European Union Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series

by John McCormick

Chapter 1: Understanding Integration

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Today’s European Union traces its roots to the creation in 1952 of the European Coal and Steel Community. With this event began a long and complex process by which national interests came to be overlaid with collective European interests. How and why this happened has been the subject of much debate. Multiple theories have been proposed and fine-tuned, but while they offer many valuable insights, no grand theory of European integration has yet been proposed, nor would one likely win general agreement. The earliest explanations came mainly out of International Relations (IR), and represented the European Community first as a process with its own internal logic, and then as an international organization driven by decisions taken by the governments of the member states. These theories are reviewed in this opening chapter. But as the reach and the powers of the EC and then of the EU expanded, so the focus switched to explanations coming out of comparative politics and public policy, which argued that the EU was a political system in its own right, and that we should pay more attention to the character of its institutions, processes, and policy dynamics. These theories are reviewed in Chapter 2. How we think about the EU depends mainly on how we understand the changing role of states. Once clearly the dominant actors on the European political stage, states have undergone much change. Inter-state cooperation has grown, and global political and economic forces have encouraged states to work more closely together. In few parts of the world has this been more true than in Europe, where some argue that the EU has developed many of the features of a European superstate, or a new level of government and authority working above the level of the traditional state.
  • Academic debates about the origins and history of the EU have been dominated by theories of international relations, which portray the EU as an international organization driven by decisions taken by the governments of the member states.
  • How we think about the EU depends in large part on how we think about states and their changing role and powers in the world since 1945.
  • Our understanding of European states also demands an understanding of nations, which have played a key role in determining political and social relations among Europeans since at least the French Revolution.
  • Since the Second World War there has been a marked growth in the number of international organizations, set up to promote cooperation among states, and based on the principles of communal management, shared interests, and voluntary cooperation.
  • Functionalists such as David Mitrany argued that the best way to achieve global peace was through the creation of functionally specific interstate institutions, which would bind states into a web of cooperation.
  • Neofunctionalists such as Ernst Haas argued that integration had its own internal expansive logic. Pressures to integrate would grow through a process of spillover, so that governments would find themselves cooperating in a growing range of additional and related areas.
  • Intergovernmentalists took the focus back to the deliberate and conscious decisions of governments, and argued that the pace and nature of integration has been ultimately driven by state governments pursuing state interests.