“What is the raison d´être of the European Union?” Gráinne de Búrca, professor of law at New York University School of law, asks in the introduction of her research paper “Europe’s Raison D’Etre” published by New York University School of Law in the Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series (No.13-09) in March 2013 (in July 2012 de Búrca also gave a presentation of an early version of the paper at the European University Institute in Florence, available here). She argues that, even though more than 60 years have passed since the project of European economic integration was first launched, the question of the EU’s mission (raison d’être) is still highly significant. However, she means that the answer to the question might not be the same as it was in 1952.
De Búrca argues that there are three closely connected reasons why the EU’s raison d´être is questioned today. The first is the fact that the EU has been relatively successful in delivering its original goals – to ensure internal peace and prosperity for the Member States. However, it seems like these achievements nowadays are taken for granted. The foundational goals are therefore no longer undoubtedly connected to the reasons for the EU’s existence. The second reason is that the achievements of the EU have not been sufficient to give the Union the same type of legitimacy that states enjoy. Whilst the raison d’être of states is rarely questioned the EU remains an entity always in question, having to justify its existence. Therefore it is constantly depending on its ability to perform. The third reason is the severity of the ongoing economic crisis. The European Union is not only failing to provide prosperity, but the EU is also seen as being a part of the problem, mainly by imposing strict austerity policies. In addition, the economic policies adopted by the Union limit the options for the Member States on how to handle problems of growing unemployment and decreasing growth. Hence, the EU is now seen to be worsening the economic and social conditions in the Member States. Besides leading to the question of the survival of the Euro, this situation has also lead to the question of the survival of the Union itself. Consequently, this has brought renewed attention to the question of the EU’s raison d’être, albeit in a new and more acute way.
De Búrca emphasizes the importance of articulating a clear raison d’être, as the task of pulling the Union out from the current crisis will be even more difficult if the citizens lack a sense of what the Union is for. In addition, other phenomenon such as the continuously growing Euroscepticism, the general lack of interest of European integration and voter apathy are suggesting that there is little public agreement both on the virtue of integration, and on the EU’s mission. Consequently, articulating a raison d’être is important not just due to the economic situation, but also since it is an existential question of never-ending significance.
De Búrca refers to an editorial comment written by Joseph Weiler, where he presents his view on the EU’s weak legitimacy. He means that the EU is in a position where it needs to find a new way of legitimizing its mission, by transforming its foundation for legitimacy into the same as modern democratic constitutional states. De Búrca does not fully agree with this conclusion by Weiler. She means that the EU is not in the same position as a democratic state. Thus, the EU cannot entirely rely on ordinary democratic legitimacy; it also has to draw legitimacy from its performance, as well as its mission – its raison d´être. De Búrca therefore claims that the EU is compelled to articulate its mission in a convincing way. She also holds that the phrasing of the Unions mission especially has to convince younger generations, which have no memory of war and to whom the benefits of integration are far from obvious.
De Búrca continues by making a contribution of her own to the mission of articulating a raison d´être for the EU. She means that the EU now has a double-dimensioned mission. This mission includes not only the development of a new relationship between the Member States, the citizens and the EU, but also the development of the Union’s role in the global arena. According to de Búrca these two dimensions have an increasing connection, which can be explained in three ways. First of all, the EU now handles the effects of globalization. Secondly, the EU’s role as an international actor reflects its internal government. Finally, the European integration can potentially represent an alternative geo-political model to other powers such as the US and China. Another reason for the EU’s existence is the need for managing increasing global problems, which states cannot tackle on their own. Challenges such as climate change, migration, terrorism and internet governance, all need to be addressed both within the Union and on a global level. These challenges can also have an effect on the lives of the European citizens, and could therefore serve as a reason for the EU’s existence.
In conclusion de Búrca argues that the EU is partly depending on its mission legitimacy. She suggests that the raison d’être of the EU can be articulated not only in terms of peace and prosperity, but also in terms of its capacity to handle globalization and to practice international leadership in facing global challenges. This means that justification for the EU’s existence is no longer primarily based on an internal dimension, but also on an external one. Thus, in some ways, the focus has been shifted.
The main argument of de Búrca seems to be that the European Union is in a strong need for articulating a new raison d´être. Even though expressed in terms of legitimacy, Weiler seems to agree. However, they do not seem to concur when it comes to the question of how the EU’s mission should be phrased. Whilst Weiler appears to focus on a more traditional democratic legitimacy, de Búrca has an innovative way of formulating the EU’s mission. De Búrca means that the Union’s global role in several ways can provide convincing arguments for the existence of the EU.
One can agree with de Búrca that the EU’s position in the global arena has become a significant part of the Union’s reasons for existence. As de Búrca points out many “new” global problems have emerged. These are problems that the Member States neither can, nor should, face alone. In addition to this, surveys show that EU-citizens are inclined to trust the Union to handle the effects of globalization more than their home state, NGOs or international institutions (see the article “Europe and the Management of Globalization” by Jacoby and Meunier, p. 302, available here). Furthermore, De Búrca refers to an article by Giuliano Amato and Federico Ghizzoni (See the article “Why it’s worth keeping the EU dream alive” in Financial Times, 31 October 2011, available here after registration). As de Búrca, Amato and Ghizzoni argue that the mission to fight global obstacles such as climate change, starvation, disease, migration and state failure, is definitely a good reason for the EU’s existence. Still, just like de Búrca, they mean that this is not the only reason to keep the European dream alive. They claim that the EU still ensures prosperity for the Union. In conclusion, it seems like there is an agreement to some extent that the external dimension is a relevant part of the EU’s “new mission”. This is also supported by the fact that EU citizens, as stated above, put their trust in the EU to manage globalization. Nevertheless, it also seems like there is an agreement that the external aspects are just a few of many reasons for continuing to develop European integration.
Another aspect, which is closely associated to the question of the justification of the Union’s existence, is the issue of democratic deficit. The democratic deficit is frequently debated, and it is an issue that has several dimensions. Clearly, the question of legitimacy is one of these dimensions. If the EU is ever going to defeat Euroscepticism it is important that the citizens of the Union share a somewhat similar vision of the EU’s mission. Moreover, it is important that the Union’s perceived mission is not only agreed amongst an elite, the average European citizen must also accept it. Probably, the average European needs something more than the “external dimension” to justify the Union’s existence. Most likely, people’s main concerns are still their own situation and the present state of affairs in their home state. Therefore the EU first and foremost has to solve the economic crisis and, at the same time, fight the democratic deficit. Even though some efforts were made in the Lisbon Treaty (e.g. the full recognition of the European citizenship, click here to read more), the issue of democratic deficit remains. First of all, it still seems like citizens are not aware of their increased democratic rights, and secondly, many are not even aware of the benefits that the EU provides. Consequently, one important way to fight the democratic shortage in the EU is to enhance the communication and information towards EU citizens. In a wider perspective, fighting the democratic deficit can be an important step towards the creation of a new raison d´être.
Finally, whatever the answer to the question of the EU’s raison d’être will be, the starting point is to realize that the question is of great importance. We might even have arrived to a point where the question is more relevant than ever. When the EU now finds itself in a severe financial crisis, when scepticism towards the EU is increasing and when we stand before global challenges of new proportions, one must realize that the articulation of an answer to the question of the EU’s mission is crucial. The EU can no longer only rest on the mission of peace and prosperity, nor it can rely on old merits. The European Union must rearticulate a convincing justification for its existence. Most importantly, this must not only convince de Búrca or Weiler, it must also convince the people.
by Amandine Douma, Petra Enmalm and Ida Karlsson