Research

What are the democratic potentials and the dominance pitfalls of differentiation in today’s EU?

Differentiation: democracy versus dominance

The European Union has gone through a remarkable development, expanding in depth and breadth 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, which has become more differentiated over time.

The many crises and challenges that the EU has faced over the last decade have exposed the EU’s vulnerability to volatile markets, an increasingly unpredictable global geopolitical scene, and increased domestic opposition. The UK’s decision in 2016 to leave the EU shows that we can no longer assume that all states will move in the same integrationist direction, which is what differentiated integration assumes. Brexit is a stark reminder that the EU is confronting a disintegration challenge.

EU3D flyer (pdf)

EU3D accordingly shifts the focus to differentiation, which is not tied to any specific direction of change but encompasses both integration and disintegration. All modern political systems are differentiated; the EU is however distinctly so. The problem is that the EU that emerged from the financial and refugee crises is associated with less democracy and more dominance. EU3D understands dominance 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, in other words when conditions of dominance prevail. 

By doing so, EU3D links up with the Future of Europe debate and the comprehensive reform debate initiated by the EU in the wake of the UK referendum, as reflected in the 2016 Bratislava Declaration and the European Commission’s 2017 White Paper.

The need for theory

The EU’s challenges are unique, and require the development of a suitable analytical approach. EU3D develops a 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.

  • Analytical framework: Political differentiation and the spectre of dominance (WP1)

Problem diagnosis

EU3D’s sorting process starts with a diagnostic approach that helps sharpen the theory. 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.

  • Problematic forms of EU-internal differentiation (WP2)
  • EU-external differentiation and the question of dominance (WP3)

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 questioning the social basis for reforms through surveying individuals both 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. 

  • Public opinions, debates and reforms (WP4)
  • Future of Europe reforms (WP5)

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 engages with a broad set of policy stakeholders from EU member states, affiliated and neighbouring states, as well as a post-Brexit UK. Through an active dialogue with the Advisory Board, a Policy Network and other stakeholders, the viewpoints and experiences of critical stakeholders will feed into academic discussions.

EU3D aims to inform public debates about the future design of the EU through a series of public events and a comprehensive media strategy. EU3D aims to give citizens a better understanding of the conditions for and limitations of European integration.