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EU Differentiation, Dominance and Democracy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EU3D (EU Differentiation, Dominance and Democracy)

Reporting period: 2019-02-01 to 2020-01-31

The European Union has expanded greatly across a wide range of member states that differ considerably in their structural-institutional, territorial, functional, cultural, and linguistic compositions. Some of this diversity enters the integration process, rendering it more differentiated over time.

The many crises and challenges facing the EU over the last decade have exposed its vulnerability to volatile markets, an increasingly unpredictable global geopolitical scene, and increased domestic opposition. Brexit is but the most explicit reminder that the EU is confronting a disintegration challenge.

EU3D accordingly shifts the focus to differentiation, which encompasses both integration and disintegration. All modern political systems are differentiated; the EU is distinctly so. Further, the EU that emerged from the financial and refugee crises is associated with less democracy and more dominance (understood as arbitrary rule). Dominance can be an unintended consequence of action.

EU3D sets out to specify the conditions under which differentiation is politically acceptable, institutionally sustainable, and democratically legitimate. Equally important, EU3D specifies the conditions under which it is not, when conditions of dominance prevail, and discusses this in relation to the Future of Europe debate.

The need for theory: The EU’s challenges are unique, and require developing a suitable theory of political differentiation that will serve as a sorting mechanism for separating democratic forms of differentiation from differentiation-driven forms of dominance. Such a sorting process is necessary for clarifying the potentials and pitfalls of differentiation.

Problem diagnosis: The sorting process starts with a diagnostic approach: EU3D singles out those issues and issue-areas that are particularly problematic from a dominance perspective. The focus is on the Euro and refugee crises, which span across economic governance (fiscal, monetary and banking policy) and the role and status of refugees (basic rights, border controls, terrorist and other security threats). EU3D traces their causes and structural-historical embedding as a means of assessing EU resilience (understood as governing capacity and legitimacy), and as a means of clarifying the type and scale of reforms needed.

EU reforms: EU3D’s second part is devoted to tapping public sentiments and discerning and assessing democratic reforms. It focuses on the social and institutional conditions for improving the EU’s capacity and resilience. That includes examining the social basis for reforms through surveying individuals in terms of what they see as the main problems facing the EU and in terms of what constitutional visions they prefer or reject (a two-tiered Union, a federal type Union or a Union of multiple speeds). EU3D also focuses on the role of media as core conveyers of information on what the EU is, as well as institutional proponents of democratic reforms – parliaments and regional/municipal actors, coupled with a broad assessment of future of Europe reform proposals.

Policy and polity recommendations: By singling out those forms of differentiation that engender dominance, EU3D aims to provide important knowledge of the conditions under which reforms may fail or succeed. It provides benchmarks for determining which polity models are viable and which ones are not.
In the first project period (1.2.2019-31.1.2020) EU3D refined the analytical framework, which was widely discussed, revised and updated, before publication as EU3D Research Papers No. 1: ‘Europe’s triangular challenge: Differentiation, dominance and democracy’. This work tied in with the ongoing operationalization of the project across work packages and in relation to key empirical cases.

EU3D started the assessment of problematic forms of differentiation, i.e. associated with dominance. Researchers specified the relevant dimensions of dominance and their relation to differentiation, including key causal drivers and mechanisms, to address the fragmentation, the hegemony and the voluntary submission hypotheses. A report outlining the key principles, underlying logic and types of affiliation for non-members is forthcoming. EU3D emphasizes the need to trace the historical roots and/or external sources of those forms that we identify as pathological differentiation. EU3D is attentive to structural forms of dominance and differentiation, and the role of path dependence and built-in bias, as well as the historical dimension in EU external relations. EU3D moreover compares and contrasts the EU with other forms of political entity, where work in the first period has focused on two federal polities; the US and Canada.

With regard to EU reforms, EU3D examines popular perceptions and bases for understanding and accepting differentiation, and examines parliaments as sources of reforms. EU3D planned surveys and survey experiments to increase our understanding of how citizens across Europe conceive of and evaluate different types of differentiation and possible EU reforms. The analytical framework for media analysis was completed and expanded to serve as methodology and coding protocol for quantitative and qualitative analyses of all textual material. A media analysis framing paper was published as EU3D Research Papers No. 3: ‘EU differentiation, dominance and the control function of journalism’.

EU3D worked on developing a database on future of EU reform proposals to provide a systematic assessment in line with the EU3D analytical framework. EU3D developed guidelines and a coding protocol for collecting reform proposals. A qualitative analysis of a select number of actors and topics in the future of Europe debate was conducted to build the analytical assessment scheme. Plans were made for involving policy specialists and stakeholders through policy dialogue meetings in spring 2020.

Finally, EU3D actively engaged with stakeholders to ensure a strong linkage of research and policy in the area of differentiation. It launched the Future of Europe blog and the EU3D Insights series. Some of EU3D advisory board members who are high-profile policy experts and Members of the European Parliament were actively involved in project activities and events and contributed valuable reflections on the project’s approach and analyses. EU3D engaged with policy stakeholders in a first policy dialogue meeting on the outcome of the Sibiu summit (May 2019), and in a workshop on Brexit (Sep 2019).
EU3D’s critical theory of political differentiation is intended to serve as a sorting mechanism for separating constructive from pathological forms of differentiation. It is essential for the design of future differentiation scenarios because it provides us with benchmarks for determining which polity models are viable and which ones are not. EU3D provides important knowledge on the conditions under which reforms may fail or succeed, and thereby supports the EU in concentrating reform efforts on the most pressing concerns (including the latest issues pertaining to the corona pandemic). This is crucial to ensure the EU’s governing capacity and resilience over time. In terms of wider societal impacts, EU3D aims to give citizens a better understanding of the conditions and limitations of European integration and the different future scenarios, with the long-term impact of changing mindsets and reframing public and policy debates.
EU3D public debate on the future of Europe with Amato, Harkin, Piris, Isiksel, Mény
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EU3D project participants at the opening conference in Rome, 11-12 April 2019