The EU at a Crossroads: From Technocracy to High Politics?

It was not very long ago that talk of the European Union evoked the arcane world of milk quotas, product standards, and social security rules for transborder workers. Not so any longer. Today, the EU is at the center of virtually every hot-button political issue—from the Euro crisis, to Syrian refugees, international terrorism, and democratic backsliding. It faces harsh criticism, both for not doing enough to stop these crises, and, most vociferously, for contributing to, or indeed causing, these crises. The most telling sign of the EU’s switch from obscure administrative body to political lightening rod is the rising tide of populism across Europe. These parties and movements have called into question the very existence of the EU, championing national and ethnic identities over what is portrayed as the rootless elitism of EU governance.

In the face of these multiple challenges, the key question today is how the EU will respond to the new political context. Virtually all observers agree that the current situation is not tenable and that there will be significant changes going forward. But what will be the direction of change? Will the EU make the leap from technocratic governing body to full-fledged political union or will it, de facto or de jure, retrench to a common market arrangement? Since the founding of the EU, legal and public policy studies have served as crucial analytical tools for both advancing and explaining the trajectory of European integration. Now that the European project is at a turning point, it is vital to bring those same intellectual tools to understanding the cause of crisis and to charting the way forward.

The purpose of this workshop is to bring together an inter-disciplinary group of legal scholars, political scientists, and policy experts to take stock of the multiple policy challenges facing the EU. The panels will explore the roots of the current crises, drawing out the links and tradeoffs between the multiple topics, and will propose legal and institutional reforms for the future.

Program Schedule:

Friday, March 23

9:15 am: Welcome: Blake Morant, Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School

Introduction: Francesca Bignami, Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School

9:30 am: Keynote Lecture: Renaud Dehousse, President, European University Institute

10:30 - 10:45 am: Coffee Break

10:45 am - 12:30 pm: Tackling the Euro crisis: Deeper integration or retrenchment?

  • Anna Gelpern, Georgetown University Law Center (moderator)
  • Nicolas Jabko, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  • Elliot Posner, Department of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University
  • Matthias Ruffert, Law Faculty, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Philomila Tsoukala, Georgetown University Law Center

In many European countries, the Euro crisis is taken as the poster child of the flaws of trade liberalization and globalization. It is also the longest running of the many crises facing the EU and has contributed to the rise of populist movements in a number of countries. Although the immediate trigger was the global financial crisis of 2008, many scholars take the view that the roots of the Eurozone’s instability go back to the original plan for monetary union and the failure to include the full range of policies and institutions that would support a common currency. Since 2009, when sovereign-debt default emerged as a real threat, there has been a long string of legal and policy reforms designed to improve monetary union, introduce banking union, and reinforce market integration in financial services. Even so, a number of scholars maintain that without the additional steps of a common fiscal policy, enhanced political union, and improved supranational democracy, the Euro area is doomed to instability. This panel reviews the causes of the Euro crisis, analyzes the reforms that have been introduced to tackle the underlying causes of the crisis, and assesses the performance of those reforms to date. This panel also considers the solutions that have been proposed to create a viable common currency in the long term, in particular the introduction of a common fiscal policy decided by the Council, European Parliament, and other EU institutions.

2 - 3:30 pm: Human migration: Can the EU manage internal and external migratory flows?

  • Daniela Caruso, Boston University School of Law (moderator)
  • Philippe De Bruycker, Law Faculty, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Ulf Öberg, Judge at the General Court of the European Union
  • Niovi Vavoula, The School of Law, Queen Mary University of London and Center for European Policy Studies

One of the biggest drivers of the current populist turn in European politics has been human migration. Although Syrian refugees and Polish plumbers share little in common, they have both stoked fears of traditional society being overwhelmed by outsiders, along with the perceived threat to the cultural values and the economic prosperity of the nation. The relationship of EU law to human migration is complex. Even though free movement of workers and services was originally afforded minimal legal protection in the Treaty of Rome, there is today a robust legal framework that gives EU citizens the right to move freely, study, and work within the EU and the right to obtain certain forms of social benefits. Thus, the complaints of benefits tourism and unfair labor competition, which have fueled Brexit and other populist movement are, at least partially, grounded in EU law. By contrast, the inability to manage the Syrian refugee crisis has largely been driven by the absence of EU law. External migration into the EU is still the prerogative of national politics and is determined by the intergovernmental deals that can be worked out between the member states on the fair allocation of the refugee burdens of international catastrophes such as the war in Syria. This panel explores the role of law in producing the EU’s current migration landscape. It tackles the issue of how to use EU law to address some of the consequences of the internal movement of EU citizens and to manage more successfully human migration coming from abroad. 

3:30 - 3:45 pm: Coffee Break

3:45 - 5:30 pm: The EU and international terrorism: Promoting free movement of persons, the right to privacy, and security

  • Jennifer Daskal, American University Washington College of Law (moderator)
  • Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator
  • Valsamis Mitsilegas, The School of Law, Queen Mary University of London
  • Abraham Newman, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
  • Marc Rotenberg, President, Electronic Information Privacy Center, Washington, DC

Radical Islamic terrorism has emerged as a major challenge for the EU. Although, historically, European countries are no strangers to terrorism, there is reason to believe that this current spate of attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, and other countries is different. Not only are some of the perpetrators associated with well-developed, global networks of Islamic extremists, but they have been able to exploit the lack of internal border controls within the EU’s Schengen Area to their advantage. Furthermore, the very same digital technologies that have aided terrorists have also been used by EU governments to engage in widespread surveillance of their populations to protect internal security. These new technologies have triggered a heated debate over the appropriate balance between privacy and security and whether liberalism and democracy can survive the advent of mass surveillance. This panel explores the flaws of the Schengen Area and the ongoing reform efforts to bolster cooperation among national border control, counter-terrorism, and law enforcement agencies. It analyzes the growing, counter-terrorism surveillance powers of EU governments and the current state of play of the privacy vs. security debate. The panel also examines some of the proposals that have been put forward for a more centralized EU apparatus to manage border control and counter-terrorism, including allocating more powers to EU agencies such as Frontex.


Saturday, March 24

9:15 – 11 am: The EU’s democratic deficit, revisited

  • Fernanda Nicola, American University Washington College of Law (moderator)
  • Bojan Bugarič, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana
  • Emilio De Capitani, Former Secretary of the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee and The School of Law, Queen Mary University of London
  • R. Daniel Kelemen, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University
  • Peter Lindseth, University of Connecticut School of Law
  • Kim Lane Scheppele, Department of Sociology, Princeton University

Although the debates on the EU’s democratic deficit are longstanding, the issue has become especially pressing in recent years and has acquired a variety of new dimensions. The response to many of the current crises has been to strengthen the institutions at the center, such as EU agencies and EU policy networks, but it is unclear whether the many accountability reforms that have been enacted since the 1990s have led to effective democratic oversight. With the growing powers of EU institutions in high-profile areas such as immigration, border control, and counter-terrorism, it has become increasingly important to assess the existing tools of democratic and legal oversight and to introduce new ones if necessary. In addition, the earlier debates on the EU’s democratic deficit assumed that there was no such deficit at the national level. However, the ascent of populist and authoritarian parties in a number of countries has in some cases undermined national democratic institutions such as independent courts and the free press. Lastly, the absence of a European identity capable of underpinning a vibrant, supranational political union, has revealed itself to be as intractable a problem as ever. If the current bout of Euroskepticism is to be put to rest, it may well be necessary to revive some of the more radical, democratizing reforms that have been proposed but discarded in previous years, such as direct elections for the President of the European Commission and powers over fiscal policy for the European Parliament. This panel considers the EU’s democratic deficit, as it has evolved in the current institutional and political environment. It pays special attention to the role of democratic actors and mechanisms in promoting legitimate EU governance, such as the European Parliament, the European Ombudsman, and civil society organizations.

11 - 11:15 am: Coffee Break

11:15 am - 12:30 pm: Roundtable - The EU at a crossroads: Future perspectives