The cover story referred to a debate in the Dutch parliament on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the new financial firewall that should protect the eurozone from July 1 onwards by allocating 500 billion euro for the future rescue of struggling economies.
Supporters of the ESM argued that the Dutch parliament basically had no choice and should vote in favor in order to save the euro. Right-wing and left-wing populists strongly opposed the new fund because they are convinced that the contribution of the Netherlands to the eurozone trust is a waste of billions of taxpayers’ money. Moreover, they hate the loss of national sovereignty involved because the Netherlands will lose its veto on some crucial spending decisions.
Some years ago, the Eurosceptics would represent between 10 and 20 percent of the electorate. These days, almost 40 percent of the parliamentarians will vote against the ESM and opinion polls show that their views are shared by a majority of the Dutch voters.
Combined with the situation in Greece where a majority of the electorate supports parties that are willing to put the country’s membership of the eurozone at serious risk, the mood in several EU member states seems to swing against the solutions that many citizens feel are forced upon them. They are frustrated, as The Economist brilliantly put it, with “a crisis they didn’t create and austerity they don’t want.” A growing number of commentators all over Europe have labeled the booming aversion to the plans to rescue the euro a revolt of the European citizens against the EU.
Many academics familiar with the literature on globalization and European integration are not surprised at all. Some of them have been predicting this crisis for a long time. They refer to the so-called “political trilemma theory” that was popularized by Turkish economist Dani Rodrik. Most readers of this newspaper probably know Rodrik as a slightly paranoid critic of the Gülen movement, but the respected Harvard professor is known outside Turkey for his influential interventions in the international debate on globalization. In his latest book, “The Globalization Paradox,” Rodrik claims that we cannot have unrestricted globalization, democracy and national self-determination all at once. “If we want hyperglobalization and democracy, we need to give up on the nation state. If we must keep the nation state and want hyperglobalization too, then we must forget about democracy. And if we want to combine democracy with the nation state, then it is bye-bye deep globalization.” His “political trilemma theory” has become a very popular tool to analyze the effects of globalization.
Some EU specialists have copied Rodrik’s approach and replaced hyperglobalization with European economic integration. They have been making the point for some time now: In Europe, too, you can’t have it all. Either you give up on further integration to save national sovereignty and nation-based democracy as we know it. Or, if you want to push forward with additional European competences, there are two options: You have to develop new forms of democracy on a European level and accept that the nation state will lose significance or you stick to the national governments as key players in Europe to the detriment of national and European parliamentary democracy.
According to these academics, what we are witnessing in Europe is a realignment of politics along new lines, with the EU as the dividing issue. On the one hand, we see parties that accept the inevitability of further economic integration and the diminished role of the nation state and are willing to experiment with democracy on a supra-national level. On the other hand, we see the rise of populist parties that defend national sovereignty and democracy and are willing to put a hold on a further transfer of power to the EU.
Are these observations correct? Are Rodrik and his European disciples right when they claim that, one way or the other, saving the euro through closer cooperation is not compatible with full democracy and national sovereignty “old style”? Does Europe have to make a choice between the three key concepts? Or are European politicians capable of dealing with this trilemma in ways that don’t fit in neat theoretical concepts? Are typical European compromises available that can prove both the populists and the academics wrong? More about that in my next column.