The EU in crisis: EU studies in crisis?

“[T]he desire to be a predictive science causes us to imagine the world
to be far more predictable than it actually is.” (Blyth 2006, p. 493)

As the EU stumbles from crisis to crisis, which the Commission President has even referred to as an “existential crisis” in his state of the union address, can we as EU scholars continue with business as usual? Or should we rethink our ways of researching, teaching and communicating the EU?

Over the past decade, the EU has faced an unprecedented succession and accumulation of crises: the banking crisis has led to financial and sovereign debt crises, which have culminated in a Eurozone crisis; a democratic crisis does not merely beset EU-level decision-making, but seems to be a deliberate strategy of some EU governments championing ‘illiberal democracy’. The so-called refugee crisis has been a catalyst for populism and demands to ‘take back’, i.e. re-nationalize, political control. The Brexit referendum was a vivid illustration of these centrifugal forces in the EU and beyond (e.g. with US president-elect Trump calling himself ‘Mr. Brexit’).

For EU scholars, these crises have become primary objects of study, but they have not thrown EU studies into crisis. To the contrary: EU scholars have interpreted the EU’s crisis responses as yet another set of phenomena that can be studied by employing assumptions, theories, and methods that characterize our field. Why let a good crisis go to waste, if it can be analysed with the existing bodies of theories of integration, institutional change, and decision-making? Previous crises, big and small, have surely brought about shifts in the EU’s institutional architecture, they have affected the contentiousness and dynamics of EU policy-making, they have allowed us to assess and refine our theories, but they have hardly led us to re-evaluate our shared premise: that the EU, despite its inefficiencies and deficits, is here to stay.

During the days following the June 23rd vote, business as usual was hardly an option for those amongst us entering a classroom, or for those being asked by concerned relatives and friends. While we can help make sense of the Brexit vote, given the sophisticated commentary from our peers, the implications of the referendum might unleash more than ‘just’ another crisis: It might very well mark a moment of reckoning for us as political scientists and EU scholars. Have we overestimated the stability of the EU’s political system and its resilience to crises? Are some of our theories biased by equating more integration with successful problem-solving and do they hence insinuate a sense of stability, which, in fact, is more porous than solid? Or have we simply taken the EU too much for granted (alongside, possibly, with other political accomplishments of the liberal, democratic post-war order)? And, depending on our answers to these questions, what follows from this diagnosis for researching, teaching and communicating the EU?

We invite proposals (of max. 500 words) for individual contributions (of up to 5,000 words) to a JEPP debate section on this topic. Please, send your proposals by 12 February 2017 to michael.blauberger@sbg.ac.at and berthold.rittberger@gsi.lmu.de and do not hesitate to get in touch with either of them should you have any further questions.