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The news this week has been aflutter with reactions to the NSA spying scandal. I’ve been thinking about how this might impact European integration for sometime now and I figured this might be a good forum for those thoughts. Noting that periods of discord between the EU and the US often drive integration in certain areas, it stands to reason this scandal could be the engine of further integration within Europe.

A falling out with the US could lead Europe to develop effective joint capabilities where it has historically relied on the US for bolstering defence and security in Western Europe against its primary threats. Like a youth moving out on their own for the first time, doubts about the longevity of the transatlantic relationship have historically translated into attempts to expand capabilities. Two notable moments have been noted previously in this blog: namely, the establishment of the ECSC and the establishments of the Battlegroups.

The first of these examples wasn’t Western Europe having doubts about their relationship with the Americans, but rather American doubts on whether Western Europe could be defended militaristically, economically and ideologically with a disjointed Western Europe– A Western Europe with a disarmed West Germany. This isn’t to say that it was solely an American invention, but they certainly played a part in the event. The second event mentioned, the establishment of the Battlegroups and the Berlin Plus Agreement came from European doubts about continued relations with a US who was willing to declare war with dubious casus belli.

Now we are once again in a period of strained transatlantic relations. What could this mean for Europe? I cannot honestly say that I think this will lead to greater integration because I think the circumstances are somewhat different. While there certainly is outrage in European governments about the actions of the US, I think any action on this topic will come slowly. As the US recently reminded us, European nations have spies as well. I would speculate that they likely have spies within friendly countries as well as less-friendly countries, therefore this outrage of many governments is more likely populistic posturing rather than genuine outrage. I would imagine, were I a Prime Minister that I wouldn’t gladly accept spying in my country by friendly countries. However, so long as people weren’t blowing up bridges or assassinating my countrymen I might have to accept it simply as the price of doing business.

The institutional perception and the public perception can sometimes be very different, hence the courting public opinion. I am of the belief that because of the complex structure of wider European Government, ranging from the EU institutions and including the Member-States nation assemblies, means that public opinion, especially transnational public opinion, is a much more dangerous force in Europe than elsewhere. Democratic legitimacy stems from how much faith is places in any given institution, which means that a European Parliament pushing for popular actions that National governments or the European Commission are unwilling to take (such as threatening the Free-Trade Agreement) might be able to force the agenda, lest the other players in this game might lose face with the public by opposing its wishes.

This fallout is an opportunity to change the playing field. Whether said change will occur remains to be seen. The Parliament has been terrific at capitalising on these conflicts in the past few years and has been seen to expertly use its powers expanded from the Lisbon treaty. I think if anyone is going to push the envelope it will be them. Other players have made interesting moves already, but EP seem a much more flexible and hungry institution than any of their political rivals. I don’t know about you, but I’m on the edge of my seat.

Author :
EurActiv Network