The Catholic University of America
Dec 12 2011

EU Integration and the Common Good

Posted by Robert Christian at 8:40 AM
- Categories: Economy | Peace & Environment

Despite the agreement that was reached last Friday, the project of European integration is still facing one of its most precarious moments.  The European debt crisis has the potential to shatter not only the eurozone, but the entire European Union.  The results would be catastrophic, not only for Europe, but also for the global economy.      

The key player when it comes to preventing this meltdown has been German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Merkel has thus far resisted calls for the creation of eurobonds or quantitative easing by the European Central Bank, measures that are unpopular among the German public, who for historical reasons are acutely sensitive to the threat of inflation.  

Instead, Merkel has pushed for greater European integration and the creation of a fiscal union, which many believe should have been created concurrently with the existing monetary union.  Further, she has called for deeper political integration.  Merkel stated, “Our generation’s duty now is to finalize the economic and currency union to form, step by step, a political union.”  Merkel is trying to use Germany’s leverage to garner such changes and ensure that mechanisms will be in place that guarantee fiscal responsibility among all eurozone members, the chief objective of the deal reached last week.  This requires a significant shift in sovereignty to the supranational level.  In its general orientation, Merkel’s approach seems sensible, though it may have to be accompanied by support for measures that she has thus far resisted in order to prevent a short-term crisis.

While the current economic crisis has led many to push for deeper European economic and political integration, another recent event in global politics also highlights the need for increased integration.  NATO’s intervention in Libya, which prevented mass murder in Benghazi, was a clear application of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine.  Catholic social teaching, driven by its commitment to global solidarity, appears to embrace this doctrine.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church states, “The international community as a whole has the moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. (506).”  In such circumstances, “states cannot remain indifferent,” and it becomes “legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor.”  While Church documents indicate a preference for the UN as the most appropriate legitimate authority (in terms of just war theory), it cannot be the only legitimate authority as illiberal, repressive regimes have the ability to veto interventions to halt the massacre of innocents.  For those who believe the global community has the responsibility to protect the innocent, NATO seems to be a wise choice as a secondary option.  However, one cannot assume that strong proponents of humanitarian intervention will always be found in the White House.  The Obama administration itself has some strong supporters of R2P, such as Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Hillary Clinton, but it also has those who are more cautious about the use of force, particularly when there is no vital (narrowly defined) national interest.  Also, the ability of the United States to intervene to stop genocide or some other humanitarian catastrophe might be limited by existing commitments.  If George W. Bush had favored the use of force to end Janjaweed and Sudanese atrocities in Darfur, it is not clear that it would have been feasible, given the nature of existing American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.   

In the absence of Western consensus or in those periods when the US cannot intervene, a common European defense offers the best hope for carrying out the responsibility to protect.  Europe needs to assume its responsibilities for both its own security and global peace and justice.  Free-riding on the United States is morally indefensible, and the cost of excessive reliance on the US became painfully clear during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.   While ideological purists demand that states intervene either everywhere or nowhere where atrocities are taking place (either because they are completely insensible or more often because they are highly pacific and oppose the use of force), the truth is that in the absence of a global authority with real tools of coercion, turning “never again” from a nice phrase into concrete reality will require piecemeal steps.  European defense integration would serve as an important step in this process, one that is critical for the pursuit of the global common good.


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