AuthorNaumescu, Valentin
  1. Introduction: Why does the EU need reforms?

    In the weeks and months following the shocking result of the Brexit referendum, a number of significant proposals coming from prominent European politicians gave the first indication that the EU 27 is ready to assume essential reforms of its strategy and policies. It was still in the summer and autumn of 2016, before the crucial electoral year 2017 brought encouraging victories for the pro-European candidates in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Facing the perspective of its own disintegration, after the first exit of a Member State, the Union had to act decisively to strengthen its attractiveness and effectiveness among the remaining 27 Member States. Even though we can presume that those documents were conceptualized and prepared before the Brexit referendum, their impact, symbolism and political added-value were very much augmented in the context of the surprising UK decision to leave the European Union.

    The first major proposal belonged to the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini who presented in June 2016 the EU's Global Strategy on foreign policy and security, called 'Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe'. Later on, in October 2016, the Council adopted its first conclusions on the Global Strategy and decided five priority areas for the next year: 'Resilience building and integrated approach to conflicts and crises; Security and defense; Strengthening the nexus between internal and external policies; Updating existing or preparing new regional and thematic strategies; Stepping up public diplomacy efforts' (Council of the European Union, 2016). It was a clear indication that the EU was already intending to improve its external action, based on a mix of political and public management approaches.

    The second reforming project was co-authored by the French and German defense ministers. Ursula Von der Leyen and Jean Yves Le Drian sent in September 2016 a common letter to Brussels for establishing a Defense Union to 'reinforce our solidarity and European defense capabilities in order to more effectively protect the citizens and borders of Europe' (Von der Leyen and Le Drian apud Rettman, 2016). Based on the mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) between a certain group of EU Member States, stipulated in the articles 42(6) and 46 of the EU Treaty, any possible development in this sense was repeatedly blocked by the UK until 2016, on the reason of a possible NATO's weakening. Brexit was therefore opening the gates in Brussels for the establishment of PESCO in the field of defense.

    The question of the European Union's reform, both in its internal and external dimensions, dominated the post-British referendum era. Moreover, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in November 2016 augmented the perception of an urgent need of action in order to save the European Project from the temptations of populism. Several political and public management/administrative approaches focused on the idea of reform and the interests of the citizens, even though in the field of strategic policies such as Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) it is difficult to identify and speak on behalf of the 'interests of the citizens'. Polls are not of a great help, taking into consideration the sophistication of the topics, the incomplete information available at public level and the difficulty to 'translate' technical aspects of defense and security into basic public questions.

    The purpose of this paper is to identify, explore and compare the main political and administrative perspectives regarding the European Union's reform, with a special focus on the Permanent Structured Cooperation. The research question is what possible directions can take the existing approaches in the field of defense policy and what consequences might have on the future of the European Union. The chosen methodology consists of a qualitative comparative analysis of official documents, political statements and administrative options related to the topic.

    The structure of the article comprises four sections: an introduction meant to present the defining aspects with regard to this research, a theoretical framework reviewing the literature of the EU reforms, an empirical research on PESCO as it is profiling nowadays, and finally the concluding remarks.

  2. Theoretical framework

    A vast literature covers the never-ending debate of the European Union's reform. In fact, the EU was from the moment of its foundation in search of the right direction for the next 'reform', in order to respond more and more adequately to permanently renewing challenges and opportunities. The reforming approaches usually pivoted between (neo)functionalism (Haas, 1958), liberal intergovernmentalism (Moravcsik, 1998), and historic institutionalism (Pierson, 1996). It was therefore not the British referendum of 2016 the event that 'invented' the topic of the EU reform, but definitely Brexit poured oil on fire. That is why we consider that the so-called 'refoundation' suggested by the French President Emmanuel Macron (Reuters, 2017) is just a different, spectacular denomination within this long series of reforms. Politicians and high ranking bureaucrats, policy experts and academics but also journalists and civil society contribute to this intense debate of reform.

    To give an example of typical academic assertion on the EU crisis and the need of political and administrative reforms, which was also valid in 2010, just after the 'new' Treaty of Lisbon (2009) entered into force, the public was informed that: 'today, the EU sits at a difficult crossroads. Its dramatic increase in policy capacity has yet to be matched with mechanisms of democratic representation or streamlined decision-making, leaving it less than effective and often unloved' (McNamara, 2010). Needless to say this wording could be easily applied for the 1970s or the 1980s as well as for the present context. It does not mean that nothing happened in the European Union since then. The idea that we are heading towards a finality of the European Union, where the organization will eventually meet the perfect shape, functions and structure is obviously a chimera of all political epochs.

    Eight years before the quake of Brexit, in his book explaining 'what's wrong with the European Union and how to fix it', Simon Hix made a premonitory remark: 'referendums are a crude and ineffectual mechanism for expressing citizens' preferences on EU policy issues. What is missing is a more open debate about the emerging politics inside the Brussels beltway and clearer connections between this politics and citizens' view' (Hix, 2008, p. 5). Hix was right in the sense that he anticipated the risk that a popular consultation on EU policy issues could be distorted by the political interests of the competitors, using a wide arsenal of manipulation, fake news, hiding half of the necessary information etc., so that the ordinary voters do not know in the end what exactly they are voting for or against.

    In a book whose title almost tells the essence, 'Reforming the European Union: Realizing the Impossible', the authors speak about the Sisyphean effort of trying to reform the European Union; according to Daniel Finke and Thomas Konig, 'every three to four years, the EU has tried to assess and reform its institutions, since the mid-1980s to the beginning of the twenty-first century, but with little success. [...] The reason for the slow rate of change was the opposition to far-reaching institutional reform from a minority of political leaders. As expected, the enlargement of 20042007 increased the number of political leaders opposed to reform' (Finke et al., 2012, p. 1). The authors do not specify whether the increased number of political leaders opposing the reform refers necessarily to the ones from the new Member States or to western politicians who criticized the extension to the East or to both categories, but the thesis associates the failure of the reform with some of the political leaders from the Union. Four years before the Brexit referendum, the authors were analyzing the lack of political accountability regarding the significances of the failed referendums for the EU Treaties' ratification in France, Netherlands and Ireland.

    In 2014, at the end of the Euro Zone crisis and just when Greece was about to be saved for the second time from bankruptcy, the economists John Peet and Anton La Guardia published their version of 'how the Euro crisis and Europe can be fixed', under the influence of the paradigm 'if the euro fails, Europe fails': 'the euro has been saved, at least for a while. But even as economic output begins slowly to recover, the euro zone remains vulnerable and the wider European projects remain under acute strain' (Peet and La Guardia, 2014, p. 6). The economic approach will remain however one of the main directions of the EU reforms, especially focused on the Eurozone.

    As for the administrative perspective, the first observation is that EU Member States have their own national administrative systems, while the idea of European integration in public administration made just a few timid steps. There is no 'administrative pillar' of the European Union, as it happens for instance with the economic and monetary union. Isolated projects such as the Support for Improvement in...

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