There are many ways to potentially describe the “story” of European integration. In attempting to create my own narrative about the rise of the EU, I think it is important to make a broad and perhaps overly simplistic distinction between the initial phases of integration and the actual functioning of the EU. While these two phases are clearly inextricably linked and others might disagree with me, I think that the distinction is important as I would argue that the roots of the formation of the EU can primarily be traced back to the effects of the second world war but that understanding how and why it operates can be understood through a more theoretically oriented framework.
I don’t think any story about the increasing levels of European integration can be complete without examining World War II. To a great extent, I would argue that WWII led to a heightened fear of the dangers of extremist nationalism while also highlighting, in painfully tangible detail, the horrors of war to Europe’s citizens. Creating a system to avoid such a conflict in the future was of the utmost importance as “for France and Germany…finding a way to live together in a durable peace was a fundamental political priority.” (Pinder, 1) The formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)/European Economic Community (ECC) represented great strides in this direction.
Although there were economic incentives to form these communities, the ultimate aim was to eliminate war with the hope being that “solidarity in production” would make “any war between France and Germany…not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” (Schuman declaration, 1.) After experiencing the destructive capabilities of warfare, European states sought a way out. While some may argue that “WWII is receding into a more distant past” I think it is also true that “the motive of peace and security…remains a powerful influence on governments and politicians.” (Pinder, 3.) I would thus argue that the foundations of EU can be traced to the necessity of peace and the opportunity to enact real change.
The second part of my narrative of EU integration follows the creation of the ECSC and the ECC in the 1950s and involves the official formation and functioning of the EU after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. I think some important question to ask here include:
1) why does the EU work?
2) how does it work?, and
3) how has it changed it over time?
All of these questions could well be answered with dissertations and there are many potential avenues of explanation. For example, Pinder and Schuman argue the “two main ways of explaining” (Pinder, 6) the rise of the EU are, respectively, tied to the degree of emphasis placed on the role of states versus institutions. Other authors take more micro-level approaches in analyzing changes within the EU over time by focusing on the role of political parties or understandings of what governance means to member states. (Goetz et al., 9-10.)
Personally, I would explain the functioning of the EU through the neo-liberalism IR theory. That is, states have joined the EU out of self-interest and but have become tied together through institutional links, specifically the benefits of economic and security cooperation. In terms of what history suggests for the current economic and governance crisis in the EU, I would remain cautiously optimistic as I don’t think states will lose sight of its (real or perceived) necessity.