European integration: time for the next step

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Marek Dabrowski
Marek Dabrowski

Non-Resident Scholar at Bruegel, Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and co-founder and Fellow at CASE - Center for Social and Economic Research in Warsaw

Europe’s disjointed responses to three inter-related crises – the bloody conflicts in its southern and eastern neighbourhood, the resulting mass movement of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and the terrorist threat within Europe itself – are a deep reminder that the EU’s integration is far from complete.

As a voluntary project in which each major step forward, at least those requiring treaty revisions, must obtain the unanimous approval of all member states, the EU represents a hybrid construction with many institutional asymmetries. Economic integration has advanced further than political union because the latter has been considered by some member states as a compromise to their sovereignty. Such asymmetry did not cause tensions in more ‘tranquil’ times, but is proving to be a serious problem in this time of crisis.

Europe offers the free movement of people without internal border controls, but policies related to migration, asylum and internal security, including counter-terrorism, are still largely dealt with in the national domain. This means the fragmentation of already scarce administrative and financial resources, cross-border co-ordination problems and a diluted sense of responsibility thanks to the temptation to pass costs to neighbours; for example, encouraging migrants to move elsewhere in the Union. The centralisation of competences and resources at EU level could offer a solution to these cross-border externalities. The Common Foreign and Security Policy, in this regard, should also be strengthened so as to be able to anticipate and thereby actively address some security challenges.

If EU member states are unable to advance their integration in this way, the existing architecture, including the Schengen area and the Single Market, will be put at serious risk. Furthermore, in the contemporary world, security and migratory challenges have a global character. No single country can solve them alone.

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