The European Union (EU) is at a critical juncture that will either trigger further integration or reinforce a mode of intergovernmental cooperation. The spread of market pressure to a growing number of states demonstrates that the crisis needs to be dealt with at the European and not just the national level. Up to now the ‘politics of extreme austerity’ has been the mainstream recipe promoted to and adopted by member states. The measures are tougher in those countries where there has been external financial assistance (i.e. Greece, Portugal and Ireland) but the rest of Europe is following suit (e.g. Italy and the UK). This introduction outlines the key directions of EU reforms to put into context the more specific cases discussed elsewhere in this symposium. The strengths and weaknesses of the theoretical frameworks employed in the articles are discussed to demonstrate the lessons that the crisis offers for our well-established public policy models and to highlight avenues for further research. Two main arguments are advanced: first, the crisis calls for an interdisciplinary approach to comprehend its full extent and deal with it efficiently; and second, the current political trajectory of the EU calls for urgent changes to strengthen its cohesion and long-term viability.