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19 CES Open Forum Series

Imperial legacy? The EU's Developmental Model and the Crisis of the European Periphery

Feb 19, 2014 Ton Notermans


The high hopes for rapid convergence of Eastern and Southern EU member states are increasingly being disappointed. With the onset of the Eurocrisis convergence has given way to divergence in the southern members, and many Eastern members have made little headway in closing the development gap. The EU's performance compares unfavourably with East Asian success cases as well as with Western Europe ́s own rapid catch-up to the USA after 1945. Historical experience indicates that successful catch up requires that less-developed economies to some extent are allowed to free-ride on an open international economic order. However, the EU ́s model is based on the principle of a level-playing field, which militates against such a form of economic integration. The EU's developmental model thus contrasts with the various strategies that have enabled successful catch up of industrial latecomers. Instead the EU's current approach is more and more reminiscent of the relations between the pre-1945 European empires and their dependent territories. One reason for this unfortunate historical continuity is that the EU appears to have become entangled in its own myths. In the EU's own interpretation, European integration is a peace project designed to overcome the almost continuous warfare that characterised the Westphalian system. As the sovereign state is identified as the root cause of all evil, any project to curtail its room of manoeuvre must ultimately benefit the common good. Yet, the existence of a Westphalian system of nation states is a myth. Empires and not states were the dominant actors in the international system for at least the last three centuries. If anything, the dawn of the age of the sovereign state in Western Europe occurred after 1945 with the disintegration of the colonial empires and thus historically coincided with the birth of European integration.