Friday, May 31, 2013

EU: Background and Foundations

The “narrative” of the European integration is relatively simple. After two World Wars tore through Europe, leaving the continent a mass of rubble, there was only one thought dominating the minds of Europeans: this cannot be allowed to happen again. Thus, beginning with the integration of the French and German coal and steel communities (two industries essential to war making)  the now 27, soon to be 28, nations in the European Union have become so economically dependent on one another that war is virtually impossible.

However, the motivation for European integration is not the only aspect critical to the EU’s narrative. Politically, European integration has always been viewed through two different lenses. While the EU was originally envisioned by Schuman as a “European federation,” many have fought to maintain the power and independence of the nation state within the European framework (Schuman Declaration, 2). This debate regarding the exact function of the European Union remains to this day. Both camps agree that their system would serve the original purpose of ensuring peace, so then why the conflict? As the Union has grown, the needs of the nation states have changed. European countries are no longer only looking for a sustainable peace; they now seek “prosperity, with business and trade… protection of the environment… and influence in external relations” (Pinder & Usherwood, 9). This has meant that the governing institutions in the European Union have a larger role to play than simply managing the coal and steel industries. Thus, the balance of power between European institutions and national governments has been in constant flux. In particular, the Council of Ministers generally represents an intergovernmental position whereas the European Parliament promotes a more federalist approach (Pinder & Usherwood, 10).

Given the current economic and political crises facing the European Union it is clear that 60+ years of a common European history is just the beginning. Daily, EU institutions are dealing with new problems and acting in a way that is setting precedent for the future of the Union. And in accordance with the debate of national vs. institutional power, member states continue to push back against anything that could be considered too much oversight. Particularly in the case of economic recession in individual member states, given how interconnected European national economies are, it will be very interesting to witness how the EU will proceed to protect the European economy in the face of individual crises’. 


  1. Cassandra -- I think you make a very important point in the last part of your post in noting that although the EU is over 60 years old, this is but the blink of an eye in geopolitical time! As a political form or "experiment" the EU is still quite young.

    Nonetheless, this brief history does give us some indication of how the EU might handle the current crisis. What crises has the EU faced in the past? How has the EU handled these crises?

    Your post also highlights some of the ideas in (neo)functionalist theories of integration, which we'll examine more as we work through the readings. The idea that integrating one area (e.g. trade or a common market) leads to the functional imperative for integration in neighboring areas (e.g. environmental policies) may provide some clues as to what we would expect of the EU today.

  2. Cassandra - I like that you highlighted the struggle between the EU and its member states and how this is not something new but something that has been going on within the debate on what the exact function of the European Union is. In the meetings and hearings that I have gone to at the EU Parliament, I have seen this struggle, particularly between the Council and the Commission. It seems to me that member states are still struggling with how they fit within the European Union, what powers they must give up to be part of it. I think because there is no other system in the world quite like the European Union, this political "experiment" will continue to struggle with defining who it is and what it does.

    1. With respect to this, Hooghe & Marks make a great point that never before in history has anything as large as the EU been created in such a short period of time outside the confines of war-born territorial expansion (109). And it does not seem like much momentum has been lost since the creation of the ECSC.

      This is one thing I find fascinating about studying the EU. It is so new, historically speaking, that we can literally watch history unfold as the Union more-or-less builds itself. The crises it has faced in the past (the Crisis of the Empty Chair, the end of the Cold War and subsequent eastward expansion, etc.) have brought about such great changes both structurally, and politically- constantly changing the balance of national vs. EU institutional power. The current economic crisis is no different and will surely result in significant political and/or structural, changes within the EU.

  3. Although we come from a U.S. perspective, a country born from the unification of formerly separate territories, I sometimes wonder if that doesn't tinge our expectations of the growth of the EU and what it will mean to member States. When I was younger, I always used to look at Europe and the EU and figure it was just a matter of time until they all became a clearly defined, singular 'United States of Europe.' As I have grown older though and seen these countries, and particularly over the last couple of months, I am not so convinced.

    There really is nothing like the EU in the world, nothing even close. It links member States in ways that go well beyond any treaty or alliance, yet as you said in your post many member States seem intent on retaining a certain level of political independence from the collective whole. Constant exceptions are being carved out that seem to stand in the way of a more unified Europe, such as Ireland's refusal to ratify the proposed EU Constitution over abortion concerns, and England's refusal to use the Euro. There is no reason for these nations to all merge seamlessly, and I really wonder if they ever will. I almost don't want them to. I love the huge cultural diversity that exists from country to country, and as the EU continues to level differences and barriers between countries, I worry that this diversity will be reduced or cease to exist altogether.

  4. Ryan -- is there anything to suggest that cultural diversity is erased or minimized when states or regions unify politically? We might not expect a "seamless" integration of EU member states in the same way that a state originally designed as a federal body (like the US or Germany) is integrated. But just thinking of the US or Germany, political integration of disparate units over time hasn't really erased regional differences in culture and tradition, has it?