The RECON-project (Reconstituting Democracy in Europe), concluded on 31 December 2011. The project that was initiated and coordinated by ARENA is now evaluated; mark: Excellent.
Five intensive years
RECON has come to an end after five productive and intensive years (2007-2011). Over these five years, the more than 120 researchers involved have discussed the conditions for democracy in the EU through a series of studies across a large number of policy fields and institutional realms.
In the end it turned out to be a huge success. The final evaluation of the project states: “It is recommended that selective follow-ups to this project be considered in order to strengthen its potential influence in academia and in public debate beyond the impressive dissemination activities already going on. Furthermore, it is recommended that the empirical findings and the theory developed within RECON be made standard knowledge in textbooks on Europe.”
A key question for Europe
The project was fashioned in the wake of the Laeken process with the drafting of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty. The ensuing debates on the EU’s legitimacy became all the more important after the French and Dutch referendums rejecting the new treaty in 2005 and constituted the backdrop of RECON’s key research question: What democracy for what Europe?
Economic and democratic crisis
As the project unfolded, Europe experienced a changing political and economic environment, culminating in a deep financial crisis and discussions on a potential Greek euro exit. The crisis contributed to exposing the democratic challenges facing the EU. It makes RECON’s research all the more important. However, the present crisis of the euro-zone questions the assumption that there is a close association between integration and democracy. The financial treaty signed in March by all EU-members (except the Czech Republic and UK), puts economic policy beyond democratic control. A series of financial, economic, social and wage policies that affect the well-being of very many Europeans have been adopted, policies which according to the Lisbon Treaty belong to the remit of the member states.
More integration, less democracy?
Moreover, the crisis threatens to undo the euro and perhaps even to unravel the EU. The fear and anxiety, that these prospects raise, are in themselves testimony, to the fact of integration. The backdrop is that we in the last five decades have seen a remarkable process of integration in Europe. The high degree of interdependence and interweaving that this process has forged has made many argue that the only way of grappling with the crisis is through further integration – in effect, then, only a fiscal union will be able to rescue the monetary union. But EU seems to be barred from federalizing because of the strength of the democratic members. They are opposed to surrender more sovereignty to a European ‘superstate’. Can European integration proceed without putting the integrity of the democratic nation state at risk? Hence there is new research agenda and a call for follow-up research.