Conference on Europe in crises

The conference 'Europe in crises, Europe as the crisis?', which was staged on 14-15 March 2013, discussed the EU’s profound existential crisis. The event was organised by ARENA’s John Erik Fossum and Agustín José Menéndez and gathered prominent international scholars as well as experts with first-hand experience from working with the common monetary policy.

Participants at the conference (Photo: UiO/Sindre Hervig)

What started as an American financial crisis has come to question the very existence of the European Union. It has even revived secessionist tendencies in several member states, in particular Spain and the UK. Why is this? What is the present status of crisis?

The multiple crises facing the EU compel us to radically rethink the EU and the way in which decision-makers, intellectuals, scholars, and the public approach it. Against this background, the conference ‘Europe in crises, Europe as the crisis?’ on Blindern campus addressed three main topics. It aimed at clarifying the nature of the imbricated crises that the EU is facing, what kind of action the Union has taken to govern the crises, and the changes brought about in the EU and its member states.

Defining the crises

Europe is in crisis, but is it just one crisis or several overlapping ones? The first session, chaired by ARENA Director Erik O. Eriksen, was devoted to conceptualising the present crisis and discussed its structural roots. Sociologist Dennis Smith from Loughborough University focused on dynamic disequilibrium, the dynamics of debt and demand, and the dynamics of displacement when exploring the socio-political origins and consequences of the current crisis. Political economist Jeremy Leaman, also from Loughborough University, then discussed the outcome of the recent budget summit of the European Council (February 2013). He claimed that the general conclusions as well as the European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) both are a serious cause for concern. Their intellectual ‘logic’ defies both the evidence of the last thirty years of European economic history and the last four years of crisis-‘management’, he argued. Finally, Fritz Scharpf (Max Planck Insitute for the Studies of Societies) argued that the capacity of democratic member states to legitimate the exercise of European governing functions is being destroyed in the present euro crisis. He discussed the implications of this new constellation in a paper entitled ’Legitimacy intermediation in the multilevel European polity and its collapse in the euro crisis’.

How did we get there?

The second session, chaired by convener Agustín José Menéndez from ARENA and the University of León, addressed the historical account of European integration. Historian Mark Gilbert from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna looked at the implications of the crisis for the EU and Norway. He argued that European integration is not irreversible; on the contrary, it is ‘a process that could unravel very quickly if the will of major nation states wavered’. Morten Rasmussen, also a historian, from the University of Copenhagen, offered a historical interpretation of the political economy of the European nation state and how it was linked to the process of European integration.

The third speaker was professor emeritus at the European University Institute in Florence, Giandomenico Majone, who is a renowned expert on regulatory governance in the EU. He proposed a ‘genetic approach’ in order to identify the deeper roots of the complex EU crisis. He argued that the attempt to solve the euro crisis by greater centralisation only aggravates an already serious legitimacy problem, to the point of ‘transforming the EU’s democratic deficit into a democratic default’. Legal philosopher Kaarlo Tuori from the University of Helsinki and director of the Centre of Excellence in the Foundations of European Law and Polity, rounded up this session by focusing on the constitutional aspects and implications of the European financial crisis.

How has the Union changed?

In response to the crisis, many decisions have been taken and numerous reforms have been implemented. Five years into the crisis it is obvious that these can no longer be labeled as temporary and exceptional. To what extent and how have the reforms changed the Union in structural terms?

The second conference day started by addressing these questions and looked at crisis government as a vehicle of constitutional mutation. The session was chaired by convener John Erik Fossum from ARENA. Chris Lord from ARENA discussed the legitimacy of monetary union, understanding legitimacy as providing a moral justification for the exercise of political power that, in turn, creates a right to exercise political power and an obligation to comply with it. Klaus Tuori from the University of Helsinki, who has long-standing work experience from the financial markets as well as the European Central Bank (where he contributed to designing and operationalizing the common monetary policy), presented his research on the ECB as an independent expert or a democratically controlled actor of the EU. Finally, Álvaro de Elera from the Legal Service of the Council of the European Union discussed the evolution of the EU’s legal order. He analysed how legal experimentalism stretching the boundaries of the EU legal order has taken place, largely unnoticed, in the field of financial regulation.

Does the EU have a future?

The final session, again chaired by Erik O. Eriksen, investigated the EU’s future, and whether it is compatible with the democratic political project of European integration. Pedro Teixeira from the European Central Bank, who has long-standing experience with financial supervision and financial stability arrangements, assessed the establishment of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), a milestone in European integration. He examined to which extent the underlying trends of previous European responses to the crisis are present in this new institutional construction. Finally, Amy Verdun from the University of Victoria, Canada, examined the origins of the current problems, by looking at why the EMU was created, what purpose it had, and what compromises were made during its creation. She also reviewed whether the path to solve current problems should necessarily undermine Europe’s social model.

Panel debate

The conference ended with a panel debate on the future and democratic legitimacy of the EU. There debate had three panelists: Bent Sofus Tranøy from the University of Oslo; Asimina Michailidou from ARENA; and Mark Gilbert from Johns Hopkins University. A Podcast from this session is available.


The conference was staged as part of the project The Norwegian Constitution in a Changing European Context (NORCONE).

Published June 4, 2013 12:22 PM - Last modified June 4, 2013 10:33 PM