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European Member State Elites’ Diverging Visions of the European Union: Diverging Differently since the Economic Crisis and the Libyan Intervention?

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In the midst of the EU’s economic crisis and in the heat of the Libyan intervention, immediate concerns have seemingly crowded out consideration of the long-term issues that have been at the center of the major debates, such as the constitutionalization of the EU, enlargement to the east, or the EU as a global actor. But although these issues appear to be forgotten, the underlying questions about what the EU should be and do that nourished the debates remain. Although each member state naturally has its own specific answer to these questions, the answers have more generally divided into four basic discourses about the EU as a free market, a values-based community, a rights-based union, and/or a strategic global actor. Leaders’ visions of the EU have long appeared associated with particular discourses, with these continuing to inform and explain their actions. But their responses to the economic crisis of the EU as well as to the humanitarian crisis of Libya have thrown such discourses, whether understood in terms of path dependence or incremental development, into question, since some member state leaders’ discourses and/or actions marked radical shifts, and others greater drifts, from the past, at least in the heat of the moment. The question this article therefore poses is whether EU visions are not simply continuing to diverge but also whether they are diverging differently in the aftermath of the EU’s recent crises in economics and international action. It will assess this through the lens of European political elites’ discourses of European integration and international relations, with special attention to the three biggest member states, Britain, France, and Germany.
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Keywords: Discourse; EU international relations; European Union; European integration; Eurozone sovereign debt crisis; Libya; economic crisis; elites

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of International Relations,Boston University, Boston, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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