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European Integration as Regional Variant of Globalization
Average reader rating: 10  
by Vivien A. Schmidt 07 the future of Countries & Democracies

June 2001


European integration, as a regional variant of globalization, has produced much more dramatic change for members of the European Union than globalization has for other advanced industrialized nations, both in terms of the economy and the polity. This has in turn generated much greater challenges for EU countries with regard to national democratic governance and legitimacy than for countries affected by globalization alone. Such challenges involve not just such questions as how to adjust national economies or to adapt national institutions to EU exigencies but also how to legitimate such changes to the citizenry in terms of traditional conceptions of economic order and social justice as well as political representation and participation. In order to illustrate this, this paper considers the differential impact of the EU on three European countries, France, Britain, and Germany.

Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (Amsterdam, June 28-30).

European Integration as Regional Variant of Globalization: The Challenges to National Democracy

Globalization has often been characterized as generating tremendous change for the nation-state, both economically and institutionally.1 On this score, European integration, as a regional variant of globalization, has produced much more dramatic change for members of the European Union than globalization has for any advanced industrialized nations, including EU member-states. This is not only because the EU has created a liberalized regional economic zone that rivals any other globalized regional or national economies but also because the development of the European Union as a supranational set of institutions far outdistances any found at the global level. With the economic liberalization attendant upon European integration, EU member-states’ governments have given up much more national autonomy in decision-making than countries subject only to the forces of globalization. In exchange, however, they have also gained a kind of shared supranational authority that goes way beyond anything experienced by countries subject to globalization alone. As a regional variant of globalization, therefore, the experience of the EU can tell us much about the potential benefits as well as problems for advanced industrialized democracies worldwide if and when global institutions reach the level of maturity of EU ones.

The benefits of EU membership, to begin with, have been significant. Unlike the very partial and uneven coverage of global treaties and treaty-related organizations, EU member-states benefit from commonly agreed-upon policies in a wide range of spheres, from common monetary policies and a common currency (for 12 out of 15 members) to common industrial standards, regulatory policies, and regulatory authorities. As such, the European Union has succeeded in serving not only as a conduit for global economic forces, by opening up member-states to competition in the capital and product markets, but also as a shield against them, through common macroeconomic and microeconomic policies that improve European member-states’ competitiveness through the discipline of monetary integration and the economies of scale afforded by the Single European Market—to say nothing of the protections afforded by common agricultural policies, external trade policies, a strong anti-trust authority, and so on.

In consequence, one could argue that the EU has gone farthest in the direction hoped for by many globalization critics, through the creation of a supranational governance organization that not only seeks to dismantle existing structures in favor of the new but at the same time makes new rules to ensure that those new structures work appropriately—by protecting the norms and standards societies have come to value most as they open up new economic opportunities through liberalization. And in fact, these new rules and structures have provided EU member-states with tremendous benefits not only from larger European financial markets, more intra-European trade, and greater European economic stability but also from higher general European standards and better protections for all citizens of the EU, to say nothing here of the gains from the beginnings of a European political entity and a collective European identity. However, these new rules and structures also come at a cost: risks to traditional governance patterns and conceptions of democracy.

You can download the full paper here.

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