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28th April 2021

Featured Review

The European Integration Crisis

An Economic Analysis

 By Marek Loužek and Luboš Smrčka

Reviewed by Dr Viktoriya Fedorchak

(Lecturer in European Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

The field of European Studies, just like any well-established area of scientific research, can be characterised by the dominance of traditional theories and conceptual frameworks. However, new events and crises in the EU and European integration processes pose challenges and opportunities for developing research and the discipline. This small piece aims to review the book The European Integration Crisis: An Economic Analysis by Marek Loužek and Luboš Smrčka.

The book’s primary purpose is to bridge the gap in European integration methodology by combining economics and political science through the means of public choice theory. The authors argue that public choice theory is a suitable tool for analysis of the European integration process since it allows us to explore interests of consumers, politicians, and nations that drive their decision-making. Consequently, the authors aim to provide a more realistic assessment of European integration than that offered by the idealist constructivist approach that has dominated research on the subject. In doing so, the book addresses the traditional topics of European Studies and approaches them from a different angle using the offered theoretical framework.

Unlike most works on European integration theories, the first chapter places European integration within the broader context of International Relations (IR), explaining traditional theories of idealism and realism while gradually setting the scene for rational choice theory and public choice theory as a means of analysis. Moreover, the authors identify the potential for multi-level analysis, including the individual level (p. 33), which is often underrepresented in various European integration theories.

In Chapter 2, attention is paid to the history of European integration, illustrating the difference between the idealist concept of collaboration for the sake of peace, prosperity, and security (p. 71) and the more pragmatic reality of member states with different cultural and national interests (p.72-73). In this context, various features of antagonism within the EU are addressed in Chapter 3. Interestingly, the discussion of discontent with EU membership does not stop with the British example of Brexit as an ‘opening shot’' in the EU’s disintegration (p.121), but, instead, goes further and looks into national examples of discontent in Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland. Section 3.7, titled ‘Itexit, Czexit, Polexit…’ (pp.121-127) provides novel perspectives on the current trends and perceptions of integration in those countries.

Chapter 4 engages with traditional European integration theories, particularly federalism and intergovernmental approaches, with a gradual move towards a cost-benefit analysis of European membership for various stakeholders, including politicians and individuals (p.163). This chapter is of particular relevance for the contemporary research and teaching of European integration since it provides insights into the prisoner's dilemma of political rhetoric and the current form of the EU (pp. 165-169).

Chapter 5 explores the correlation between European integration and globalisation and their irreversible nature, and the strengthening trends towards nationalisation and prioritisation of sovereignty by various countries in Europe. Chapter 6 investigates political power through the lens of public choice theory by using quantitative methods of analysis through a model aiming to ‘identify and quantify the voting power individual countries have within the EU both before and after enlargement’ (p. 221).

In addition to a detailed and multi-faceted conceptual discussion of European integration, the book is also very prominent in addressing the most recent crises in the EU from a critical and more realistic perspective. As such, the final two chapters are devoted to the practical cases of the Eurozone Crisis and the Migration Crisis respectively. In both chapters, the authors provide a more sobering and critical evaluation of various dynamics in the EU during both crises. The section on ‘The Euro and the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe’ is a must-read since it provides important insights into where the Eurozone might be heading and what drives the decisions of countries in the region.

The final case study of migration is also very detailed, exploring the traditional economic and legal matters of migration from outside the EU and the challenges of intra-EU East-West migration, and provides some solutions for solving the migrant crisis (p. 355). Moreover, the authors raise the problematic question of citizenship and naturalisation as being partial without migrants’ integration into civil society and more informal social structures (p. 359).

Overall, the content outlined above illustrates that the book provides detailed evidence in favour of using public choice theory for analysis and teaching of European integration. For me, as a course coordinator of Theory of European Integration, this book is a must-have, since it allows for balancing out traditional theories and constructivist approaches with more realistic methods of evaluating current European affairs. Moreover, placing the chosen theory into a broader IR framework allows students to use more theories to compare and analyse European integration, besides traditional ones like federalism, intergovernmentalism, and intuitionalism. Another strength of this book is that it makes a strong case for reviving a more pragmatic and realistic evaluation of the European integration process that is far beyond the conceptual idealism from which it originated. Moreover, the concise chapters and clear sub-sections make this book ideal for inclusion in various courses on European integration or European Studies, in general.

Regarding criticism, I think that from my perspective as an expert in the security side of European foreign policy, I most certainly would have hoped to see at least a section, if not a chapter, on defence and security-related topics. I think public choice theory and quantitative analysis could be a perfect fit for addressing EU member states’ unity or disunity regarding the Common Defence and Security Policy and consequent decision-making. A suggestion rather than criticism is applying this theory to the current COVID-19 situation and crisis management in the EU.

Overall, this is a very relevant and current book that would be a valuable addition to European Integration theory courses and other European Studies courses. It most certainly is a useful read for anyone researching European Studies, both theoretically and empirically.

Dr Viktoriya Fedorchak is a Lecturer in European Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Her research explores contemporary security environment and how European countries and their armed forces respond to arising challenges in the strategic environment. View staff profile at NTNU

The European Integration Crisis: An Economic Analysis is available now at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.

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