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John Peterson interviews European Commission President

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was asked to reflect on five academic papers in an interview with John Peterson, professor of European politics at the University of Glasgow, and member of the Constructing Europe Network. The papers were selected in an open poll of EU-focused academics, who were asked to nominate the most influential works published in the last 10 years. The exchange (excerpt below) represents an initiative of the SSH-funded Network of Excellence, Wider Europe - Deeper Integration?

  • If you think about the issues on which these pieces focus - Europe as a global actor, the relationship between the Member States and the institutions, 'the unraveling of the state', and so on - are these the most vital issues of European integration in practice?
  • José Manuel Barroso: The issue raised by [Fritz] Scharpf - the question about asymmetry between economic and social Europe - it is a political problem which has confronted me almost every day here. And a lot of my own political communication is [intended] to explain exactly this asymmetry. I had to explain by saying, 'Look, we in the Union, we do not have the social instruments that you have in the Members States. It is not feasible to have a social Europe at the same level that we have an internal market in Europe.' So, no one is seriously proposing to have national health systems or national education systems or social security systems at the European level. But what can we do at the European level to show that we are also committed to social principles and solidarity? There are things we can do - for example, we have proposed the European Globalization Fund, and that was subsequently adapted.

  • Could you imagine a day when we might have common European minimum standards for social assistance and minimum wages (defined relative to each country's GDP or average wage level)?
  • It depends on the decisions of the Member States. We certainly would not object . we are pushing the Member States to reflect on whether we can do more and come up with new ideas for reform of their social systems. Some kind of benchmarks have been established. But, to answer very candidly your question, I don't think in the foreseeable future we will have this kind of hard legislation - if I may use that word - or regulation from Brussels.

  • Hedley Bull's conclusion in 1982 was 'Europe is not an actor in international affairs, and does not seem likely to become one.' In Zbigniew Brzezinski's new book, he claims that 'today's Europe [is] more extensive in scope yet more distant from America while still impotent globally.' Writing 25 years apart, are they both wrong?
  • [The] European powers count more now because we are now a much bigger player - we are now 27 countries, almost 500 million people, the most important trade bloc in the world, the most important donor of foreign aid - all of these things count .. And if you look at the global issues, those discussed in the United Nations - such as climate change, environmental protection, human rights, demography - the positions of the European are setting a trend more or less in the direction of an operational compromise..

    We don't have the levels of competitiveness of some areas of the American economy, but we have mechanisms of social inclusion that we don't want to give up and are not ready to give up because we believe we can reform them and, in fact, we are pushing for their reform. And we certainly have higher social and environmental standards than the rest of the world. So my answer is: Europe today counts more. But it is true that we are not an integrated polity, and that means on some foreign or security issues we don't count as much as one might expect, looking at our demographic or economic power.

  • Do you think that central states in Europe are becoming weaker, or are they finding new and more creative ways to empower themselves through collective action?
  • I think that, maybe paradoxically, they are more important in some ways because they can act more globally through the EU ..There was a famous quote, I think made by Paul-Henri Spaak, who once said that all states in Europe were small states but that some haven't noticed it! If you compare them with China or Russia or India or the US in terms of geographical size, or demographic or military power, all EU Member States are relatively small. So what is the new function of the European Union?...

    Europe is the indispensable articulation between the national and the international. Even the biggest states - what chance do they have on, say, climate change in asking for the Americans or the Chinese to make tough decisions and change their policies? None at all.. I think the Member States are not losing authority - if they act properly, they can in fact have their leverage and include very important national agendas in diplomatic terms as part of a wider European agenda.

The papers (chosen spring 2007) were as follows:

  • Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, 'Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance', American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No 2 (May 2003), pp. 233-243.
  • Ian Manners, 'Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?', Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 40, No 2 (June 2002), pp. 235-258.
  • Andrew Moravcsik, 'Theorizing European Integration', in Andrew Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1998 (European edition: London, Routledge/UCL Press, 1998), pp. 18-85.
  • Mark A Pollack, 'Delegation, Agency, and Agenda Setting in the European Community', International Organization, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Winter 1997), pp. 99-134. Publ. also in European Integration online Papers (EIoP), Vol. 3, No 6 (1999).
  • Fritz Scharpf, 'The European Social Model: Coping with the Challenges of Diversity', Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 40, No 4 (November 2002), pp. 645-670. Publ. also in MPIfG Working Paper, No 02/8 (July 2002)

EU-CONSENT project website:

ATLANTIS (Actions for Transatlantic Links and Academic Networks for Training and Integrated Studies)
The programme is funded and managed jointly by the European Commission and by the US Department of Education. It aims primarily at promoting understanding between the peoples of the European Union and the United States of America, and improving the quality of their human resource development.

A wise man will see to it that his acts always seem voluntary and not done by compulsion, however much he may be compelled by necessity.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527).