REVIEW #16: Is Stronger European Union Good for Eastern Europe? Disentangling Various Interests and Points of View

Olga Łabendowicz for Review

When one would like to ascertain whether a stronger or a weaker European Union is better, one has to ask two questions first: 1) For whom is it good or bad, and 2) for what purpose?  In other words, one has to tackle the issue of a vantage point. At the very least, one has to make the distinction between the interests of the citizens and those of the ruling elite as they do not naturally converge. Especially in autocracies.

Once we have looked at the actual preferences of EU citizens – and the differences between EU27 and Eastern European citizens, if any – we have to make the case for good governance being different from local governance. In order to gain clarity, we shall dispose of all the proxies to good governance (such as local or grass root), because these will always be suboptimal methods of ascertaining the quality of governance. 

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National, local, and EU-level governance are poor proxies to ascertaining whether governance is good, because none are an assurance in itself of the respect for civil liberties, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Setting these various levels of governance in check of each other might be. 

Then, one has to look at the nature of good governance and make the distinction between a strong state and a big state. Support may exist for one, but not for the other – both on the national and on the EU level. If we look at the list of what Eastern Europeans want or like about the EU, it can be observed that a strong (and value-based) EU is wanted, not a big one (in the sense of a big state, i.e., overregulation, meddling, and micromanagement).

Surprisingly, the support for more decisions to be made on the EU level appears strong. It may, however, not be a sign of demand for a big state, but rather that the harmonization of regulations tends to benefit individual citizens, with only secondary attention paid to the content of those regulations. 

One the one hand, harmonization eliminates the competition between jurisdictions, enabling suboptimal rules to persist without the possibility of an escape through exit. On the other hand, it reduces cross-border bureaucracy and increases transparency. One may choose to get upset about alleged infamous regulations about bananas – but one may also realize that it would replace up to 27 national regulations of the same thing. 


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