Shaping the future of the EU : reviving the Europeanisation process

More than ten years after joining the EU, the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) exhibit a puzzle of attitudes and conceptions regarding the EU. The long-awaited convergence of direction between old and new, West and East, core and periphery, which academics of European integration claimed will automatically follow after CEECs gained access to membership, is still ‘work in progress’. Unconditional and sustained engagement with the EU is no longer the norm in the CEE member states, beliefs and norms at the European and national level become to different extents for some member states contradictory to European ones, while some political elites find more inspiration for their policy-making and governance styles abroad than among their EU peers.

Against this patchwork of levels of engagement with the EU, the process of Europeanisation in the CEECs can now be discussed from a new perspective, that of de-Europeanisation. If Europeanisation can be defined as a dynamic transformation of domestic structures because of EU membership, the concept of de-Europeanisation has been approached as a “departure from the European model” (Castaldo and Pinna) emerging “at an informal level”, namely in “attitudes, values, praxes and ways of doing things”, or as “an indispensable part of the outcome range” of the process of Europeanisation (Schimmelfenning, Wozniakowski and Matlak). This paper regards de-Europeanisation as a possible (though not mandatory and arguably avoidable) stage in the Europeanisation process, implying a manifest disengagement with EU’s values, rules, procedures and institutions or openly contesting these. It has a transformative impact both at the domestic and EU level, as it obstructs progress towards advancing European integration, by undermining internal cohesion, mutual trust and collective power of action (including credibility and legitimacy of the EU at home and abroad). It is in order to prevent a process of de-Europeanisation to install itself in Europe that one can argue that a new and more constructive dynamic must be instilled in the Europeanisation process.

A reset for the Europeanisation process is vital, in a context where the de-Europeanisation stage poses a problem of becoming to the EU. As Professor Weiler argues, the European project was established on three “founding ideals” namely peace, prosperity and supranationalism, however it has been increasingly reduced to a “market inflected scheme of cooperation (...) [where]only prosperity resonates as a still-current value in European public discourse”. Faced with this dilution of values and instrumental use of membership status, the Europeanisation process seems to quickly lose in capacity of constructively transforming EU actors, in the sense of directing them towards greater convergence. Initiatives such as values-based allocation of structural funds, although reasonable, if segmented and not part from a comprehensive framework of action, are not likely to yield long-term sustainable and positive outcomes for the EU. Hence, an Europeanisation reset must be conceptualised based on three essential preconditions: Europeanisation must be seen as part of a larger project of establishing a new political and legal European order (n°1); it must be founded on the logic that “If Europeanization is to produce change, it must precede change” (C. Radaelli) - thus have a proactive dimension (n°2); it ought to be acknowledged as “both vision and process” (Borneman and Fowler) (n°3).

Thus, a reset of the Europeanisation process should be comprehensive, prospective and proactive in order to deliver a long-term valuable change in the current state of EU affairs. To be more specific, this renewed model should be able to strengthen a community of shared values, where legitimacy and cooperation are based on the principles of a level playing field and inclusive governance.

Upgrading Europeanisation: towards an interactive, citizens-oriented and inclusive process

Building a Europeanisation 3.0 model does not involve starting from scratch the Europeanisation process and rejecting the mechanisms used in the past (e.g. conditionality). On the contrary, we ought to capitalize on what has been achieved and acknowledge the problems currently existing in the Europeanisation process in order to come up with a series of constructive proposals for reform, meant to render it more resilient and pervasive. Three pillars have been identified as essential for this new phase: interactive economic Europeanisation (i), building a transnational civil society (ii) and evolving towards an inclusive governance in EU affairs (iii). Because this reset means a ‘titanic’ work in practice, it is useful to reflect upon these changes as happening over a longer period. To render the concept of Europeanisation 3.0 more operational, a Theory of Change model can be used to trace progress and adapt action depending on changing realities on the ground.

1 - Interactive economic Europeanisation

S. Andersen put forward the concept of “interactive convergence” which defines a “mutually reinforcing interaction between EU level pressures and national level interests”, displaying “low pressures for de-coupling”, given that “there are local incentives to enact the spirit of EU level decision and rules”. We draw on this concept in order to propose the first pillar of Europeanisation 3.0, namely interactive economic Europeanisation as a mechanism oriented towards achieving economic convergence with due consideration to Member States’ needs and peculiarities and via a collaborative loop between the European Commission, the Member States, businesses and civil society. The three main ways to enact interactive economic Europeaniation are detailed below.

1.1 ESIF assistance

EU funds absorption has been an issue for the CEECs, especially because of insufficient administrative capacity and superficial regionalisation, eventually preventing the neediest EU citizens to benefit from resources meant to raise their living standards. To remedy this, the EU can create a mechanism via which regions may request technical assistance and training should they face difficulties related to access and use of structural funds. Such a mechanism could be similar to OECD’s initiative “Tax Inspectors without Borders”, a demand-driven project, whereby participating countries needing support to reform their tax administration submit a request and are eventually provided with support tailored to their needs. An efficient and constructive way to provide assistance would be to attach an assistance branch dedicated to European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) to the existing Structural Reform and Support Service (SRSS) and increase its budget. SRSS was launched in 2017, with a budget of 222.8 m for 2017-2020 period, as a mechanism to support member states when they undertake institutional, structural and administrative reforms, being available upon request and totally free of charge. This scheme has been unexpectedly successful in the eyes of the European Commission: “demand has far out-stripped expectations”, with already 26 EU countries having appealed to the SRSS for 760 projects; other projects could not be attended due to lack of financing. In 2018, the Commission proposed to make the SRSS evolve towards a Reform Support Program with a budget of €25bn for 2021-2027 period, organised in three streams: Reform Delivery Tool (€22bn), Technical Support System (€1bn), Convergence Facility (€2bn of financing for countries preparing their accession to the euro area). The EU must seize this window of opportunity (reform of SRSS and member states’ proven interest for assistance) and create a technical assistance arm of SRSS focused on ESIF, hence encouraging a case-based cooperation on solving the conundrum of low funds absorption.

1.2 Boosting the scope of the Juncker Plan

A second type of interactive economic Europeanisation technique is sharing best practices and scaling up initiatives emerging as part of the Juncker Plan. As of March 2019, EU-wide results showed an impressive performance of CEECs: half of them ranked among the 10 first member states who triggered most of the structural and investment funds in terms of investment per € of GDP (Estonia #2nd, Bulgaria #3rd, Lithuania 6th, Poland 7th, Latvia 8th). This is a great opportunity to, on the one hand, promote them as role-models, and on the other hand, make them responsible for sharing key success factors with their peers (arguably, both Romania #21st and Germany #25th would very much need Bulgaria’s advice). In addition, successful projects should be subject to review at the EU level in order to see if there is any opportunity to scale them up either via their implementation across other member states interested or via providing experts from other countries on issues that may have not been solved at the national level.

1.3 Harnessing the transformative potential of the European Semester

The European Semester has been very successful in accelerating economic and social dynamics in EU Member States’ policies via the Country Specific Recommendations and the Europe 2020 reference framework, accompanied by the progress reports. Although a lot remains to be done, it is undeniable that at present EU-members focus their economic and social policies on the same objectives, creating a European narrative of what our economic future should be: boosting employment and R&D, fighting climate change and energy dependency, improving education and ending poverty and social exclusion. However, this framework is not used at its full potential. The European Semester could be useful to address concerns of economic sovereignty in a progressive way: for instance, states should be able to get more manoeuvre space upon presenting a coherent and well-justified budgetary plan that would not fully respect EU budgetary standards but aims at accomplishing a national essential goal. Conversely, if that state does not keep its promise (for instance, increasing its public debt not for investing in technology as argued, but for financing non-productive activities) then it should expect to be punished by its peers because following a tit-for-tat approach.

Another step towards a more interactive and constructive economic cooperation would be to boost the participation of non-state actors, namely businesses, in accomplishing European objectives. Businesses are at the forefront of making change happen, whether we talk about employment targets or action against climate change, so it must be clear for them how they can contribute to economic convergence in Europe, and therefore making them acknowledge they have a role to play in our shared prosperity. As such, the European Semester framework could include a mechanism for collecting input from businesses on economic realities on the ground (challenges, opportunities and needs to be addressed), as well as a series of indicators for monitoring their contribution to the development of the societies they thrive in. For instance, an Employees’ Erasmus scheme, financed jointly by the EU and by businesses as part of their RSE strategy could be designed to include two streams of action: lifelong learning (ex: over a period of X years in the company, all the employees must be given the opportunity to attend language courses and to arrive at a proficiency level in a different EU language than their mother tongue) and work exchange (in the case of multinational companies, making it possible for employees to do once every 2 years an exchange of 2-4 months in a different country where the multinational has an office; in the case of national companies - creating a European platform for connecting businesses that want to offer this type of experience to their employees). In addition, employees should have at their disposal a EU mechanism allowing them to flag up breaches of law by businesses: it should no longer be possible that clothes “made in Romania” be synonym of workers’ exploitation in total inconsideration of EU labour standards.

2 - A pan-European democratic identity

If Europeanisation is to mean something on the long term, this would be the emergence and consolidation of a European identity going hands in hands with a self-sustained democracy. The multiple crisis the EU has been confronted to over the past years have proven that further EU integration is hardly feasible as long as the Union cannot count on the three main enablers that would make the European identity: a sense of solidarity (refraining from certain benefits for the sake of fellow citizens), a belief that the system is fair - today’s losers can be tomorrow’s winners if the situation presents itself, a certain level of trust in lawmakers seen as representing the interests of a “we” beyond borders.

European identity is not synonym of a uniform identity of European citizens as this is an utopia if looked at through the lens of Europeanisation theory. First, different socialisation and learning mechanisms combined with cultural diversity lead to holding different views on the world. Second, not all citizens are subject to the same mechanisms of Europeanisation or their intensity differs from one state to another: some are part of the eurozone (19 Member States) / Schengen area (22 Member States), some are not part yet and aspire to be (like Romania and Bulgaria who wish to join Schengen), some have deliberately opted-out (like Ireland from Schengen).

Arguably, a pragmatic and constructive meaning for the European identity is the one emerging from a self-sustained democracy, defined by K. L. Scheppele as “a system in which the people can continue over time choosing their leaders, holding them to account, and rotating power when leaders disappoint”. Such an identity will be defined by two dimensions: critical Europeanism and active citizenship. In order to develop these, sustained action in specific areas must be taken.

2.1 Civic education

In some CEECs, the most blatant attack to EU’s values and citizens’ rights has been undertaken by a political elite who asserts electoral legitimacy and legal tools in order to consolidate power in few hands and weaken opposition and civil society. Hence, as K.L.Scheppele argues, “In the days when dictators come to power with law reform as their primary tool, civil defense requires citizens to be empowered with law”. In other words, citizens must understand why it is important to defend liberal democratic values, how they can concretely recognize threats to these, as well as defense tools. It is nothing new that educating people is a long-term and relentless effort, especially with respect to legal matters, but this is crucial to fight manipulation and vulnerability to populist ideas. This task ought to be accomplished by experts in constitutional law that are capable of decoding legal moves undertaken by authoritarian / corrupt governing elites and explaining these to people either directly, either via civil society organisations, which should reinforce their presence in the education field, providing early occasions for the young generation to engage in the public sphere.

One other aspect of civic education consists, in developing a common curriculum on EU’s history, legal and economic set-up, internal challenges and foreign policy. Currently, one can reach the voting age without having any basic knowledge of what EU is concretely (institutions, procedure, power and projections of power abroad), but still, being supposed to vote his/her representative in the European Parliament. This is one of the greatest of EU’s weaknesses: ignorant citizens are a liability (because they are the most susceptible to follow autocratic leaders), in as much as an epitome of our failure to live up to our standards of equality of chances. As one interviewee underlined, we ought to acknowledge that education on EU matters must be equally accessible to all: “The level of Europeanisation varies among the citizens: those who live or study abroad are Europeanised, those who live in isolated areas have not felt the impact of the EU. In their villages [in Romania] nothing has changed, or things have changed in worse. Privileged people understand the institutions, the others don’t." (G.Gima). In order to encourage states to adopt such a curriculum (given that education is a national prerogative), the EU could guarantee full funding for textbooks, teachers and activities related to teaching EU Fundamentals. It could also convince businesses to take part, either by financing local educational initiatives as part of their CSR strategy or by funding courses for their employees on this subject.

2.2 Active citizenship: input to policy-making and ensuring accountability

Currently, EU citizens have different ways of contributing to policy-making at the EU level, however, none has proven to be undeniably successful. The European Citizens Initiative, created in 2011, has led to the submission of 58 initiatives, out of which only 4 successful. Only 2 out of the 4 successful initiatives resulted in a legislative response by the Commission. Online consultations are another method used by the Commission to enhance participatory democracy, yet it is not clear how these contributions impact EU policy-making. Finally, citizens are called to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament, however, participation rate in EU28 has not been a reason to be proud of until the 2019 elections which managed to reach a voter turnout of over 50%.

European elections in 2019 showed there is potential for reigniting citizens’ participation. An online campaign has been deployed by the European Parliament encouraging voters to exercise their vote (“This Time I’m Voting”) and to nudge other fellow citizens towards doing the same. The rise of nationalist parties has, unexpectedly, resulted in a first truly transnational debate about the future of Europe between anti-immigration forces and pro-integration ones. Mediatic attention given to Fidesz’ row with the European People’s Party (EPP) has arguably instilled more salience to the elections. But these are marginal ways of engaging civil society towards the construction of a real European polity. If Europeanisation 3.0 is to become the constructive and stable foundation of a sustained European integration, then it must be based on active citizenship, which is currently not ensured by any of the above-mentioned mechanisms.

One way of fostering active citizenship, according to R. Youngs, is to galvanize a combination of local participation and national democracy. Local participation offers the key advantage of informing the EU level about real economic and social trends on the ground, while proactively involving citizens in “setting political agendas rather than simply and somewhat passively being asked to vote or engage online on set questions related to predetermined issues”. This could be achieved via the creation of citizens’ assemblies. A possible model for these is the Romanian civic initiative “Platforma Romania 100” - “a project to change Romanian politics from inside not from outside”, which allows any 4 willing citizens to form a local community and to convince other citizens to join their debate and work on public policy initiatives, awareness-raising campaigns, trainings or participate in political and societal debates. Projects which are considered scalable are directed towards the central management pole, with the objective of extending their reach to other communities that are part of the Platform.

Another essential element to active citizenship is enabling citizens to hold accountable their EU representatives, namely their MEPs. Arguably the most obvious way to do so is to require all Member States to create constituencies, following the British, Italian or Polish model, where each region elects several MEPs depending on its size. A second aspect to look at is how the candidates are put on the party lists: instead of them being named by their party, voters should be able to select them based on their knowledge / skills / projects in EU and local affairs. In addition to this, MEPs should be accountable for the way they spend the General Expenditure Allowance, in theory directed to office and representation expenses. Failure to reform the General Expenditure Allowance in 2018, as well as multiple scandals related to the misuse of staff allowances for personal or partisan benefits, have lowered public confidence and further deteriorated EU’s image in the eyes of its citizens, thus making it urgent for EU to boost efforts to enhance MEPs’ accountability.

2.3 Building a pan-European civil society

Creating a pan-European political and civic space is also a matter of supporting the emergence of multinational civil society organisations, facilitating their cooperation on projects of common interest and encouraging them to stand up one for another when they face problems in their countries of origin or they need expertise on solving specific issues. One of the professionals interviewed for this paper confessed his disapproval regarding the lack of implication of Western CSOs in the activities of their Eastern fellows which he observed during his professional career: “I went to Poland to participate to a conference on the rule of law, organized by a Polish NGO. There you had a Czech NGO, a Hungarian one, a Swedish one and then the Americans. So you reach a point where you ask yourself: where are the French, the Germans, the Spanish? Civil society in these countries must also get involved in transnational relationships, since not everything gets done at the national level or in Brussels. There are things that can be solved by means of cooperation between the European civil societies.” (A. Prokopiev). He acknowledged that “The EU can encourage this cooperation, but cannot create it”, hence it pertains to CSOs to grow into being a stronger force of proposal and resistance and make better use of EU tools available to them.

3 - Substantive inclusiveness in EU governance

Substantive inclusiveness is understood as going beyond nominal equal rights of Member States foreseen in the treaties, which too often fail to materialize in current EU affairs. The EU must grow up outside its traditional Franco-German narrative for the EU, which does not mean dismissing it, but evolving towards being more open to opportunities and ideas coming from new member states. If old member states want a strong Union, they must understand that CEECs must be taken seriously, which means both listened to and made aware they have an important role to play in the EU, in order to have them transgress their own national considerations and get involved in the European governance.

The preliminary conditions for inclusive governance to emerge seem to be already in place. First of all, CEECs prove they have constructive initiatives. One such recent example, which took birth in Romania, is “The Quadrilateral Balkan Summit”, bringing together the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. The group was created in 2015 and its objectives are to help Serbia to gain access to EU membership and to boost economic, energy and transport cooperation in the region. The narrative around this cooperation framework is supportive of advancing European integration via concrete action at the level of each member state. Greece’s Prime Minister declared at the group’s meeting in December 2018 that “the new summit in this format proves that the Balkans can contribute to the European agenda and is not a second-class region.(...)We want to send a message of optimism and in parallel the message that all the countries of the peninsula should follow the example we are giving today for cooperation and base their vision for their integration in EU on the meeting of their obligations and on the need to comply with the European acquis.”. Second, there is an increased defiance towards prominent Franco-German initiatives meant to push forward EU integration. For instance, the Treaty of Franco-German Cooperation and Integration signed at the beginning of 2019 was viewed by Eurosceptics as “A Franco-German axis that goes around other Member States (...)The EU needs to work in the interests of all its Member States, not just the biggest two.”, while some political analysts considered it as a “bland, unambitious fudge”, given that the real contentious issues between the two countries have been silenced.

Therefore, in order to boost substantive inclusiveness in EU governance as part of the Europeanisation 3.0 framework, three initiatives look particularly relevant.

3. 1 Empowering Member States to be a role model

A first step towards a more inclusive governance is making each country responsible for portfolios on which they have exclusive expertise and strong will to do more on behalf of the EU. For instance, Romania could be entrusted with actively supporting Moldova towards gaining EU membership, or with leading the consolidation of the Energy Union on the Eastern flank, given its strategic position and low energy dependency. Similarly, Estonia could be made responsible for scaling up its e-government model and spreading know-how at the European level, to accelerate digitalization in the EU. Not only would such approach increase countries’ involvement in EU governance and their pride of being role-models and not only mere followers, but it would also allow the Union to capitalize on its members’ potential and to thrive, rather than struggle to exist. In additions, citizens would have new standards to hold their governments accountable to when it comes to their contribution at the EU level, as well as potentially new reasons to be proud of their double identity: national and European.

3.2 A peer review mechanism

Our second proposal is to implement a peer review mechanism for the rule of law, which, if proven to be efficient, should be expanded to other areas. This proposal capitalizes on Belgium’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel, initiative of creating a framework where every member country would submit itself to a review of its adhesion to the rule of law, undertaken by its peers in order to “develop good practices and correct deficiencies, in a collegial way". Such systems exist at the level of OECD (OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS) and African Union (African Peer Review Mechanism - APRM) and have been proven efficient towards boosting participation on equal footing to common endeavors. The APRM has been appreciated as a useful “diagnostic tool for identifying drivers of change and socio-economic developments”. The APRM aims at building “responsible leadership” by implementing a progressive review: first the country undertakes a “self-assessment process” with the contribution of the public and submits a report at the Union level; then other countries proceed to the review of their peer and complete a report; finally, a discussion among the heads of state is hold on the reports submitted and a plan of action is agreed to address deficiencies. The key success features of this system are related to its non-adversarial nature (countries are not forced to subject themselves to the peer review, but do so for gaining better governance and boost their international image), its constructive nature (meant to prevent arriving to a point of non-return and to promote exemplary practices), its democratic potential (as civil society has participatory rights in informing the review process). Given that the EU already disposes of coercion instruments in case members refuse to comply with EU law, a peer review mechanism would be a softer and more equalitarian way of socialization and learning, presumably able to prevent future conflicts on values and render irrelevant any claims of “Western dominance”.

3.3 Making parliaments count

At the EU level, inter-parliamentary cooperation, although existing (e.g. COSAC), is highly ignored by the citizens and it is hard to say to which extent it matters towards influencing EU policy-making. In addition, although the Lisbon Treaty has empowered national parliaments to oppose EU legislation that does not respect the principle of subsidiarity (via the orange and yellow cards), in practice debates on European issues are confined to the Commission on European Affairs and less often discussed in plenary sessions. A more pragmatic and visible role must be placed on the shoulders of the European and national parliaments. For instance, the monitoring of the EU Justice Scoreboard should not be only a European Commission’s duty, but ought to involve also the European and the national parliaments. The inter-parliamentary meetings should provide clear input to the European policy-making and citizens should be made aware of this.


Restarting the process of Europeanisation is a political fight” (F. Parmentier), hence a coherent, visionary and inclusive framework will be needed to succeed in this ambitious endeavor. Many tools necessary to deepening the Europeanisation process are already. However, they need to be harnessed in such a way that they nourish the construction of a European identity, while leaving place for a constructive critical Europeanism.

Conceptualizing a Europeanisation 3.0 strategy is a forward-looking task, amounting to shaping the future of the EU. If Europeanisation is to succeed, time has come to pour fuel in the right engines: values, aspirations, beliefs. It is conceivable that the EU will continue to exist as a Single Market without having to consolidate these three pillars, and rather proceed to reinforcing its legal framework. But Europeanisation is not about merely existing, it is about thriving on our way towards achieving a vision of a “we” beyond borders. In resetting Europeanisation, we should pay attention not to leave anyone behind.


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