Saturday, June 1, 2013

European Integration Theories

The general role of theory is to attempt to give an explanation for why events occur in the manner that they do. European Integration theories all try to give the audience an account for why policies and institutions behave in a certain manner, make decisions, or progress in a certain way. I think what Pollack said at the end of chapter 2 about scholars theorizing European integration seems accurate not just for the EU but many different theories for other topics as well: “theorizers of European Integration [are] blind men touching an elephant, each one feeling a different part of the elephant purporting to describe a very different animal” (42). It is difficult to agree upon a theory if scholars are analyzing the EU from its many different angles or from the multiple layers that make up the union. European integration is also difficult to generalize because it is constantly evolving as more states enter the union.
Pollack and Hooghe & Marks compare and contrast a few different theories of integration including neo-functionlism, intergovernmentalism, institutionalism, and even constructivism; all having overlapping ideas but essentially trying to predict how integration will take place from different perspectives.

Considering the current crisis it would seem that neo-functionalists and intergovernmentalists would rally to place more authority into the institution to solve matters with sectorial cooperation rather than depend upon the individual nation-states. As the EU Observer illustrates, the economic centralization of the EU in response (2013) to the crisis aligns well with intergovernmentalism/neo-functionalism in that more power is seemingly given to the institution.  
Constructivism argues that individual identities are shaped by our social environment in which we consider socially constructed rules and institutions to determine our actions and behaviors towards certain situations (Pollack, p. 24). This theory would suggest that each member state of the EU would resolve the crisis through social institutions which are woven into the makeup of the EU. However, constructivism would be difficult to quantify as it suggests that the EU would be influencing the preferences and behaviors of the member governments and not that individual agents influence the interests of the EU.


  1. A good post, Rachel. I'm a bit curious about your final claim, though, that "constructivism would be difficult to quantify..." -- can you clarify that a bit?

    I think that scholars who focus on identities, norms, and ideas as key explanatory factors might argue that we can "see" these things rather clearly, for instance, in the EU stance that austerity, not stimulus, is the correct way to handle the current economic crisis -- a set of ideas grounded in Europe's historical experience with, and recollection of, hyperinflation in the 1930s. One might also point to the norm of solidarity that has led the EU to address the crisis collectively (however grudgingly) and to bring all states through the crisis (even if that involved harsh measures in some cases).

    1. I think what I was trying to say was that it would be difficult to quantify which entity influences the other first-do norms influence institutions or do institutions make decisions that influence behaviors and thus create our norms? But I understand your point. Your example actually helped clarify some questions I had about applied constructivism-this theory always confuses me a little. Thanks!

  2. Rachel - I like that you included the following quote from Pollack: “theorizers of European Integration [are] blind men touching an elephant, each one feeling a different part of the elephant purporting to describe a very different animal” (42). This quote is a great illustration of the complexity of the European Union and how that complexity can result in a different perspective, or theory, depending on where the person is standing. Consequently, I think that you are right to point out that it is difficult to come to a consensus on the accurate theory that should be used to analyze the European integration and I would go further to say that depending on the context of the situation, one theory may be more applicable than another, at any given time. I think this is why constructivism may be a good way of theorizing about the European Union and European integration because it takes into account social environment.

  3. I actually could not stop laughing at the "blind men touching an elephant" line. I had never heard it before the reading, but I think its a very good metaphor. It highlights how it's possible to describe the exact same events from very different perspectives and arguments, and yet conflicting theories can all find support from the same fact pattern. The EU is such a vastly complicated international body that trying to shove it into one of these analytical frameworks can certainly cause more harm than good.
    Emily, of the theories available, I do like constructivism quite a bit as well. States are not ruled by kings and queens weilding political power as single, individual actors (as intergovernmentalists almost seem to be advocating with their focus on Heads of State). States are ruled now primarily by elected representatives who have constituents and lobbyists back home to answer to, and constructivism does a good job of emphasizing these additional pressures on policy making moving forward.

  4. The "blind men touching an elephant" analogy is indeed both amusing and instructive. As many of your pointed out, it helps highlight the fact that the EU is a complex and multifaceted entity. As analysts, though, we do have a few advantages over the blind men: we know that we're touching an elephant, and we're not totally blind as to what part we're touching. For instance, if I'm concerned with European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), then I know that this is an area that is much more intergovernmental in nature, and as such intergovernmentalism may well give me more analytical leverage to figure out which facts among many matter the most in understanding the outcomes I observed. If I'm looking at a highly integrated area like the common market, neofunctionalism or institutionalist theories may well give me more purchase. That's not to say that members state interests don't matter in the common market, but rather that a theory that explicitly focuses our attention on the institutional features of a highly institutionalized policy area will probably be better in helping us understand whether/how those interests come into play.