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EU Differentiation, Dominance and Democracy

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EU3D (EU Differentiation, Dominance and Democracy)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

The European Union (EU) has become more differentiated, especially in the last few decades. Further, in connection with the financial and refugee crises, there are accounts of a rise in domination understood as unjustified exercises of power. The many crises and challenges have exposed the EU’s vulnerability to authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia, volatile international markets, and domestic Eurosceptic forces and movements. Further, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted last year that ‘the COVID-19 crisis is the biggest challenge the EU has faced since the Second World War’. The COVID-19 crisis may amplify existing lines of division, generate new ones, or spur efforts to rectify problems, old and new.
In addressing the EU’s ability to grapple with these challenges, we need to keep in mind that the EU is a distinctly differentiated political system, which has bearings on the EU’s ability to deal with the problems of dominance and the prospects for establishing viable democracy.

EU3D’s main objective is 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 pertaining to economic governance, the role and status of refugees and border controls, as well as terrorist and other security threats. EU3D traces their causes and structural-historical embedding and considers the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to these findings, with emphasis on governing capacity and legitimacy, and to clarify 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 (the models are presented in: EU constitutional models in 3D - differentiation, dominance and democracy, EU3D Research Papers 15). 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. EU3D will also provide more specific policy recommendations.
In the second project period (1.2.2020-31.7.2021) EU3D has worked on refining and applying the analytical framework, which was presented in EU3D Research Papers 1: ‘Europe’s triangular challenge: Differentiation, dominance and democracy’. The nuts and bolts of EU3D’s framework – the specific instructions to guide the specific examinations in all of EU3D’s work packages – has proceeded in close interaction between WP1 and the other WPs. EU3D is assessing the historical roots of problematic forms of differentiation in the forthcoming journal special issue ‘Historical sources of domination in EU economic governance’ (D2.3) as well as in ‘The limits of voluntary submission: dominance frames in Polish parliamentary debates on EU accession’ (D3.2). The relationship between dominance and differentiation – with explicit attention also to the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is assessed in the forthcoming book ‘EU differentiation and the question of domination: from the financial crisis to COVID-19’ (D2.1 D2.2). The key principles, underlying logic and types of affiliation for non-members have been established in EU3D Report 1 (D3.1). EU3D compares and contrasts the EU with other forms of political entity: two federal polities; the US and Canada (EU3D Research Papers 16) (D3.6) and two regional associations, ASEAN and Mercosur.

With regard to EU reforms, EU3D examines popular perceptions and bases for understanding and accepting differentiation, and examines parliaments as sources of reforms. EU3D’s 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 were conducted and preliminary results presented in EU3D Research Paper 13. The media assessments are proceeding, including focus on social media as reported in EU3D Research Papers 10. Preliminary results from the analyses of parliamentary debates were presented in the research brief ‘Differentiated (segmented) debate on the future of Europe: the views from national parliaments’.

EU3D’s database on future of EU reform proposals will cover the period 2015 to mid-2022 and thus far includes 412 proposals. This analysis, combined with the surveys and parliamentary debates enables EU3D’s researchers to situate the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe within a broader context of proposals and debates on the future of Europe.

Finally, EU3D actively engaged with stakeholders to ensure a strong linkage of research and policy in the area of differentiation through numerous events and activities. A series of policy dialogues have been organized, linked to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to the Conference on the Future of Europe. EU3D’s first policy brief voices concerns about the nature and direction of the Conference. EU3D has made analyses and insights available to a broader audience on the Future of Europe Blog and in the EU3D Insights series, and researchers have been invited to discuss their ongoing research with policy stakeholders and practitioners at numerous external events and have done podcast and news media interviews.
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). 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.
EU3D public debate on the future of Europe with Amato, Harkin, Piris, Isiksel, Mény
EU3D project participants at the opening conference in Rome, 11-12 April 2019