The Open Lecture by Professor Brigid Laffan at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
On 20 February 2018 the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) held an open lecture on the future of the European Union delivered by Professor Brigid Laffan. Professor Laffan is a leading scholar in European integration studies and the Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute, Florence. The lecture was organised in cooperation with the Embassy of Ireland in Poland.
The lecture was preceded by introductory remarks delivered by the Ambassador of Ireland to Poland, His Excellency Gerard Keown and Mr. Bartosz Wiśniewski, head of the PISM Research Office.
In her lecture, Prof. Laffan analysed the challenges facing the European Union in the form of "shifts and shocks". They take place both in the broad international environment of the EU, in the Union’s immediate neighbourhood, and within the EU itself. There were important events taking place in 2016 that changed the previous course of action, such as the British voter’s decision in the referendum to leave the EU by the UK, and election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. According to Prof. Laffan, these events challenge the liberal international order in the countries that have been constituting the core of this system so far.
These "shifts and shocks", according to Prof. Laffan, have both a vertical and horizontal character. "Horizontal shifts" refer in particular to a change in the balance of power between Asia and China vs. the West, and the return of China to its position prior to the industrial revolution. They also refer to the need to develop a new international order in which the fruits of global economic growth would be more equitably shared. "Vertical shifts" concern, among others, the need to develop a new global balance of power between public authorities vs. transnational capital and corporations; globalization; the impact of new technologies (especially IT) on the functioning of societies and countries; as well as climate change.
As regards the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, Prof. Laffan pointed to the key challenge of relations with Russia. They have radically changed as a result of the revival of geopolitics (especially in the context of the war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea), as well as alleged Russian interference in the internal decision-making processes in EU countries (including electoral processes). On the other hand, the key challenge regarding the EU’s Southern neighbourhood are the effects of the “Arab Spring”, including the problem of failed states in North Africa and the Middle East; chronic instability of governments in this region; uncontrolled migrations and conflicts, among others, between Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
According to Prof. Laffan, Brexit is one of the main challenges in EU internal policy. This process means that the EU loses one of its largest Member States; changes in the internal dynamics of the Union, and the need to develop a new model of British-EU relations. These challenges, in conjunction with the Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis, require a redefinition of the meaning of EU membership. The EU faces a challenge that could be described in Weberian terms as a critical junction. The key problem is establishment of a new balance in supply and demand for Union action. Demand for EU action is currently especially visible in the fields of monetary policy (euro zone); defence and security; and immigration. However, the supply of EU action is mainly in the field of democratic processes, through which prof. Laffan understood: changes in political institutions (parties and party systems, social media and communication); changes in the socio-political structures (including issues of identity and international mobility within the EU); as well as changes in political competition (the emergence of new parties on the traditional left and right, as well as the emergence of populist and Eurosceptic groups).
According to Prof. Laffan, populist and Eurosceptic movements are backed by the slogans of "taking back control." These slogans undermine the consensual and centrist character of the European integration project. These forces strive to present in the simplistic way the integration project, which by its nature is complex and complicated, and within which qualifications and expertise are particularly rewarded instead of democratic legitimacy. In this narrative the EU is portrayed, according to Prof. Laffan, as "different" and contrasted with the people as an elitist project. Prof. Laffan opines that a chance to overcome the internal problems of the EU is the political program of French president Emmanuel Macron presented during his speech at the Sorbonne, as well as the pro-integration course of the grand coalition forming in Germany.
Laffan stated that at the EU level, the reaction to the above challenges, is a process of differentiation of integration, although the phenomenon itself is not new. Differentiation of integration takes place both in the dimensions of time (different speeds); of space (various circles of advancement of integration); and of substance (different scope of integration in different sectors). These divisions intersect, further complicating the picture of European integration.
In these circumstances, Ireland faces the necessity of making political choices. In the context of Brexit, while remaining in the EU, Ireland needs to continue its particularly close cooperation with the UK. A special challenge is also the border on the island of Ireland. Finally, Ireland needs to define a formula for closer cooperation with the continental EU. The challenges also concern tax policy (the issue of tax competition in the EU in the field of corporate taxation) as well as defence and security policy in the context of Ireland’s neutrality and its recent decision to participate in PESCO.
At the fundamental level, according to Prof. Laffan, the dilemmas facing the EU Member States boil down to supporting, or rejecting, the liberal order in Europe. According her, EU membership in the light of art. 2 TEU means commitment to support liberal values, because the Union is founded on them. The current dispute in the EU is between supporters of an open vs. closed society. In the case of the failure of the European project, according to Prof. Laffan, European countries will lose a very important zone of comfort and safety.
The lecture was followed by a lively discussion in the form of a question and answer session moderated by Mr. Bartosz Wiśniewski.
- Bartosz Wiśniewski, Head of Research Office, Polish Institute of International Affairs
- H.E. Gerard Keown, Ambassador of Ireland
11:10–11:40 Keynote Speech
- Prof. Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and the Global Governance Programme at the European University Institute in Florence
• Moderator: Bartosz Wiśniewski, Head of Research Office, Polish Institute of International Affairs
Brigid Laffan is Director and Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, Director of the Global Governance Programme and of the European Governance and Politics Programme at the European University Institute (EUI), Florence. In August 2013, Professor Laffan left the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe) University College Dublin where she was Professor of European Politics. She was Vice-President of UCD and Principal of the College of Human Sciences from 2004 to 2011. Her areas of research include: European Integration, EU Governance and Europeanisation, and Public Finances.
She was the founding director of the Dublin European Institute at the University College Dublin from 1999 and in March 2004 she was elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. She is a member of the Board of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, the Fulbright Commission (until September 2013) and was the 2013 Visiting Scientist for the EXACT Marie Curie Network. In September 2014 Professor Laffan was awarded the UACES Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012 she was awarded the THESEUS Award for outstanding research on European Integration. In 2010 she was awarded the Ordre national du Mérite by the President of the French Republic.