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Implications of European De-Integration for International Law

By Matthew Turk

The G20 Sum­mit

At the recent G20 Sum­mit, Euro­pean lead­ers butted heads with the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion by oppos­ing fur­ther stim­u­lus spend­ing and call­ing for greater fis­cal “aus­ter­i­ty.”  The move to fis­cal tight­en­ing, even dur­ing unsteady eco­nom­ic times, reveals the pro­found affect that the Greek debt cri­sis has had on pol­i­cy­mak­ers in oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries.  In par­tic­u­lar, it indi­cates a com­mon con­cern that grow­ing pub­lic debt pos­es near-term chal­lenges to the con­tin­ued via­bil­i­ty of an eco­nom­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ed Euro­pean Union.  The poten­tial unrav­el­ing of the legal-insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion uproots assump­tions about inter­na­tion­al law held by com­men­ta­tors across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum.

Inte­gra­tion and De-Inte­gra­tion

The process of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion is often marked as start­ing with the for­ma­tion of the Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty via the Paris Treaty in 1952 and com­ing to full fruition with 1993’s Maas­tricht Treaty, which cre­at­ed the Euro­pean Union, and the estab­lish­ment of a mon­e­tary Euro­Zone in 2002.  The “Grand Project” of inte­gra­tion was often seen as an inevitable process, with bat­tle-lines drawn only over pace and momen­tum.  At the very least, inte­gra­tion was con­sid­ered a polit­i­cal choice, an insti­tu­tion­al dynam­ic that could be pre­ferred or not by con­stituents, and imple­ment­ed when pro­po­nents reached a crit­i­cal mass.

The recent near col­lapse of the Mediter­ranean economies (name­ly: Por­tu­gal, Italy, Greece, Spain) over the past year has reversed the polit­i­cal-his­tor­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions described above.  First, it appears that the mon­e­tary inter­ven­tions led by Ger­many are only tem­po­rary stop-gaps, and some degree of eco­nom­ic de-inte­gra­tion is now like­ly. (Con­trary views sug­gest­ing that the solu­tion to the debt crises is new­er, more rad­i­cal eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion are avail­able here and here.  But Spence and Stiglitz are over­ly opti­mistic on the cur­rent polit­i­cal appetite for such mea­sures.)  Sec­ond, this de-inte­gra­tion will not be the result of a pop­u­lar pol­i­cy pref­er­ence, but instead will be the prod­uct of an exter­nal con­straint on the abil­i­ty of Euro­pean economies to remain inte­grat­ed with­out spi­ral­ing into chaos.

The­o­ries of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion

The new con­cep­tu­al ter­rain cre­at­ed by de-inte­gra­tion is extreme­ly impor­tant for the­o­ries of inter­na­tion­al law and inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion, all of which had pre­vi­ous­ly used the pre­sup­po­si­tions of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion in var­i­ous ways.  Two gen­er­al camps can be described.  The major­i­ty, “Cos­mopoli­tan” view holds that the increas­ing legal­iza­tion of inter­na­tion­al affairs is effec­tive, inevitable, and desir­able.  The prime exam­ple for this posi­tion was the suc­cess of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, which was regard­ed as the lead­ing edge of inter­na­tion­al legal­iza­tion.  But, it is now clear that the Grand Project’s role as evi­den­tiary pil­lar of the Cos­mopoli­tan per­spec­tive can no longer serve its for­mer rhetor­i­cal func­tion.

A dis­sent­ing, “Skep­ti­cal” view holds that the E.U. is an exam­ple of intra-State coop­er­a­tion (sim­i­lar to the for­mer U.S. Arti­cles of Con­fed­er­a­tion) and thus has no par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful sig­nif­i­cance for the effec­tive­ness of legal­iza­tion or ease of inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion.  The unwind­ing of the E.U.’s Mediter­ranean mem­bers casts this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion in a dubi­ous light as well.  Unless what­ev­er de-inte­gra­tion fol­lows is con­sid­ered a vol­un­tary seces­sion or divest­ment of sorts, a more nat­ur­al inter­pre­ta­tion seems to be that Euro­pean states are retreat­ing from a pre­vi­ous­ly high lev­el of inter-state coop­er­a­tion.

Impli­ca­tions Going For­ward

At this time, it is unclear what the ulti­mate import of Greece’s qua­si-default will be.  But going for­ward, both the “Cos­mopoli­tan” and “Skep­ti­cal” views may have to reor­ga­nize them­selves around a new empir­i­cal real­i­ty: Euro­pean de-inte­gra­tion.  What this means for the capac­i­ty and desir­abil­i­ty of legal­iza­tion and inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion will be a mat­ter of pri­ma­ry impor­tance and con­tes­ta­tion for inter­na­tion­al law schol­ars and the­o­reti­cians.

I will haz­ard one pre­dic­tion at an admit­ted­ly ear­ly stage.  Cos­mopoli­tan dis­course will now be forced to empha­size Euro­pean cul­tur­al inte­gra­tion, based on the con­tin­u­ing via­bil­i­ty of insti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights, while at the same time de-empha­siz­ing the retreat from eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion.  Fur­ther­more, such a re-bal­anc­ing of focus may be ana­lyt­i­cal­ly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to the extent that cul­tur­al inte­gra­tion has rep­re­sent­ed a mere cod­i­fi­ca­tion of com­mon cul­tur­al norms about sec­u­lar­ism and indi­vid­ual rights, while eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion has been a source of pro­gres­sive and tru­ly nov­el inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion.

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