Saturday, June 1, 2013

EU Theory of Integration

In general, theory serves to help a researcher step back and examine trends. It is a way to succinctly record macro-level observations, in this case, regarding European integration. However, in the case of international relations theory, the subject changes so rapidly that many theories are often outdated. Thus, theory is often used as a framework for analysis. In comparing current situations to past theories, conclusions and inferences can be drawn from any observed changes.

With regard to European integration, there have been a multitude of theories presented to explain the creation of the Union, and considering its relatively short history, only major swings in policy could justify so many different approaches. Given its unique origin, the European Union presents a complicated study for any IR scholar. Born out of strongly independent states, integration theory has journeyed from neo-functionalism, where integration was a natural result of functional and political “spill-over” (Wallace et al., 17-18), to constructivism where integration is now a matter of public opinion, closely related to individually held identities (Hooghe & Marks, 118).

A neo-functionalist approach to the current EU crisis would result in greater central authority over national economies. The idea of functional spill-over discussed in the Wallace et al. (17-18) piece would apply in this case. With a common economy, dependent on the support and success of its member’s economies, in the case of a crisis it would be expected that the EU institutions exert significantly more influence over economic affairs of member states, as it has clearly become an issue that is no longer being sufficiently handled at the national level. When looking at the crisis through an intergovernmentalist lens, we would expect national governments to push back against any EU oversight in their economies. Ideally this would eventually result in some form of cooperative economic monitoring program, structured to distribute influence between EU institutions and national governments. Using the more current constructivist approach, the crisis would be highly influenced by subnational opinions. Given that the Union is increasingly interconnected and individual citizens’ economic status are all closely linked, individual and thus national preferences will play a major role in the resolution of these economic problems.


  1. A good summary, Cassandra. I'm curious about your final point on constructivism -- where, specifically, might we see the kind of "subnational opinions" that you mention? Is there empirical evidence from the EU response tot he crisis to support the constructivist analysis? Might we also look for shared ideas or norms *across* European societies?

  2. As I am still in the process of gaining a deeper understanding of the current European crisis, I don't know of empirical evidence to support constructivism at the moment. However, I will speculate from the knowledge I do currently have.

    The subnational opinions I was referring to, and "subnational" may not be the best term, was simply public opinion in member states. As Hooghe and Marks point out, policy making in Europe has been shifting in a more populist direction since the Maastricht Accord through the referendum process (118). Given that the constructivist framework is so closely linked to identity, which in turn maintains a strong emotional component, a serious economic crisis will quickly mobilize a population to present an opinion. (This assumption/prediction comes from my knowledge that in the United States the economy is the one topic that every individual, whether politically oriented or not, has a strong opinion on. I would imagine this would be visible in Europe as well). This opinion could be expressed in several ways, most likely through the media, but also in any form of public debate and/or dialogue.

    From this, national governments will be hard pressed to not represent and support the interests of their citizenry to the European institutions during the process of solving this crisis.

    1. I think that constructivism can serve to bring up some interesting points in regards to the EU, especially when it comes to tension between identity and responsibility. Like Cassandra, I don't know of any empirical evidence to support constructive, but a possible approach might be to look at defense spending or troop/material commitments by member states to EU endeavors.

      As the events I have thus far attended through my internship have dealt with security, the issue of who is spending or committing what has come up quite a bit. Indeed, from a broader perspective, citizens of some states (mainly larger ones i.e. France) have called for more proactive security measures and talk about the necessity of maintaining a capability to project power. On the other hand, I have heard others argue (primarily from Eastern European states so far) that the EU should be more insular. Although my attempt to link the concept of identity and security policy may be a bit tenuous, I think it does serve to show something of a disparity within the EU.

  3. Cassandra and Grant -- good initial thoughts on what you might look for in terms of a constructivist analysis of European Integration and the EU response to the current crisis. Keep watching and following EU events, and keep thinking about how the different theoretical perspectives would help you make sense of these events.

    Overall, remember that constructivism is about identity and ideas, but most importantly about the way that *shared* identities and ideas manifest themselves and shape the way that *groups* understand problems, see certain responses as appropriate and others as inappropriate, and shape the actions taken (and the interests held) by these groups/actors.