#16: Will the EU master the crises?
The world is struggling with several major crises at once: The effects of the Corona pandemic have not yet been surmounted. The climate crisis is clearly coming to a head for all of us. The attack on Ukraine is shaking up economic stability - with the threat of prolonged inflation, famine and energy shortages. In addition, there is an acute shortage of skilled workers. And the situation between Taiwan and China is also extremely tense. This is a real test for the global community and also for the European Union. EU expert Prof. Eva Heidbreder talks about whether the EU is up to the task in the podcast.
Prof. Eva Heidbreder is Professor of Political Science with a focus on "Governance in the European Multi-level System" and holds the EU Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Magdeburg. She researches how best to shape policy in the EU and how best to promote societal participation. Eva Heidbreder teaches core courses in the Bachelor and Master European Studies at the University of Magdeburg, where the international exchange of students with foreign students as well as practitioners through field trips are part of the study concept.
*the audio file is only available in German
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Intro voiceover: Know when you want. The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.
Ina Götze: The good thing is that they will eventually pass. The not-so-good news is that the world is currently dealing with several really drastic crises, and it feels like there's a new one every day. The effects of the Corona pandemic have not yet been overcome. The climate crisis is coming to a head for all of us. The attack on Ukraine is wreaking havoc on economic stability. There is a threat of prolonged inflation, famine and also energy shortages.
In addition, there is an acute shortage of skilled workers in almost every field. And the situation between Taiwan and China is also extremely tense. This is a real test for the global community and, of course, also for the European Union. And whether the European Union can cope with this and perhaps even emerge stronger in the end is something I'm talking about today with Professor Eva Heidbreder. She is a political scientist and holds both the Chair "For More Levels of Governance in Europe" and the "EU Jean Monet" Chair.
A warm welcome to you all!
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Hello.
Ina Götze: When you open the newspaper early in the morning, do you sometimes feel the need to go back to bed, pull the covers over your head and be left alone? Or do you say to yourself: I'm optimistic. In the end, it will not be half as bad as it is predicted to be.
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: It depends a bit on the news I wake up to, and of course on the mood of the day. It's hard to make that general statement. But I don't think anyone who is concerned with how we shape our future and what I think will change will be left unscathed by the major crises, climate change and the crisis that is currently so present before our eyes - the war in Ukraine.
That's why I have great respect for it and see a great need for action, but also hope that it's not too late for everyone. Especially in view of the climate crisis, which we are all experiencing at first hand at the moment.
Ina Götze: To take action is indeed a nice catchword, because EU Commission President von der Leyen said this about the EU: "A country can be a speedboat and the EU is more of a tanker." How quickly can the EU react to crises, especially when they arise suddenly?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: The answer to the question of crises is once again a bit difficult to give. Of course, it totally depends on what challenges the EU is facing. You have to stop for a moment and say: Who is the EU? And with different questions, with different problems, with different challenges, what the EU is is sometimes very different. If we ask ourselves, for example, who can impose sanctions on Russia? So it's the heads of state and government, the government, the member states of the EU and partly, depending on how they are organized domestically, together with their parliaments and their whole domestic democracy. So who can respond ad hoc to an outbreak of war? The EU is all of its member states. In other areas, in areas such as competition, competition law and other things, the institutions in Brussels have greater room for maneuver and can, for example, always react very quickly ad hoc to certain events, especially the Commission. The EU is also developing in all these areas.
When the global economic and financial crisis started in 2008/2009, first the banking crisis and then the financial crisis and the resulting economic crisis, the interaction between member states and institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg and Strasbourg in the EU did not really provide sufficient cooperation and structures to react very quickly, and these were created in response. And the most important reaction, to stay with the example, came at the end from the European Central Bank formed Mario Draghi. Who said, " I will do whatever it takes." And that one intervention, which passed his lips pretty quickly, was critical in restoring calm to the member states and to the reliability of the financial markets. And that's why the EU is fast - most of the time it's not, because there are just so many actors, so many agencies involved - and that's what Ursula von der Leyen means when she says the EU is a tanker, but the EU can also be very fast.
And to take another example that comes from the immediate past: we all know that the war in Ukraine is causing massive problems for the supply of gas and energy. And the member states, although they did not agree at all at the beginning of June, were quite quick to accept the Commission's proposal to reach agreement around July 20 by the 24th, namely to support each other in solidarity, even if that was not in everyone's interest. And there the EU was very fast and on many points. So what makes the EU fast or slow? Basically it's true, the EU is a tanker. A lot of decisions, a lot of reactions involve a lot of bodies, a lot of actors. But if the political will exists and the right structures are in place in certain areas, then the EU can also be fast.
Ina Götze: You can imagine when you go on vacation with a large family and you start planning-it takes a while. So the more people are involved, the longer it takes, of course. But the EU now depends above all on the cohesion of these member states, to the fact that they all pull together, even if they first have to agree on something. Do you see any of the crisis as particularly dangerous for this community in any way?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: We actually had over a decade of crisis rhetoric, I say, because there have always been crises in the EU. If we look back in the history of EU integration, its famous major crisis that Charles de Gaulle triggered as French President, namely the crisis of the empty chair. He was not satisfied with majority decisions among member states and he left, left an empty chair. It was a huge crisis and really for decades EU integration has developed mainly through decisions or rulings of the European Court of Justice and not through political decisions. Giant crisis. But the crises that we have had since - it started in 2004/2005 - that when the European so-called Constitutional Treaty was rejected. Then comes the banking fiscal crisis, the so-called migration crisis and so on. And so on. And also a crisis, as it is called, namely the rise of anti-EU opinions, political statements, parties that are now also sitting in governments in various member states. Despite all these crises, the EU has been very resilient, very resistant over the last decade. Whether to conclude that the EU is getting stronger or weaker is a rather harsh.
But the EU has come through these crises very well in the end. And one crisis is particularly interesting. And that is the Brexit. What makes it so interesting? Great Britain, or to be more precise, the Conservative governments and especially the government under Johnson, have said quite clearly: We don't want to play in this EU cooperation concert, but we would be better off if we could decide everything on our own and be sovereign. Completely sovereign. That's a bit like saying: I don't like to play Monopoly and always play by all the rules. The UK's idea was: we'll keep playing together, but we can always make our own rules. Anyone who has played a board game knows that kills the game. Which is why the EU couldn't get involved. That would have undermined the basic principle of the EU, which is that there are common rules. Nobody really likes them all the time. But because everyone has to abide by them, the EU works. And that's what Great Britain questioned. And amazingly, all the other 27 member states were convinced in a matter of hours or days that they would benefit from staying on the board, from continuing. And that is the basic consensus on which the EU is based. You may not like individual decisions, you may shoot against individual decisions.
But in terms of the reaction to the Brexit - all the other 27, Europe was skeptical - it's better we stay in the EU and then stick to it. However, this is not set in stone forever and we see in various places that this principle is under attack. Well-known cases are the developments in Hungary, in Poland. But we are also close to an election in Italy and the candidates with the most promising chances. Giorgia Meloni has on the one hand a post-fascist party past, which she does not entirely abandon, but the biggest challenge and threat to the EU is that she has always distinguished herself by standing against this continuing common EU rules and not wanting to abide by them. It remains to be seen to what extent she can keep this up - if she becomes head of government in Italy - because this could or would mean the loss of billions for Italy.
But this questioning of the basic principle of the EU, that we are all somehow interconnected and that in the end cooperation is worthwhile, that is being questioned again and again, and I think that is really the biggest challenge for the EU.
Ina Götze: Let's hope that it will master them. What does the European Union have to do now to ensure that this does not happen, that it does not break apart?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder:Whether it would break apart directly, I would also question, because it's a very complex and chained system. It's a bit like this: what would have to happen to Germany for it to break apart? We always look at the EU as if it's there somewhere. And then there are the states. But that's not true. The states are part of the EU. You can see that again with Great Britain. Britain wants to work on getting rid of EU legislation. But most of the EU legislation is national legislation, and it doesn't just disappear. And as I said, all EU member states have an interest in what everyone sees, in the benefits of the EU. So I don't think that the EU would simply break up and I don't know exactly what it would mean to "break up". That we close the parliament in Brussels or disappear. As break up is difficult to define first. But this erosion from the right compliance. That is, states are increasingly making decisions, together, but then not adhering to them. That is a tendency that needs to be countered. And I believe that the EU is at a point - and the war in Ukraine shows this quite clearly - where certain principles of a cooperative, liberal, democratic order must take center stage.
In its initial phase, the European Union was not at all a peace project or a democracy project, as is now perceived. At the beginning after the Second World War, the Council of Europe was much more responsible for peacekeeping and many international organizations and organizations sprang up in Europe and in various places. And as a colleague Kiran Patel at the University of Munich historian has worked out very nicely, the peacekeeping effect of the European community and this integration was. Above all, the fact that it created prosperity through the common agricultural policy, regional policy, that was the great peace-keeping effect. Stability and security, that was also the reason why Great Britain joined in 73, after the colonial empire was gone. So European integration in the initial phase in the first decades was about consolidating economically, creating prosperity and actually binding the states together in the sense of securing peace and creating opportunities for cooperation. These European communities were so incredibly successful in this that they then developed into the European Union. And that brings us to the question of democracy and other things. From the beginning, these were not the central and primary goal of the European Union. That emerges, or it comes only with the foundation of the European Union, that these political goals are also defined. At the point where we are now, the Union has expanded its range of tasks enormously. And other colleagues say, yes, the first decades of European integration, there was already tacit consensus. Everyone was better off, fine. Political participation was not so important then. With the fiscal crisis, at the latest, it's clear to everyone that I can really lose through EU intervention.
That can lower or raise my standard of living. And when there is redistribution, when we make policies that take from some and give to others, and that is visible, then we have a great potential for conflict, and we can no longer avoid democratic legitimacy. And at the same time, as we can see from the war in Ukraine, questions of the rule of law, of a clear commitment, of a clear implementation of the rule of law and basic democratic principles are central, because otherwise the EU cannot continue to function if the states no longer adhere to them. The EU is simply a huge, huge legal entity and if states no longer adhere to it, then it begins to crumble. So what does the EU need to maintain cohesion? I think it needs to step up in the areas of the rule of law and liberal democratic order in its member states. And there are first developments in that area as well. There are first developments, and it's very exciting to see how the EU functions in this area.
The European Parliament in particular is chasing the European Commission, because the European platform has various means of holding member states accountable. And in 2021, a large financial package was approved to strengthen member states against the effects of the Covid crisis. And for the first time, the distribution of these funds - so many funds the EU has never had in hand. Even if the crisis is still so present, even if the pressure is still so strong, it's come with a lot of conditions, laws and rules to uphold. Even if the crisis is still so great, even if the pressure is still so high, that some states are taking wonderful care of Ukrainian refugees and so on. That becomes centrally important to strengthen and preserve these cornerstones of the EU.
Ina Götze: So the EU has to educate its children, so to speak.
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: It is not possible. It does not work that the EU, who goes to the member states you must but so, that does not work, that does not exist. The EU is its member states. I can tell you a little story. I was once invited to the European Parliament. We actually presented a book about the euro and whether it has created identity. And we were invited by the vice president of the parliament, an Italian. And then very few members of parliament came. And then the vice president said: Well, why should the European Parliament be better than the national parliaments? Yes, why.
Ina Götze: Because it is up to the people...
Prof. Eva Heidbreder:The EU is the totality of the many EU citizens, their parliaments, their government and the European institutions, that is the EU, that is the big tanker. But if parts don't work and I don't participate, then the tanker falters.
Ina Götze: Let's assume that there really are supply bottlenecks, that there is too little gas, that certain basic foodstuffs may become scarce. Will import/export then still work or will each country actually try to keep the goods for itself and secure its own prosperity?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Within the EU import/export no longer exist in the single market. Goods move freely within the single market. However, we have seen in the various crises that we have had that the free movement of goods across the borders of member states has been restricted time and again, and significantly so. The European Commission has fought hard to maintain this and to allow it only as an exception. But import/export is not the decisive criterion. And again, it really depends: Who needs what and how? We are talking primarily about gas supply, and here - as I have already mentioned - the EU member states have recently decided. It came into force on August 5 - that they want to stand together in solidarity and support each other. That was quite difficult for some, for some member states that have been saying for years: this is coming, we have to take care of our energy security. And they really have their tanks full, because they saw this coming and were not particularly amused when a large member state came along and said: But we are the biggest economic power in Europe and therefore you have to give us something now.
Which is also an interesting argumentation in a European interaction. Others say that we are very small and only have gas. That means that if there weren't so many of us, nothing would work for us, and so on. And on top of that, before this Ukraine war got hot under the collar, we had a long debate in February about how to get out of fossil fuels in the first place and which bridging technologies we want to use. Perhaps some of you will remember that we were talking about taxonomies at the time and that there was a great deal of excitement in Germany that the French were continuing to use nuclear energy as a bridging technology.
Ina Götze: … right there was something, yes. (laughs)
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Exactly, and it is in this mixed situation that we are talking about it. But what is really impressive and interesting is that with explicit reference to solidarity among themselves and to interdependence, to mutual dependence on each other, the member states have decided to reduce their energy consumption by 15% by August now until March compared to the average of the last five years. And they all want to do that with a whole list of exceptions of states that are not included in this overall network at all and states that have their tanks particularly full and so on. But for some, that was a pretty big step and that's where the EU is working as well as it can. Namely, to create a common understanding about interdependencies, to define them and then to use this EU infrastructure to make binding decisions with which to act. In this decision of August 5, it must also be said that the member states are committed to reducing energy consumption, but initially on a voluntary basis. And there is a clause in the decision that if it does not work voluntarily, then an alarm mechanism can be triggered. Either by five authorities from the member states, who say: okay, we can't do anything anymore, or by the Commission, which monitors and assesses everything. And then the EU Council, i.e. the national governments, can decide to make these targets binding, or in what form.
But this was a pretty quick decision, and a profound one, and two things are interesting: the reference to solidarity and this very clear definition otherwise we will go down together. And that is very interesting because the concept of solidarity is also anchored in the EU treaties, in the constitution, is very difficult to grasp and here it is practically actually applied to an area that is quite sensitive for everybody.
Ina Götze: Do you think that this understanding of solidarity and dependence is so internalized that everyone will voluntarily abide by it? Or will there perhaps have to be legislation in the end?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: It's hard to say. So it's also, how do you internalize that? Yes, so also from the interpersonal area there is perhaps a film, there is always, these absolutely loyal guys who just do everything and go down for it. No head of government can say, I don't care about European solidarity, I'll let my citizens go under.
That is difficult to grasp with such internalization. But as a political instrument, it is quite clear to say: We are trying to do it voluntarily. But we have this sword of possible control up our sleeve. And all empirical studies show that voluntary agreements actually only work if you could also regulate by. No matter what, no matter what. Who wants to incur certain costs if it's not going to be tested in the end anyway. And that's technically, let's say politically, done right in that sense. I think the commitment behind it is certainly honest and good, and that's why there are so many exemptions. You can say: oh, so many exceptions, is that good or not? Couldn't something tougher have been enforced for the implementation? In the end, an honest compromise where everyone can go home and say: Look, this is in it for us. You elected me as head of state or head of government and this is what I brought for you. That can work much better than a tough decision where everyone then has to bend over backwards at home.
Ina Götze: Currently, seven more countries want to join the EU, including Ukraine, Serbia and Albania. These are all countries where, let's say, there is a bit of a political "crunch. Can easier membership arrangements for these countries and the admission of these countries lead to the EU being strengthened now?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Strengthened? In what and how? In the last very big round of membership, the so-called eastward enlargement, different groups of member states had different interests. There were the strong ones - so that coincides, '93 the process starts, that coincides with the foundation of the European Union to a major intensification, away from the European Communities. The EU, the European Communities become the European Union, give themselves a new political identity and integration. The EU is getting bigger in terms of content and at the same time, 14 states are knocking and want to join. So how does the EU react to this? At that moment, there were the states that said: Okay, geopolitically, let's take in the states really quickly. The EU is getting bigger. Tony Blair, then prime minister of Great Britain, summed it up in a famous speech: the EU should be a superpower, but not a super state.
And that came in quite handy to say: we will become bigger, more important geopolitically. The states that want to join are out of the Eastern bloc and in the EU. But at the same time, this political integration, that the EU is becoming more like a state and has more and more competencies or coordinates more and more things jointly, is slowing down a bit. By the way, Great Britain also said in this sense, and this became clear during Brexit: we don't need any transitional periods, the new states will join and all employees will be allowed to come to us freely right away, and so on.
There was one pole and the other one was from France, who said: Well, we have just intensified now and we can't take in new states so quickly and we can't take in so many. This is ruining our integration process. How are we supposed to move it forward with so many new interests? And those were the two poles between which it wobbled, and what emerged from that is a structured accession process. This did not exist before. Namely, to say: the states that want to join must fulfill certain criteria. They have to be able to participate economically in the EU, to withstand this whole internal market, this whole economic pressure. They must be able to adopt the entire legal structure of the EU, which was estimated at 30,000 pages of law at the time. We didn't know exactly what we had there and how. And that had to be codified. And then implemented. And thirdly, they have to protect their minorities accordingly. And on top of that, the institutions of the states have to be able to implement the rule of law and democracy. Are the states that have applied now there? No, especially in the areas of corruption, institutional functioning and so on. No. And also in very basic democracy issues. And what we learned after the eastward expansion is that the EU was quite good at initiating reforms and processes in candidate countries.
But when the states became members, we saw backlash, a relapse, in many Central Eastern European states. And we also learned a little bit in the sense that the restructuring of institutions, the creation of functioning institutions, naturally takes a very long time and stabilization takes much longer. But because the EU is not a state, no one at the European level can say: you in the member states have to do things the democratic way.
That doesn't exist, which is why the EU is very weak to regulate that or to intervene there. This is precisely the conflict of goals that the EU faces with the states that you listed. Geopolitically and for security reasons, a quick accession of Ukraine or the Balkan states would perhaps be very desirable for some, and some states in particular are very vehemently in favor of the further development of the EU, its functioning and, above all, what I said earlier, the stabilization of the EU in the member states. So to have stable democratic order in the member states, without which the EU does not work, but which the EU cannot impose, it is very difficult to quickly absorb the states. There is that in between. There is now the so-called candidate status and there are quite a lot of intermediate steps and especially participation in European policies and especially financial programs and support programs that are already running. And many of these states and especially Ukraine and Moldova have strengthened cooperation and association agreements and economic agreements. A lot of money has been flowing into these states for years, and this economic integration and freedom of movement is already very far advanced.
What you can also see from the fact that fleeing from Ukraine does not require a visa. Everything was already settled before. The association is already very advanced in many areas, especially economically. What on the other hand, what you can still offer, of course, that reduces the possibilities somewhat. So very rapid expansion, from some points of view perhaps desirable, but I don't think it's particularly realistic. I think these procedures, as they were developed in the context of the eastward enlargement, are inevitable and are also mutual to a large extent. A state that joins the EU but has a huge economic gap with the rest of the EU will have enormous economic difficulties in surviving in the single market. This is also not really desirable for either side.
Ina Götze: I was about to say that no one is helped by this. Turkey has been a candidate country for quite a long time, and President Erdogan regularly meets with Putin. Would it perhaps make sense to admit Turkey sooner so that they do not ally themselves too strongly with Russia? Or would that be something similar, so to speak?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Do you seriously think that if Turkey were in the EU, Erdogan would let himself be told who he meets with?
Ina Götze: Probably, no.
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: I would also have doubts about that. And we know from expansion research that the leverage on candidate status is greater than the leverage on member states - short answer. How did Turkey become a candidate state? There was an association agreement from the 60s with Turkey. In the 60s, nobody ever thought that the Cold War, which had fully unfolded, would end and the EU would grow from six member states, to 27/28. And in the Association Agreement there was also such an accession clause. After 91, in the association agreements with the Central and Eastern European states, such a clause was no longer written in, because they said, who knows, and the member states were not yet in agreement about a fast or slow or no eastern enlargement. That is where this accession option for Turkey comes from. In the context of eastward enlargement, everyone then overtook Turkey.
To the great displeasure of the Turkish government. And therefore, when it was then decided who all would join. In the mid-nineties, Turkey was then also given this candidate status, but at that time, the fact that Turkey had implemented many reforms and was on its way. But with some fundamental challenges, namely really again rule of law and fundamental order and also given the fact that Turkey is huge.
Turkey has such a large a population, by far the largest member state. And then in the next step I had mentioned France and the skepticism in France we can quickly make a big eastward expansion. How much does that undermine our goal of strengthening and deepening the EU? And especially in France, there was very little appetite for further enlargement. There was even a constitutional amendment in France in the meantime that there would have to be a referendum on further enlargement within France. And that was clearly aimed at Turkey, that not Turkey can join. That an accession, a quick accession of Turkey to the EU would change anything about Erdogan's behavior, I doubt, I don't believe at all. And that Erdogan currently has a huge interest in joining the EU, and this status quo, that Turkey is a candidate state and will remain so and that we are in talks, is perhaps pragmatically the best thing to do in the situation.
However, one argument against the accession process with Turkey is also that the EU was too slow with its quid pro quo for Turkey and that this option of joining the EU was no longer credible at some point. And that this was also one of the reasons for the developments in Turkey. That the EU, that Turkey actually moved more away from EU membership than further towards it. As a political scientist, this is very difficult to verify, because there is only one historical development. And I don't really have a good answer to that either. But it is important to consider what offers the EU has made to Turkey. And the resistance in some capitals was massive against a quick Turkish accession. In my assessment, however, I tend not to believe that Turkey's accession 10/15 years ago would have led to a fundamentally different political situation for Turkey today.
Ina Götze: I already mentioned it in the introduction: the conflict between China and Taiwan is very, very tense, has calmed down somewhat, but it is not really certain. Would the EU also impose sanctions against China and would it be able to keep them up, basically against China as a giant country? And also in addition to the sanctions that are still in place against Russia
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Tough question. Here again this basic dilemma in which the EU is stuck comes into play. In order to assert itself and its foundations, it cannot allow or simply tacitly accept or acquiesce to states simply abandoning international legal orders. And that is an important core issue, both of the war in Ukraine and vis-à-vis China. The EU and the international order right now is based on the fact that we have certain international norms and international law, and states more or less abide by them. What does the war in Ukraine change?
Russia is openly displaying that they do not comply and that they do not care at all. China has not yet done so publicly. But China does not condemn Russia's position. If China is also openly going against international law or saying: this is no longer valid for me. Do we have a crisis of global proportions, for this world order, which in recent decades has been strongly shaped by Western democratic order, the extent of which we cannot even estimate. Therefore, because the EU is actually just an agreement that international law is created and adhered to, it will be very difficult for it to say: okay, we'll accept that. Because then, as it were, there is no longer any way to prevent the dissolution. Conversely, of course, the EU - or the states of the EU - are not at all up to the task. That they would say: we will stop all trade with China. I can't tell you exactly how that would be reacted to. But this fundamental question of order, of international order, would be shaken to its foundations in such a way that some kind of reaction will be necessary, however comprehensive it will be and however strict in its implementation.
Second point: I cannot estimate at all how, if it really goes bang and there are armed conflicts, how the U.S. will be involved and, if necessary, how NATO will be involved. What the consequences will be for all of us.
Ina Götze: We just hope that doesn't happen.
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Hope it goes well. Perhaps even better is that clear political signals are sent. And that makes the question of the Ukraine war really important, how to deal with Russia and how well the EU member states stick together, how solid they actually are. And that also plays a role in the question of whether the member states can manage to deal with reduced gas supplies together. If it's possible to divide the EU member states so easily that they knock each other's heads together and start a competition, then it will be easier for other states to say: Well, let's try something.
Ina Götze: These are not the first crises for the EU. You already mentioned the refugee crisis, Brexit and the financial crisis. What can we learn from past challenges for the current situation?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: It was said at the beginning of this time of crisis: a crisis means opportunity, say the Chinese. And what can we learn? In some areas, I think the EU has learned something. Especially if we look at how in the area of fiscal and economic policy, the crisis was handled differently than the banking and resulting sovereign debt crisis in 2008 and 2009. In the banking and sovereign debt crisis, it was mainly Germany that was called out.
The motto is: if the states that are under pressure get money too quickly and they are helped, so to speak, then they will take advantage of that and the money is all lost. That's why we have to be tough on them and they have to have very tough conditions and they have to make major reforms. Partly it was due to the governance and the structures in the states, but partly the crisis was not due to that, it was due to the interconnected banking system, which crashed, and also due to certain ways of functioning of the Eurozone. That made the whole rescue of Greece billions more expensive. The fact that we didn't react quickly and wait until Draghi, as the central bank, rather than a political decision, said: no, we will continue to provide support until the euro is back on its feet. Because that was always pushed further and it would have always been pushed further if someone hadn't said: No, there are security measures, that's not going to happen.
A banking union was created, new security measures were created and, above all, politics reacted differently to the Covid crisis. And there again Germany and Angela Merkel were amazing and reacted quite differently than in the so-called Greek crisis, namely with this so-called Reconciliation Recovery, the reconstruction fund. Because it was said: well, the states that are under particular pressure, especially Italy, that is not self-inflicted this time, that was Covid. And if they now collapse economically, then we will have another terrible chain reaction. And then the euro will come under pressure again, so we have to pump money in quickly. And we're doing what we've never done before: we're borrowing money from international markets, we're taking on debt. Actually, that's not how it's called in German it's not supposed to be called debt because debt is not supposed to be or Eurobonds or something like that. But we take on debts as the EU and have a mechanism that we pay back from the state contributions in the coming decades and so we have a huge pot and we pour the money out of it into the states that are under particular pressure.
And it is a very different reaction and that we do quickly to stabilize. Quite a different response, both institutionally - a new set-up to do certain things, not that it comes back: in the banking crisis nobody knew what was going on in the banks. People didn't know. Nobody knew the books, nobody knew how much, but nobody knew that. Now, in the banking union, we have control mechanisms, review mechanisms and, above all, certain reserves that the banks must be able to save themselves to some extent.
That will, when it comes down to the wire, and may not necessarily be enough. But the reaction and the whole argumentation to the Covid crisis was completely different. Not to say that it's the states' own fault or that they should have done it sooner. And besides, they have a terrible budget anyway, or they could have reacted themselves. That didn't happen.
And the amazing thing is: we have not debated this at all in Germany. It's so through - with just this massive borrowing. We're talking about 750 billion euros, and the EU has never distributed so much money to its member states.
Ina Götze: Interesting. So, the tanker is capable of learning and is agile from time to time. (laughs)
Finally, let's take an optimistic look at the future - hopefully. When all the crises are over, how will the EU have changed and will it emerge stronger?
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: I don't think we'll ever get to the point where all the crises are over and there isn't already another crisis. That's why this emphasis on crisis is perhaps not so appropriate. Politics is there to deal with challenges. And the world is always full of challenges. What is perhaps a bit different from the 1990s and the first 2000s is that the global world order was pretty quiet for a while. Cold war was over. There was only the U.S. left as a superpower, and it was relatively quiet. And some have even said: the end of history had begon. The competition for power, for global dominance, is in full swing again. It was already visible in the war in Syria and in various places, it has been bubbling for a while and that will remain with us and let's say there is much more uncertainty in the international system than we were so comfortably accustomed to in the last decades in the EU.
In many areas, the EU has actually emerged stronger or, let's say, more resilient in precisely those areas - it has first proven itself to be resilient. It did not break up because of Brexit. No states came after it that wanted to. It didn't break because of the so-called euro crisis. And I would even counterfactual - we don't have a second case of how we can compare this banking crisis with the euro.
I would assume that the member states would have supported them much less if we hadn't had the common euro and the resulting constraint that if you don't support Greece, the euro will collapse for Germany. And I believe that the EU has ultimately been strengthened by the establishment of further institutions and political instruments. If we take another look at the war in Ukraine and various policy areas, we can see that some of them are actually making progress. The area of energy in combination with the very large programs that the Commission had proclaimed, namely the climate-neutral transformation of energy, supply and also a lot of money that is in circulation. In other areas, nothing is happening. In the area of migration policy - some have said: oh look, Poland is behaving very differently now than it did shortly before at the Belarusian border - where Poland is still behaving the way it did before the Ukraine war.
But in essence, nothing is progressing in the area where the EU is struggling to find agreement. The handling of the Ukrainian refugees is different because a resourceful person in the Commission really noticed: oh, we have an emergency regulation from 2001, at that time against the background of the war in the Balkans, which allows us to give refugees a special status for a year or for a period of time that we determine, for example, freedom of movement in the internal market, that they can just go anywhere and look for work and settle wherever they want.
And this legal foundation was used. But there was no substantial change in the distribution of refugees in the EU and so on. The EU is not really strengthening itself in this area. Maybe, maybe the experience with this emergency regulation will move something, but substantially there is little movement. So the EU is strengthened in some areas: certainly yes, in other areas nothing is happening. And how we manage the balancing act between growing geostrategic challenges and tangible security threat scenarios and the consolidation and strengthening of and compliance with the rule of law and cooperation within the EU - how we manage this balancing act in the future remains the central challenge. And there are probably still a lot of crises ahead of us.
Ina Götze: With these prospects, we have indeed reached the end of this episode. Thank you very much for your time, Professor Heidbreder. If you would like to learn more about the state of the European Union, you can look forward to November, when the new issue of our Research Magazine Guericke will be published, in which you will give a very detailed interview on this very topic. You can also find the magazine online on our website - we'll link the page in the show notes to save it and look forward to hearing from you again next time. Thank you very much!
Prof. Eva Heidbreder: Thank you too.
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