The European Union: Past, Present and Future
The European Union: Past, Present and Future

Doctor John McCormick, professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is one of the greatest living experts in the field of European studies. He was educated at Rhodes University in South Africa, University College London, and Indiana University. He was the author of many articles, researches and books about the European Union. His textbook European Union Politics is required literature at many universities around the globe.

For One Europe, he discusses the past, present and future of the European Union, the current crisis in the Eurozone and the potential widening of European integration.  

OneEurope: In the past was the European Union more focused on enlarging or on deepening of the European integration?

The two have always gone hand in hand, but the balance has changed over time. With the original six there was a focus on deepening, then more interest in widening in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently there has been a focus on deepening as enlargement fatigue has been a problem and as the goals of the EU changed.

OE: What is the current situation with the enlargement and deepening in the European Union? Do you think that citizens and governments of the European Union are simply tired from both processes and if they are what do you think is a cause for that situation?

Giving the Eurozone further enlargement is probably the last thing on most people’s minds at the moment, although, there are several candidate countries involved in the negotiations. The focus of deepening is on the Eurozone, and on setting up processes and institutions designed to ensure better management for the single currency. With the notable exception of Turkey, all potential future members of the EU are small, so they do not pose many obvious problems. Albania still needs a lot of work on it political system, its economy, and its problems with corruption, so it is likely that it will face more resistance. There is also some fatigue with the EU in Turkey and Iceland – the former is losing patience for having been kept waiting so long, and the latter has been having second thoughts in the wake of the global financial crisis.

OE: Which would be the potential direction for deepening the European Union? Would it be single European army, unified monetary and fiscal policies for all member states or something else?

The prospects for a European army are limited, because of a lack of resources and of political will. Clearly something needs to be done in regard to the euro – the European Central Bank needs more authority, and the rules of membership of the euro need to be imposed more rigorously, particularly the rule about budget deficits. More needs to be done with the single market in services, where there are still too many handicaps. And the EU needs somehow to agree a meaningful common foreign policy, and to be more assertive in acting upon this. The real problem with all these needs is finding the political will to address them. For now, solving the Eurozone crisis is the overwhelming priority. The EU institutions could also do a better job of addressing the myths and misunderstandings that they suffer, and of addressing declining faith in the EU. 

OE: We can read every day in the news that Serbia wants to be part of the European Union, same thing with Ukraine and etc. Who do you think will be the next member of the European club and how far can the enlargement of the EU integration go?

Of the five existing candidate countries, the three Balkan countries have the best chance of being the next members of the EU, only because they present the fewest problems it can be years before the EU is ready to absorb Turkey, and because of doubts in Iceland. In terms of how far integration will go, assuming that the EU can resolve the problems with the euro, and assuming that non-members meet the terms of membership, and assuming that the problems with Russia do not worse, integration could theoretically include every European country up to the border with Russia and Turkey. Belarus poses the biggest problems, and Ukraine also poses problems. Switzerland is in a unique situation – it could easily join but may not want to. Much the same is true of Norway.

OE: Taking in consideration the history of the European integration, do you think that the European Union, previously known as European Community always resists when it is hit by some crisis, finding the unique way through it? Is Europe some kind of immortal phoenix which rises from the ashes every single time?

Yes, but then I am optimistic about the EU and its future. The Eurozone crisis is bigger than anything the region has faced before, but because the costs of failure on the euro are so great, the political and economic incentives to fix the problem are also substantial. It is also easy, in light of the euro crisis, to overlook the many other longer-term successes of the EU – it has achieved a great deal in a wide variety of areas. The future depends on a resolution of the euro crisis and improved understanding among Europeans about the successes and failures of the EU, and about the actual – rather than imagined – powers and capacity of the EU institutions.

OE: How important enlargement and deepening of the European Union are for the creation of the European identity and the United States of Europe?

They are both important, although what is happening in Europe at the moment is the slow development of a European identity alongside a new sense of nationalism within the member states. The latter is alright so long as it remains the kind of nationalism that encourages a stronger sense of identity without spilling over into hostility towards others, and particularly towards immigrants. The rise of right-wing racist and populist political parties is very worrying, particularly when they feed off the economic problems of the poorer EU member states. And I don’t know about a United States of Europe – there is a lot of opposition to that. A better solution would be a confederal EU, where states remain independent but come together as a union of states.

OE: Through which process of those two (enlargement and deepening) European integration can advance faster?

That is hard to say because of the changing nature of politics and economics. At the moment the focus is on deepening in the Eurozone. Once the euro crisis is resolved, there will be more time to think again about enlargement.

OE: From your perspective, what is the biggest achievement of the European project?

The single market. Opening up borders and encouraging the free movement of people, capital, goods and services has had a wide range of benefits for Europeans – so much so that even if the EU was to be closed down tomorrow, it would be almost impossible to reverse the arrangements made under the single market. And even most of those people who do not like the EU would agree that the single market is a good idea.

OE: At the end what is your message for the readers of One Europe?

We have to look at the long-term picture, avoid becoming too lost in the problems of the present, make an effort to better understand the EU and its work, and focus on fixing its problems so that its benefits are felt more widely and become more clearly a part of the work of integration. The EU is far from perfect, but no political construction has ever been able to permanently meet the needs of all its members and citizens. The existence of the EU, with its imperfections, is far preferable to its absence.