What's Wrong With the European Union and How to Fix It; Europe: The State of the Union

In This Review

What's Wrong With the European Union and How to Fix It

By Simon Hix
Polity, 2008
228 pp. $64.95
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Europe: The State of the Union

By Anand Menon
Atlantic Books, 2007
290 pp. $0.00
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These are two useful new contributions on the evolution of the European Union, now in trouble again following the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Both authors offer a limited defense of an organization that delivers many benefits to those who live under its aegis yet never seems to satisfy them. In the more original volume, Hix diagnoses the problem as being a lack of popular legitimacy (only about half of the EU's citizens now believe their country's membership in the EU is a good thing), which stems not from an ideological aversion to integration but from a simple calculation on the part of the masses that the union is not responsive to their needs. Hix sees a "democratic deficit" in the EU but rejects both the Euroskeptic conclusion that it should give power back to the states and the Eurofederalist conclusion that it should assume even more power. Rather, what the EU needs is "the substantive content of democracy: a battle for control of political power and the policy agenda at the European level, between rival groups of leaders with rival policy platforms." His smart, sensible proposals for how to do that -- which include holding an open contest for the post of commission president, making the Council of the European Union more transparent, and giving the European Parliament more power -- might help the union's current leaders out of their constitutional mess. Menon's book is less a work of political science than a learned essay based on his 15 years spent teaching and learning about European integration at the University of Birmingham. Acknowledging that "much of what the European Union does is dull" and hard to explain to "comatose students," Menon has written a witty, well-informed, and accessible evaluation of the state of that union -- which is still decidedly mixed but positive on the whole.