1. EU’s Shock&Balances IDEA

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GEOMETR.IT  e-ir.info

* Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.  George Orwell

The European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) outlines the Union’s financial planning and main political priorities for a period between five and seven years. A proposal of this multifaceted budget is put forth by the European Commission, while the implementation of the MFF is done by the Council, after an approval by the European Parliament. Although the MFF is not as comprehensive as a national budget, it sets the principal categories of expenditure and the maximum amount of spending per category (European Commission, 2011, p. 1).

The 2021-2027 MFF is a modern, all-encompassing budget that accentuates on policies and areas such as the single market, migration and border management, the neighbourhood and the world, natural sources and the environment, and many more (European Commission, 2018, p. 6).

One area in particular, however, presents a striking example of an increase in EU spending—defence. In today’s globalized and rapidly changing world, EU Member States need to increasingly collaborate in order to adequately protect and defend their citizens and their values as well as their borders and territorial integrity. For this reason, the Commission proposed a massive, twenty-two fold increase in the defence sector of the next MFF. (European Commission, 2018, p. 1).

The object of this paper is to demonstrate which institutional theory best explains the EU’s unprecedented increase of the MFF’s defence portion. By applying historical institutionalism concepts to recent EU defence developments, the paper demonstrates that events from the past, namely the Western European policy towards the Soviet Union in the Cold War, have an effect on the current EU defence spending. After the 2014 Russian military invasion of Crimea, the EU imposed economic sanctions.

However, the Union hesitated to intervene militarily in Ukraine, which raised questions about European defence in case of future Russian aggression. In the early Cold War, Western countries had realized that a policy of détente towards the communist Soviet Union would be unthinkable, given the latter’s hostile stance towards capitalist countries.

For this reason, the capitalist West decided to re-arm itself in order to ensure its ultimate survival. This paper argues that after Crimea—a critical point in history—the EU has pursued similar defence policy to that of the Western allies in the Cold War. Further sequential events strengthened the EU’s view that Russia would remain the greatest threat to EU security, thus EU leaders decided to expand their projected defence spending. Ultimately, the paper argues that the whole early Cold War – post-Crimea episode is causally linked through a path dependent sequence of events.

The paper is divided into four parts. The first one outlines the case in question, namely the EU’s increased projected spending on defence for the next six years. Subsequently, the paper explores historical institutionalism, the institutional theory that best explains the case in question. The third part analyzes the EU’s rationale behind its augmentation of the defence portion of the MFF, while the fourth part provides a conclusion which summarizes the main arguments.

Case: EU Defence and the MFF

Security and defence have been critical to the existence of the EU ever since its inception. After the end of the Second World War, Europeans desired to avert future bloodsheds by joining the newly-established, collective security providing United Nations.

It was initially believed that another large-scale interstate conflict would be highly unlikely in the near future. Yet, after Soviet-American relations gradually tensed, the likelihood of another great war re-emerged. In 1945, therefore, the European continent became divided between the capitalist West and the communist East Bloc.

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April, 1949 (NATO, 2012). This established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which, from 1950 to the end of the Cold War, remained the principal source of defence for the western part of Europe.

Subsequently, in 1991, the Treaty of Maastricht established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which was designed to organize and manage the EU’s foreign and security policies (European Council, 2018). The CFSP was further reinforced in 1999 with the launch of the European Security and Defence Policy which was renamed in 2007 to Common Security and Defence Policy (European Council, 2018).

The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea became the first of the most recent international events that critically menaced the defence of the EU. Moreover, the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States further had consequences for the defence and security of Europe, as the overall political dialogue between Washington and Brussels has become relatively strained in a number of areas, including defence and security. In sum, with their major ally being uncooperative, EU leaders also found themselves threatened on the East by a country that is unlikely to cooperate in the future, does not respect international law norms, and desires to increase its geopolitical influence, even at the expense of igniting a military conflict.

Theory: Historical Institutionalism Overview

One of the key features of historical institutionalism is the notion that its scholars “take history seriously” (Pierson & Skocpol, 2002, p. 5). In order to understand how significant events have occurred, historical institutionalists turn to history for answers, often examining decades or centuries of historical processes. They do not analyze these processes in isolation; rather, they relentlessly hunt for theoretical linkages that demonstrate causation between big, real world events (Pierson & Skocpol, 2002, p. 5).

The first main feature of historical institutionalism states that the past affects the future, with path dependence being a fundamental element. Although scholars have defined path dependence dissimilarly, they generally refer to it as “the dynamics of self-reinforcing or positive feedback processes in a political system – what economists call ‘increasing returns’ process” (Pierson & Skocpol, 2002, p. 5). All path dependency scholars agree that an event that had occurred in the past, sometimes in the very distant past, tends to build upon itself throughout history (Mahoney & Schensul, 2006, p. 458).

Secondly, according to some path dependence proponents, the occurrence of a critical junctureactivates feedback systems that strengthen future historical happenings which translate into a pattern that persists over time. Critical junctures are important to examine as they mark the beginning of new series of sequences. They are “periods when a particular option is selected from a range of alternatives, thereby channeling future movement in a specific direction” (Mahoney & Schensul, 2006, p. 460).

Historical lock-in, self-reproducing sequences, and reactive sequences are historical institutionalism features that are also worth examining. Historical lock-in assumes that events throughout history might be found in a point of development from which they cannot escape.

Subsequent events are assumed to be ‘locked-in’, and a stable outcome is produced over time as a result (Mahoney & Schensul, 2006, p. 463). Self-reproducing sequences are outcomes which are stably reproduced throughout time, and they may persist indefinitely or reach an equilibrium (Mahoney & Schensul, 2006, p. 466).  Reactive sequences, on the other hand, are events that serve both as a reaction to previous events as well as a cause of subsequent occurrences; they represent “chains of temporally ordered and causally connected events” (Mahoney & Schensul, 2006, p. 467).

Using the theoretical background provided in this section, the paper will next analyze the question of the 2021-2027 MFF defence sector increase. By applying some of the aforementioned concepts to the EU projected defence spending, the paper will demonstrate why historical institutionalism represents the most suitable new institutionalist theory capable of explaining the case in question.

Analysis: Historical Patterns in EU Defence

Historical institutionalism provides the best theoretical framework that can explain the increase of the 2021-2027 MFF’s defence portion. As mentioned in the second section, after the Cold War, Russia has frequently posed challenges to EU security.

With the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, however, the most important critical juncture occurred. Among the policy options that were available to them, EU leaders decided to impose economic sanctions, thus to retaliate against the Russian aggression in Ukraine (European Council, 2018). However, a constant fear that Russia might further attempt to appropriate territories from neighbouring states, such as Belarus, Georgia, or Estonia, remained present.

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:  e-ir.info



  1. After the end of the Second World War, Europeans desired to avert future bloodsheds by joining the newly-established, collective security providing United Nations.

  2. Many member states have developed structured positions and demands on a number of key issues in the negotiation, but Italy has thus far failed to outline a clear and articulate position. Instead, the present government has advanced a vague and ultimately counterproductive threat to veto the final budget unless its concerns on migration management are met at the EU level

  3. Turning to expenditure, the two biggest spending blocks in the budget, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Policy, will be moderately reduced, with more funds diverted to financing European common goods such as security, border controls and environmental protection. In particular, the external action, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes will be substantially increased, while migration and border management will see its funding doubled. Meanwhile, 13 billion euro will be dedicated to a brand new European Defence Fund

  4. The European Commission has also proposed to reform and modernise the Common Agricultural Policy, using a budget of €365 billion to “support the transition towards a fully sustainable agricultural sector and the development of vibrant rural areas”. A significant increase in funds has been proposed for migration policy and border control, to invest in “a comprehensive approach to the managing of migration” and “strengthening the management of external borders” in light of the ongoing migration and refugee crisis.

  5. Civil society is an integral partner to the EU in its efforts to fulfil its external action objectives.
    As such, we encourage you to be bold and visionary to ensure the EU and its Member States
    are collectively able to build a better world and to translate policy commitments into action.

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