Just been asked an interesting question: what’s the biggest challenge facing the EU over the coming years? Pretty wide-ranging, huh?! But good to get thinking. So here was my instinctive response, in a short thread:
1) Would be easy to pick one from long list of current problems: post-pandemic economic recovery, climate crisis, digital transformation, threat to basic values posed by Hungary / Poland, how to tackle global instability & its consequences, eg for mass migration etc etc
2) But for me, EU faces more long term & underpinning challenge, which (for the EU as such) is arguably at least as serious as any one of those (still considerable) current & specific problems. Let’s call it the challenge of the “existential reflex”. By which I mean:
3) In most constitutional systems, if the current administration does something we don’t like, we usually blame the administration for getting its policies wrong. We don’t immediately question the validity or existence of the entire constitutional system per se.
4) Whereas when comes to EU, is depressingly normal to do just that. Something goes wrong (often something that happens in EU, not necessarily done by EU itself). Rather than just challenge specific policy / failing, many people see it as grounds to question EU’s very existence.
5) Why do so many people have that instinctive response in case of EU, when would never do it with (say) state, university, employer etc? Might be good reasons eg reveals tenuous bonds of allegiance. Might be bad eg deliberate political tactic encouraged by Europhobes (as in UK).
6) Whatever causes, problem has dogged EU for decades & remains [arguably most] serious challenge. Huge amounts of good work & delivery count for nothing when 1 mistake or problem resets dial to zero, undermining whole idea of cross-border cooperation through shared institutions.
7) How to solve it? If only I knew that answer... Surely calls for multi-pronged solutions, eg EU reaching out better to its citizens, Member States being more responsible about giving credit / taking blame, commentators showing greater responsibility in own existential reflexes.
8) But part of response is to convey idea: EU’s job is, after all, to respond to crises. That’s what it’s there for: help tackle problems MSs can’t solve on their own. And crucially: many of those problems don’t have any real “solution”. They just need to be managed through…
9) … until next crisis comes along and attention shifts to that instead! Question isn’t: did EU solve problem, let alone solve it perfectly? Question is rather: was problem less damaging thanks to EU involvement, than would have been if left to individual MSs to sort out alone?
10) None of which is to deny constant need/justification for challenging EU policies & asking how system as a whole can be improved. But constructive criticism is very different from the “existential reflex”. An essentially destructive reaction, offering nothing better in itself?

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More from @mdouganlpool

13 Mar
Twitter’s great for slagging off Brexit. But even better when you learn something new. Especially from collective wisdom. As I did from responses to yesterday’s thread on the EU’s “existential challenge”. So: quick follow-up with some reflections, inspired by replies/comments:
1) Worth clarifying: idea of “existential reflex” is not that large numbers of people want their MS to leave EU, or for EU to cease existing. [Though if don’t mind me saying: seems bit complacent to say “noone thinks like that in my MS"; let alone forget there are other MSs too!]
2) Instead, idea behind "existential reflex" is whether significant numbers of citizens have really *internalised* what it means to be a Member State of the EU, in the same way as they take for granted the institutions / roles / powers of their own state.
Read 13 tweets
10 Mar
Johnson Regime claims its unilateral action re NI is not in breach of Protocol, it's just a pragmatic delay of checks, to give more time to prepare, as part of a border regime that was only ever meant to be light touch anyway. Utter rubbish on every front. To be more precise:
1) if UK needed more time to prepare, could easily have had it: Withdrawal Agreement allowed for extension of transition. But Johnson ruled that out, regardless of consquences for NI. Worse: actively misled public / business about what was coming. Problem= entirely created by HMG
2) UK having refused extension, Protocol system came into force. Its rules are crystal clear. As is fact that UK is now breaking them. Those rules can be altered, but only by mutual agreement. As EU & UK did in Dec 2020. But this time, UK isn't seeking to act in concert with EU.
Read 6 tweets
9 Mar
Plenty to ponder in the new Joint Declaration concerning the "Conference on the Future of Europe" - intended to provide momentum for next "big round" of EU reflection, debate and reform. Just a few quick thoughts from me:
1) Political scientists will evaluate this new exercise in deliberative democracy: its benefits / limits. But 1 group whose input isn't specifically flagged up: millions of citizens who reside outside EU territory (migrants or national minorities). How will their voice be heard?
2) agenda is very broadbrush. But striking difference, eg from previous Commission reflection papers? No talk about differentiated integration / two speed Europe etc. Instead: declaration stresses "European solidarity"... Has Brexit dulled taste for "core + periphery" membership?
Read 4 tweets
4 Mar
Good question: should European Parliament veto Trade & Cooperation Agreement with UK, in protest at Johnson Regime's latest contempt for obligations freely undertaken under NI Protocol?

Tricky calculation. No clear answer. But on balance, I'd advise "no", for following reasons:
Job of EU in general, and EP in particular, is to uphold European values & defend European interests. Often a complex, difficult task. Especially when principled values & pragmatic interests might pull in different directions. As arguably they do here. Though only arguably.
One hand: EU knows current UK regime is untrustworthy, if not actively antagonistic, even a direct threat to foundations of European cooperation. Punishing disregard of law sends important signal in defence of rules-based international order - even if it comes with a price.
Read 7 tweets
4 Mar
What should we make of the latest developments over NI and the Protocol, i.e. UK’s (second, clear) breach of international legal obligations + escalation of DUP-led agitation through direct loyalist threats to GFA? A few thoughts...
1) Most generous explanation for HMG’s actions? Tories are now more worried about potential for DUP & paramilitary allies to plunge NI into serious disorder, than about immediate legal and diplomatic consequences of UK’s international lawbreaking
2) But more likely explanation (since it fits into clear & established pattern)? Johnson only ever signed Protocol to “get Brexit done” with no real grasp of its implications / sincere intention of implementing it in good faith, so HMG simply places little value on own compliance
Read 9 tweets
9 Feb
Want to understand better why Johnson’s “amazing deal” hasn’t stopped systematic problems in EU-UK trade - and why these aren't just teething issues, but permanent structural problems?

Here are some key points - crucial context to help explain why EU-UK deal is so limited:
1) Trade in goods is much easier to facilitate than trade in services. EU-UK deal concentrates largely on goods, has much less to say on services – even though latter make up vast bulk of UK economy - and is especially poor where goods and services need to combine together.
2) As regards goods, to trade lawfully in the EU, any third country supplier needs to cross 2 main hurdles: their goods must enter into "free circulation"; and their goods must undergo "lawful marketing". If both hurdles are crossed, goods are treated (almost) like EU own-goods.
Read 16 tweets

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