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 However, in the case of international relations theory, the subject changes so rapidly that many theories are often outdated.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.