Problem-avoidance, not problem-solving

A popular supposition of academics is that we live in an age of problem-solving, where political actors bypass traditional hierarchical structures to focus on resolving particular issues in a flexible and pragmatic way. And in many cases, that is true.

However, yesterday’s ‘super Wednesday‘ – with the German Constitutional Court’s decision on ESM, Barroso’s State of the EU speech to the EP and the Dutch general election – highlights the way in which the EU still has not fully embraced this approach.

Two of the three events were essentially about avoiding problems, not solving them. The Court’s ruling on the ESM had the potential to completely block the longer-term arm of the EU’s response to the eurozone crisis, or at least impose painful restrictions on the German government. In the end, those restrictions were at the gentler end of the spectrum (although Merkel can expect more awkward debates in the Bundestag over the next year).¬† Likewise, the shift away from the eurosceptic PVV in the Netherlands¬†was hailed in some quarters as a vindication of pro-EU policies, while ignoring the obvious difficulties of any Liberal-Labour coalition and the embrace of more critical discourse on the euro across the Dutch debate.

So some bullets dodged. Only for Barroso to provide what sceptics could easily portray as a maximalist position on further integration (bolstered by van Rompuy’s ‘Issues paper‘ today) and some new hurdles to be overcome.

The danger that the EU faces is essentially one of a lack of purposive action. Politics might be the art of the possible, but it also requires direction and leadership. With so many of the key actors either covering their backs or pushed their own agendas without reference to each other, the potential for substantive and substantial action is much reduced. As I have argued many times before on this blog, there is a need for something more than what we have, if the fundamental economic and political challenges facing the Union are to be addressed.