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  Will the EU get over the „Augustan threshold“?

Benas Brunalas
2010 10 07

Although according to F.Fukuyama, the victory of the West should have determined the „end of the history“ two decades ago, this didn‘t happen: a multi-polar world began to crystallize, new economic and political powers emerged, whereas the democratic principle of existence ceased to be the only optimal principle. In this context it is important to realize what is behind the European Union. Its integration, management and possible „politic finalitéof the „EU Project“ have become an object of discussions among the academic layers and political analysts.

Quite many experts refer to the EU as a future world leader and foresee that its governance methods will be applied by other states or their allies. And these are not just empty statements.  One of the most interesting is J.Zelionka‘s theory. According to it, the EU is a phenomenal derivation which reminds the Neo-medieval Empire. Besides its peculiarities (multicultural, with undefined borders, poly-centric, with divided sovereignty etc.), the author highlights the normative power of the EU. Based on attractive democratic values and high living standards, this power made many countries seek membership in the European Union.

Having started absorbing huge EU support funds, new Member States were optimistic about the future. European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia etc.) elaborated actions plans directed from Brussels. Although not all recommendations were attractive for the local elite, harmonization of laws and other regulatory enactments with the EU‘s requirements did take place. This demonstrated a connection between the center and periphery: the enormous space, territorial expansion, sovereignty, diverse cultural and ethnic community and the ambition to become hegemony are imperative qualities of an empire.

An attempt to refer to the EU as an empire is an issue of discussions, but the reasons of this attempt are even more interesting. The concept „empire“ first of all is related to huge power and a possibility to claim hegemony in a certain territory. Therefore an attempt to refer to the EU as an empire would mean that it has or had a potential for that. After the EU‘s enlargement in 2004, „imperial considerations“ became more and more relevant. But what will happen six years after the enlargement?

The global economic crisis hit Europe most of all. The weakened euro determined the decrease of the traction power of the European political and economic „magnet“, therefore its is difficult to believe that increasing disappointment of Ukraine, Belarus and other ENP countries in the Eastern Neighborhood policy is not a consequence of the domino effect.

Critical situation revealed other EU problems, and first of all inability or unwillingness of Member States to treat the EU as something more than a union. Energy, defense and development policy are the spheres where separate states still lack will and courage in overcoming the barriers of national interests.

It is hardly probable that in the future national states will lose their current status in Europe, that instead of the French, Spanish or Lithuanians there‘ll be only Europeans; however, without key transnational commonalities there is a threat that the work done will be in vain.  It is dangerous to talk and not make actual actions, since this can be quickly detected not only by the potential EU candidates, but also by real competitors.

When speaking about empires, M.Doyle uses the concept of the „Augustan threshold“. This is a moment of history of an empire when after internal crises or wars there is a real threat for the existence of an empire.  The Roman Empire reached this threshold when after the expansion to the Mediterranean countries the political structure of the city-state turned out to be ineffective for the existence under new conditions. The emperor August Octavian initiated reforms and managed to pass the above threshold and continue expansion. However, not all empires managed to cope with crises. We can ask: will the EU manage to pass the „Augustan threshold“? And what measures should be taken in order to pass this threshold?

A total of EUR 700 billion allocated for the support of the euro zone program is an important step, but it rescues only one field. In order to prevent an empire from destruction it is necessary to focus on other issues of the EU policy. Success could come from innovations stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty, especially from the collective defense obligation committing the states to provide support to a country which has become a victim of military aggression. The Treaty‘s intention to „register“ the so far „non-formal clubs“, which were under suspicion because of „the multi-speed Europe“, might become an important issue in securing the transnational trust. However, the progress is first of all necessary in the spheres where the states feel most vulnerable, i.e. in energy and defense.

When so much is done already, it is possible to accomplish this task as well, and it might not be so difficult to reach mutual agreements.

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