What are you worried about European politics?


Political crises at the European level are as old as the European integration project itself. [1] Even now, the impression can sometimes prevail that the Union has been - again - in a permanent state of crisis for over a decade and is constantly threatened with imminent collapse. Although in many cases the EU does not succeed in finally resolving these crises, it has nevertheless developed procedures to jointly "manage" the challenges and to reduce the effects of the crises. Their introduction and consolidation has also brought about a considerable reform of the EU's political system and an increase in competencies and tasks for the EU institutions. Crises therefore played a central role in the history and development of the EU system. In this context, the article analyzes central problems of the past ten years and looks for patterns in EU crisis management in order to investigate the questions of how these are related to the changing distribution of tasks and roles between the actors in the EU system and what conclusions can be drawn about the future Development direction of the EU are possible.

Decade full of crises

The term crisis is often used without establishing exactly what characterizes a crisis situation. A multitude of competing definitions also exist in parallel in the scientific debate. What they have in common, however, is that they usually understand a crisis as an acute threat to central values ​​or vital systems, which requires a quick reaction and is characterized by great uncertainty. Crises hold great potential for damage and usually occur so suddenly and at unexpected speed that a procedure for dealing with the problem does not exist. Against this background, the political leadership sees itself exposed to enormous pressure in a crisis situation to have to make critical decisions of considerable scope in the shortest possible time without precise knowledge of the consequences. [2]

At the EU level, crises are also characterized by the fact that they have a transnational character, i.e. directly or indirectly affect more than one member state. This transnational dimension is partly the result of globalization, partly the result of previous steps in European integration, which has brought about a particularly high degree of interdependence between the EU states. This mutual dependency of the countries and the insight that certain crises cannot be solved by one state alone is often decisive for the fact that EU member states follow a "problem-solving instinct" and try to find a common, concerted response at a community level.

A look at key issues over the past decade shows that policymakers have faced a whole series of significant challenges - both endogenous and exogenous - that remain current. To illustrate this, the euro, Ukraine and so-called refugee crises as well as Brexit are examined below.

Euro crisis

As a result of the global economic crisis that broke out in 2007, the euro crisis set in in the EU in 2010. In order to prevent the imminent collapse of vital parts of the banking sector and to avert the default of over-indebted euro states, the European heads of state and government as well as their finance ministers took on a leading role in crisis management - not least in newly created institutional formats such as the euro summit, which only the euro member states includes. Under the impression of a possible breakup of the common currency area, a core project of European integration, and its far-reaching economic and political consequences, the national representatives repeatedly agreed time-sensitive on rescue packages and measures for the consolidation of ailing budgets.

In particular, in the course of the crisis in 2010, the euro member states initially set up a temporary rescue package and in 2012 the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM). In addition to the so-called European Fiscal Compact, which is intended to ensure the budgetary discipline of the contracting parties and which was set up outside of the EU treaty due to a lack of consensus among the EU member states, the "Sixpack" and "Twopack" named legislative packages include further budgetary and macroeconomic monitoring measures Imbalances resolved. [3] In addition, an economic policy coordination instrument was introduced under the term "European Semester", under which the European Commission was given additional control tasks and rights.

These immediate and permanent rescue and monitoring measures were all initiated in principle by the European Council or at the euro summit, i.e. at the level of the heads of state and government. They were supported by the European Central Bank (ECB), which at the beginning of the crisis was able to act on the financial markets more quickly than national governments were able to do: the purchase program for government bonds, unlimited if necessary, the reduction of the key interest rate to an all-time low and the role in the negotiations with over-indebted euro countries made the ECB a central crisis manager.

After the reactions to the immediate threats, an agreement was reached at EU level on reforms to prevent the crisis from flaring up again. After all, the euro crisis was also seen as an institutional crisis that had exposed structural deficits in the economic and monetary union, which had to and still need to be remedied. An important innovation in this context is the banking union, which establishes a common banking supervision and a common framework for the recovery and resolution of "significant" credit institutions and was finally decided by the European Council after several previously unsuccessful initiatives by the European Commission. In this context, there was an increase in power for the ECB as well as a "transfer of power to the European level that was probably only comparable with the introduction of the single currency itself". [4] The fact that the reform process initiated by the crisis has not yet been completed is shown not least in the debate about the further development of the economic and monetary union into a "real economic and monetary union". [5]

Ukraine crisis

In contrast to the euro crisis, which affected the EU internally, the Ukraine crisis is a challenge that is geographically close to the EU, but outside the EU's external border. The starting point of the crisis were citizens' protests, especially on Maidan Square in Kiev from November 2013, which reacted to the failure of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine. This was followed by internal-Ukrainian clashes and an expansion of the protests, which ultimately resulted in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, separatist movements and armed conflicts in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 destabilized the country. Although the EU was connected to the events - not least because of the planned Association Agreement - developments in Ukraine hit them unexpectedly. Especially among the eastern member states of the EU, the military action of Russia and the activation of the Russian-speaking population caused concerns about their own integrity.

In contrast to the contractual arrangements, the EU initially did not appear to the outside world as a single actor, represented by the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini or the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. Rather, the EU states coordinated internally on the basis of the deliberations of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then French President François Hollande, who discussed solutions to the conflict with the Russian and Ukrainian presidents in the so-called "Normandy Quartet" in Minsk ] As a reaction to the developments, the European Council agreed on sanctions to curb Russia's violations of international law, which were drawn up by the European Commission and approved by the member states. In view of the different interests within the EU, the agreement on a common line represented the success of an EU foreign policy "with one voice", [7] which is continued to this day through the regular extension of sanctions against Russia.