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The Trilemma of European Economic and Monetary Integration, and Its Consequences

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The article analyses trade‐offs between sovereignty, mass politics and economic and monetary union (EMU), employing Rodrik's paradox of globalisation. The logic of EMU is incompatible with sovereignty and mass politics—only two of the three can coexist. It is argued that three different answers to the trilemma can be observed in the EU practice. In the initial EMU, integration was limited to safeguard mass politics and sovereignty. Member States were free to set economic policies in response to domestic mass politics. This proved unsustainable. During the crisis, democracy was sacrificed to bolster integration, while sovereignty was maintained. Rules on fiscal discipline and macroeconomic imbalances constrain mass politics, and non‐democratic institutions have acquired more prominent roles. Finally, long‐term plans for a genuine EMU envisage the strengthening of integration and moving the locus of democracy to the EU level, while weakening sovereignty. The analysis carries implications. If national courts insist on sovereignty and democracy, the likely consequence is an unworkable EMU, damaging the output legitimacy of the EU. The model adopted in the crisis reinforces the elite nature of the EU, undermines democracy at the national level and may bolster political extremism. This leaves the task of building the preconditions for democracy at the European level.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2016

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