The European Union Post‐Brexit: Static or Dynamic Adaptation?

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
The European Union Post-Brexit: Static or
Dynamic Adaptation?
Giandomenico Majone*
Abstract: The choice facing the leaders of the European Union, after Brexit, is between a
static adaptation, leaving the current approach to integration essentially unchanged, and a
dynamic adaptation, which recognisesthe need for radical changes. Dynamic adaptation re-
quires institutional leadershipsomething apparently incompatible with the basic principle
of the equality of all the Member States. The clearest indication of a decit of leadership
is the failure to dene the real purpose of the collective activity. This failure is at the root
of Brexit, as may be seen from the explicit re jection of the indenite goal of e ver closer
unionby the Britishprime minister in November 2015.An alternative approachto European
integration nds a good theoretical foundation in Buchanans theory of clubs. The essential
principleof a functional organisationat supranational level is that activities would be selected
specically and organised separately. A strict ly functional approach to integration could
revive an interestin political union in the formof a confederation. As Tocquevillehad clearly
understood long ago, the weakness of confederations increases in direct proportion to the
extent of their nominal power. What is most important today is to distinguish between the
general idea of European integration and one particular implementation of that idea, such
as the European Union.
I Introduction: Adaptation and its Modes
Adaptation, in biology, is the process by which an animal or a plant becomes tted to its
environment. The ability to adapt to its environment is the characteristic that enables the
animal or the plant to survive the requirement of a changing world. Biologists point out
that many organisms today have structures or physiological mechanisms that are useless
or even somewhat deleterious, but which were useful for survival in earlier times when
the organism was adapted to a rather different environment. There are many different
modes of adaptation(such as structural, physiologicor colour adaptation),but in all cases,
biological adaptation is the outcome of evolution. Psychologists, for their part, emphasise
the importance of human adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation, they argue, is
the key to understanding both what intelligence is and what it does. Particularly relevant
to our discussionis the distinction between staticand dynamic adaption. By staticadapta-
tion, clinical psychol ogists mean such an adaptat ion to changes as leaves the wh ole
character structure unc hanged and implies only the ad option of ordinary respon sive
behaviour. Instead, in dynamic adaptation, there is no one-to-on e relation between an
isolated stimulus and its response. Sociologist Philip Selznick has applied this distinction
to the study of organisations. The rst type of adaptation occurs in organisations when
the existing structure is assum ed to be competent to meet issues as they ar ise without
* Emeritus Professor at the IUEVia Roccettini, 14, 50014 San Domenico di Fiesole, Firenze.
European LawJournal, Vol. 23, No. 1-2,August 2017, pp. 927.
© 2017 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.
internal crisis: As the dai ly work proceeds, changes o ccur, but normally these do n ot
signicantly affect the nature of the enterprise or its leadership.
There are, however, decisions that cannot be understood as simple problem solving, in
which the organisation remains essentially intact. This is the area of critical experience,of
character deningcommitments, which affect the organisations capacity to control its
own future. It is the area wher e leadership counts. The no tion of leadership, Selz nick
notes, is too often associated with the personal relation of leader and followers, but this
view leads us away from the role of leadership in making critical decisions. Institutional
leadership deals with current issues not for themselves alone but according to their long-
run implications for the role and meaning of the organisation. It is the role of the institu-
tional leader to denethe ends of the enterprise, to design an institution distinctly adapted
to these ends and to see that thatdesign becomes a living reality. When such leadership is
lacking, the institution drifts, being readily inuenced by short-run opportunistic trends.
The clearest indication of a decit of leadershipis the failure to set goals. This failure to
dene the purpose of the activity is often due to the wish to avoid conicts with those, in
and out of the organisation, who would be threatened by a sharp denition of purpose
with its attendant claims and responsibilities.
Precisely for this reason, it is important to
emphasise the leaders responsibility to dene the mission of the enterprise. By contrast,
much of the literatureon European integration takesthe main purpose of the EU as given,
whereas precisely this is what is problematic today. Failure to specify the real purpose of
the integration process permits EU leaders to use institutional survival as the criterion of
success. Theproblem is that a polity led by bureaucratsand politicians who disagreeabout
the nal goal to be achieved may fail dismally while steadily growing larger and appar-
ently more secure. Failure to agree on a common goal of collective activity is certainly
at the root of Brexit.
II Static Adaptation, Path Dependence and Lock-In
As we saw, staticadaptation to change does not affectsignicantly the nature ofthe enter-
prise. The way the crisis of monetary un ion has been managed so far provides a good
example of this kind of adaptation. Even experts who were convinced that the euro was
adisasternow look for ways to rescue it. In the last chapter of his book, The Shifts and
The Shocks, Martin Wolf compares European monetary union to a bad marriage. The
opening lines of thatchapter express one of the most severe assessments of what wascon-
sidered, until recently, a major achievement of the European Union (EU):
The eurohas been a disaster. No otherword will do. A projectintended to strengthensolidarity, bring pros-
perity and weaken German economic domination of Europe ha s achieved precisely the opposite: it has
underminedsolidarity, destroyed prosperity and reinforced German domination, at least fora while.
And then he adds:
Proponentsthought that creatinga currency union would bringthe peoples of the Eurozonecloser together.
Crises divided them into contemptuous creditorsand resentful debtors instead. This has been a march of
P. Selznick,Leadership in Administration (Harper & Row,1957), at 34.
Ibid., at 3537.
M. Wolf, The Shifts and The Shocks(Allen Lane, 2014), at 289.
Ibid., at 291292.
The European Union Post-BrexitAugust 2017
© 2017 John Wiley& SonsLtd.10

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