms, the question is, whether, the Bulgarian government is prepared, were it to succeed joining Schengen, for having an open border with Greece, where the crisis has brought additional challenges in terms of border control and asylum seekers. EU observer reports on the Commission’s first annual report on the Schengen area and the warnings from the EU’s border agency Frontex that the crisis makes it more difficult for Greece to cope with securing the land border with Turkey and to offer minimum conditions for asylum seekers that make it through. The Bulgarian government may find itself suddenly at the other side of the Schengen debate where member states look for means to re-introduce border checks in exceptional conditions. The Greek asylum policy will be evaluated by a Commission team in May, but we can already assume that even with the best will in the world, Greek administrative capacity cannot have increased with the crisis. Perhaps Bulgarian and Romanian policy makers should consider this prospect more carefully, although it is clear that there are no immediate remedies. This brings us to the larger debate whether the EU’s common policies leave the member states what Dani Rodrik calls sufficient domestic regulatory policy space to cope with the challenges of globalisation. Recent proposals to institutionalise temporary reimposition of border controls from Denmark, among others, may reflect such problems. The mixture between mistrust and anxiety on the part of the older member states, anti-immigrant sentiment from some and real policy problems in several parts of the Schengen area, however, makes it difficult to have a clear view of the problems and possible solutions.
Yesterday I gave a talk to political science students for a small symposium on the ‘Future of Europe’. The other speakers were Joop de Kort (professor in Economics) and Auke Zijstra, MEP from the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). Given that Mr. Zijstra is mostly famous for defending the PVV website for complaints against East Europeans, and given the PVV’ s position for Dutch EU-exit, you might expect that the debate turned ugly. But in fact the discussion was rather interesting and definitely civilized.
The main point on which I and Mr. Zijstra couldn’t agree was the power and responsibility of the Commission. We agree that the not all decisions that the EU has taken have been necessary and appropriate. But while he blames mostly the Commission, ‘Brussels’, and the bureaucrats, I think that since it is the Council (and the European Parliament) that co-decide in Europe, they should take the blame or the credit for the EU decisions. The Commission only proposes, and in the vast majority of cases it is the member states governments which decide! So it seems rather preposterous to suggest that ‘Brussels’ has made a decision while it is the signatures of the national governments that appear on the final document. Of course, the myth that the faceless unelected bureaucrats decide on our behalf in Brussels is extremely popular, but precisely for this reason it should be debunked on every possible occasion! It is national civil servants who discuss the Commission proposals in the Council’s working groups, it is national ambassadors who negotiate the proposals in COREPER, and it is national ministers who ultimately decide in the meetings of the Council.
Obviously, it makes political sense to shift the blame to ‘Brussels’ for decisions unpopular at home. But this political ‘strategy’ erodes the little trust normal people have in the institutions of the EU.
As for the a country’s possible exit from the EU, I am rather pragmatic about the issue and don’t feel that such a perspective shouldn’t be discussed. The problems I see, however, are two. First, even if you exit the EU but still want to participate in the Internal Market, you still have to apply the bulk of EU legislation (ask Norway) and you might need to pay to access the markets (ask Switzerland). Second, being out of the EU while the EU still exists might be a better option than being in the EU, but there is no guarantee that once you exit, the other countries would not follow. And most ‘pragmatic’ Euroskeptics would agree that a world without the EU (no single market, no freedoms to travel and trade, etc) is worse than a world in which the EU, even if imperfect, exists. So, free-riding on the integration efforts of others might be a myopically rational national strategy, but it would lead to the unraveling of the whole EU project, leading to a collective outcome that none wished for.
Here is a link to my presentation for the symposium. It might seem a bit cryptic without the narration but, hey, it’s another Prezi beauty.
Our paper (with Anne Rasmussen) on the influence of early agreements (trilogues) on the speed of decision making in the EU has just been published by the European Integration Online Papers (EIoP). The abstract is below. Anne blogged about the findings here.
Abstract: The increased use of early agreements in the EU co-decision procedure raises the concern that intra and inter-institutional political debate is sacrificed for the sake of efficiency. We investigate the effect of early agreements (trilogues) on the time it takes for legislation to be negotiated during the first reading of co-decision. We find that the first reading negotiations of trilogues on salient legislation take longer than first readings of similar files reconciled at second and third reading. First readings of early agreements also appear to last longer when considering all co-decision files submitted to the 5th and 6th European Parliaments, but the effect is masked by a general increase in first reading duration after 2004. We conclude that even if early agreements restrict access of certain actors to decision making, they allow for more time for substantive debate at the first reading stage than similar files reconciled later in the legislative process.
By the way, let me use the occasion to congratulate EIoP for being one of the very few free and rigorously peer-reviewed, SSCI-indexed, journals. All articles are available online without a subscription and without a registration. While many people talk against the gated and hugely expensive academic journals, very few authors actually support the free alternatives by submitting to and reviewing for them.
Here is a link to my short (45 min) presentation of the history of the EU done in Prezi. The presentation was delivered to a class of undergraduates in the context of a course on Administrative History.