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Europe's Unsettled Integration and the Ambivalence of Global Cooperation

15.03.2016 From the point of view of cooperation research the European Union's current crisis may be initially considered a challenge for this community's ability to transnationally integrate its members. With the entry of new member states these challenges have certainly increased. The new role of Europe in regulating and managing global processes ads to this, a kind of responsibility that resonates with the self-concept of political actors only little by little. An observable divergence of the patterns of crisis response towards the current refugee crisis is at once highly problematic and insightful.

Economic and socio-political integration follow different blueprints, they proceed in an asynchronous manner and produce interferences, that make shared agreements on priorities - and public discourse about them - basically difficult. Economic arguments - for a common market, for an economy of scale - are convincing always and only for those, who believe that they stand to benefit from these developments.

Todays European Union politically developed from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Founded in 1951 this first supranational organization was a politico-economically motivated union of steal producing nation states, who agreed to grant duty free access to coal and steal mutually. (1)

Schengen departed from this tradition and at the same time transcended it afar. Because the European Union as a political space opened these borders for its citizens, for labor and leisure, for culture, trade and business cooperation, about to involve entire populations. It was always assumed implicitly that these actors because of a common cultural conditioning could harmonize by and large: a 'routinization' of shared European values and the humanistic heritage of the continent. Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' appeared as depicting narratives beyond the outer borders of a Europe, having ultimately overcome those conflicts inside the union. Meanwhile we suspect the story not that easy to be continued.

The current immigration of refugees from the Middle East and other areas of the Global South rigorously uncovers the unresolved integration processes inside the European Union. It is remarkable that plans and scenarios were rarely at hand for this challenge that developed over many years, estimations from which intake capacities and procedures would have been possible to deduce, to built a common accomodation system for these refugee movements. It seemed to be enough, for many, to outsource the problem to the outer border of the union. A fair share of burdens of these countries (Italy, Greece) is pending to date. Things turned even more ugly, as we know.

Starting in 2016 we witness an unfriendly competition of diffferent kinds of cooperation and states of the Visegrad group together with Austria cooperate with the common objective, not to cooperate with the European Commission.

Of cause one can cry out: How global is this? But the model of European integration with its aim at expanding the scope of a single European market accepted the risk of new antagonisms in the conception of society. A potential for conflict can be identified here and it is not accidential that the respectable field of social policy is dealt with extreme caution by European institutions, since this touches the core of national welfare and hence identity.

Current consultations between the European Union and Turkey to pave the way for a pragmatic deal as well make clear, how much ad hoc-cooperation is wanted today, because time is running short and missing for a more pre-estimated assessment. Prominent concerns from experts of international law with regard to the current practise (2) are tacitly accepted since some time. Here the crisis legitimizes itself, so to speak.

The idea to distribute refugees migrating to Europe by a central agency according to a sophisticated quota system among member states (3) sounds conclusive. But the current debate shows that this kind of procedure, while legitimate under the law, can by far not yet be considered as socially legitimized in some countries.

A gradual twist of different supranational spheres of interest may develop, if a polarization of these different concepts of society proceeds.

What the economic sphere did proof by an innate Euro crisis is that polarization is possible also here, namely between centres and peripheries of markets. And a further transboundary difference is on its way. The slope between urban centres and rural areas develops intrinsic peripheries Europe- (and world-) wide with a serious potential for conflict. It would be part of the job of European integration to develop perspectives for these 'peripheries within' also.

When cooperation research talks about a micro, meso and macro level of globalization, different dimensions of the socio-political arena are taken into account. But these levels are not at all isolated from each other. For instance we know already today that taking lessons from the macro level of climate change (which according to recent reseach has accelerated to a dramatic extent) migration flows of unprecedented dimensions are to be expected (4). Does Europe deal with this issue, does it develop scenarios, discuss alternatives, negotiate consensus and acceptance for necessary decisions? (5) Because we can see on the meso level of regions today what happens, when migration does no more happen inside a region, for example in the Middle East, but is heading towards a neighboring region. It is obvious, that challenges may change under this constellation dramatically (climate, legal status, available networks, civil society and logistic expertise in receiving countries).

Global cooperation is demanding a lot of flexibility from all involved. Can there be a better model for it than the refugees themselves?


European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)

Three legal requirements for the EU-Turkey deal: An interview with JAMES HATHAWAY, On Matters Constitutional, 9 March 2016

EC calls for operational European Border and Coast Guard agency by summer, The Independent, 15 March 2016

February breaks global temperature records by 'shocking' amount, The Guardian, 14 March 2016

Why Europe needs a global strategy,, 3 July 2015
By Dirk Messner, Ewald Wermuth, Giovanni Grevi, Kevin Watkins, Teresa Ribera | European Think Tanks Group

Martin Wolf
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