The Resurgence of the Core-Periphery Approach in the Context of the European Integration

In the month of the International Woman’s Day, let us remember to an extraordinarily creative and significant female scientist, to Amalie „Emmy“ Noether, who was born 134 years ago in Germany. Noether is widely considered as the inventor of a theorem of which importance is comparable to that of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Without being exhaustive, and at the level of the layman, Noether’s theorem is about symmetry in nature. Wherever and whenever we face symmetry it always means that some sort of conservation of corresponding things is working behind the curtain (momentum, energy etc.).
As the New York Times columnist, Natalie Angier explained: “If a bicycle wheel is radially symmetric, if you can spin it on its axis and it still looks the same in all directions, well, then, that symmetric translation must yield a corresponding conservation. By applying the principles and calculations embodied in Noether’s theorem, you’ll see that it is angular momentum, the Newtonian impulse that keeps bicyclists upright and on the move.
Consequently, when we see or perceive any kind of asymmetry, the conservation process falls short or is missing. This might be the case when it comes to the European integration in which heterogeneous countries do not show the ethos of faith community (as the energy of integration) as one would have previously expected.
Noether’s theorem also suggests that a complex system is by no means equal with the sum of its parts, but the sum of its parts taken with the interactions among them. In a living system, like our socio-economic system, such consideration is in order, for example, when it comes to understanding the dynamics of the European integration process meaning the progress from being to becoming. With the continuous enlargement of the EU and the growing linkages among Member States, the integration process has been becoming a mostly irreversible process continuously influencing our development opportunities.
From the early 1950s onwards, the new stream of economic literature was evolving, called dependency theory. Interdependency is “[…] a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected.” (Santos, 1971). Under the auspices of dependency theory, the economics profession was in fact more and more incorporating the Noetherian view about interactions.
In the context of the European integration, a potential field of studying the Noetherian interactions is the world of analysing the core-periphery relations as manifestations of asymmetrical interdependency. There is a good reason to think that real socio-economic development throughout the becoming EU – i.e. creating conditions for the realisation of human personality (Seers, 1972; Sen – Nussbaum, 1993) – rests upon our ability to stimulate synergies by influencing the dynamic relationship between core countries (e.g. Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium) and peripheral ones (e.g. Portugal, Spain, Greece etc.).
The asymmetrical relations between core and periphery are in the focus of the new book entitled Core-periphery Relations in the European Union – Power and Conflict in a Dualist Political Economy edited by José M. Magone, Brigid Laffan and Christian Schweiger. It examines how the growing economic, political and cultural divergences have transformed the European Union and how these crises have both exacerbated tensions in centre-periphery relations within and outside the Eurozone. One of the central messages of the book is that the heterogeneity of the national political and economic systems has culminated in an increasing conflict between the core and periphery. As Walter Hallstein put it: “Integration is like a bicycle, it has to keep pedalling or it falls over”. Once pedalling is becoming unbalanced/asymmetric, the integration tends to weakening. As a corollary, the EU, in its current institutional setting, may have reached its limits in terms of multilevel governance. The authors argue that the EU institutions should push the new member states more vigorously towards convergence with mainstream European values and developments.
The well-written and thought-provoking book is able to open up new waves of research as well on the European integration. For example, whether the integration process per se has been leading to an encoded weakening of the integration process due to several interrelated and intertwined complex processes working under the surface that have not yet been explored? This research would be of paramount importance if for no other reason than that today’s thinkers are likely to conclude that: multispeed integration shall be avoided by (i) fostering institutional change within the Eurozone as well as by (ii) triggering industrial development in the periphery to improve their competitiveness. Contemporary scholars tend to believe in such actions would reinvigorate the power of the integration process in the spirit of pursuing peace and welfare (Becker – Weissenbacher, 2015). However, exploring the interactions of the underlying processes (Noether factor) behind the weakening of the integration process would be of interest to elaborate better policy options by transcending the sheer claim that ‘structural imbalance is there because of the heterogeneity of the member states’. This might lead to new implications on national and EU-level governances.
Becker, J. – Weissenbacher, R. (2015): Changing Development Models: Dependency School Meets Regulation Theory. Paper presented at Colloque international. Recherche&Régulation 2015. 10-12 June 2015, Paris.
Magone, J. M. – Laffan, B. – Schweiger, C. (eds.) (2016): Core-periphery Relations in the European Union – Power and Conflict in a Dualist Political Economy. Routledge, Routledge/UACES Contemporary European Studies, p. 312
Santos, T. D. (1971): The Structure of Dependence. In: Fann, K. T. – Hodges, D. C. (eds.) (1971): Readings in U.S. Imperialism. Porter Sargent, Boston. p. 226
Seers, D. (1972): What are we trying to measure? Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 8., pp. 21-36
Sen, A. – Nussbaum, M. (eds.) (1993): The Quality of Life. Revised edition. Clarendon Press, Gloucestershire.

Olivér Kovács is the author of the book Stability and Dynamism – The Fundamentals of Innovative Fiscal Policy, which has been published in Hungarian.