Andrew Moravcsik, a colleague from Princeton University, sees Europe and the EU as the only other superpower in a bipolar world of Europe and the United States.  Moravcsik provided a chapter on this superpower in the recently released Rising States; Rising Institutions: Challenges for Global Governance.  This book is co-edited by Andrew Cooper and myself.  It began with a conference in August 2008 and was just released by The Brookings Institution

Andrew is one of the premier North American experts focused on Europe and the EU.  He is neither a functionalist nor an advocate for the ‘European Project.’ Though he sees Europe as a superpower he doesn’t believe that this superpower requires unity or centralization.  As Moravcsik argues, “Europe often functions more effectively when its governments work as a decentralized network than when they are more centralized.” (“Europe: Rising Superpower in a Bipolar World,” pages 151-174 at 170).  According to Moravcsik, centralized institutions can generate credibility but at the cost of flexibility and national sovereignty.  Thus, the European powers alter their commitment over issues, “depending on the potential collective gains and the possible risks from being overruled.” Moravcsik concludes, “Indeed flexible, rather than centralized, institutions might be not just adequate but advantageous.”  

I raise this perspective – I suspect obviously – following a rather bad week in Europe and the eurozone in particular.  The reticence of the Merkel government to conclude negotiations for European and IMF support for the Greeks threatened to spread the debt contagion to others in Europe – Portugal and even Spain.  I’m no advocate for Europe and see Moravcsik stripping away wishful thinking of the federal advocates – lets make another United States of Europe- replacing such wishfulness with a far more realistic examination of the complex, flexible, decentralized – and dare I say weak – confederal structure of Europe.  

Now I anticipate that Andrew has some sensible reply to my negative musings here but the problems in the Eurozone – dramatically underlined in Paul Krugman’s Friday op-ed, “The Euro Trap” underscores the overreaching that the European Project can get into.  Greece has run into a “debt wall” that skeptics warned could occur and there is no monetary flexibility available to Greece right now, or Portugal or Spain, perhaps, in the future to rebalance their economies. Blind or willfully blind, the EU let Greece breach the fiscal limits, borrow like a “drunken sailor” from foreign sources and now finds Greece in a very big hole that requires significant lending from a more than reluctant set of partners in the monetary union. 

Now flexibility and not unity may be the underlying strength of the EU but it sure looks like unity is required at least for the short term – otherwise monetary union may be at risk.  The exit of Greece from the monetary union may be necessary – and perhaps salutary for both Greece and the union but I got to say it doesn’t look much like a superpower right at the moment.  

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