On July 16, 2010, when the debt crisis that currently engulfs Europe was still beginning to take shape, I discussed the Implications of European De-Integration for International Law, in a short post on this blog. In the post, I predicted that the fiscal crises would have major implications for the future of European integration and that—unlike the original euro project—efforts to deal with the crisis “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.”
Since the Summer of 2010, events have not taken a positive turn, and hopes of finding an easy resolution to the problem of rapidly increasing public debt in several Eurozone countries have deteriorated. It is now clear that the Eurozone as initially constituted is a failure, and will need to be revamped and remade in a new, and largely unrecognizable, form. Whether the future of the euro and Eurozone lies in radical integration or in disintegration at this point remains uncertain.
Some of the basic ideas in the original blog post have been fleshed out in an article that I published in Volume 17 of the Columbia Journal of European Law, entitled Implications of European Disintegration for International Law. The Article explains the structural problems with the euro system which make the current crisis so intractable, and also offers some lessons for international law more generally. From the abstract:
The European debt crisis that started in 2009 has revealed underlying structural problems in the European Monetary Union, threatening the viability of the common currency in its current form. An unraveling of monetary coordination in Europe would mark a significant event of disintegration, in the face of a decades-long trend of integration that was commonly considered an inevitable and self-sustaining process.
This Article argues that even a reasonable possibility of disintegration of this magnitude upsets previous theorizing about European integration which over-emphasized the EU’s “supranational” character.
More generally, disintegration poses serious problems for international law scholarship across the ideological spectrum, much of which has organized itself around the historically contingent trend of integration as if it were an a-historical given. The debt crises reveals that use of Europe by both “Skeptical” and “Cosmopolitan” international law scholars is largely an opportunistic rhetorical strategy that conceals fundamental weaknesses of both viewpoints in their debate over the limits and promise of international legalization and cooperation.