The role and purpose of theory in studying European integration is to gain a better understanding of the functions and role of the European Union. Theory can provide insights into the “telos of European integration” and the workings of the European Union (Wallace et al., Ch.2, 42). According to Wallace et al., theory can greatly increase our understanding “of EU policy-making, of the respective roles and influence of the Commission, Council, Parliament, and Court,” as well as the “increasingly relationship between EU institutions and their national and sub-national interlocutors” (Wallace et al., Ch. 2, 34). Furthermore, theories are good analytical tools that can be used to explain and chart variation in European Union policy-making over time and across issue areas (Wallace et al., Ch. 2, 16).
Though theory can be useful, in regards to European integration, it has also been a difficult, and contested, enterprise. This is largely due to the fact that the European Union is unique compared to other governing systems in the world. The European Union is in many ways unidentifiable, “in that it escapes labels, such as nation, state, empire, region, federation, which form the conventional toolkit of political science” (Hooghe & Marks, 108). Furthermore, Hooghe & Marks note that European integration challenges the political science division between politics among countries and politics within countries (108). In addition to the challenges it creates to standing political science understanding, the institutional change within the European Union moves very quickly (Hooghe & Marks, 108). For example, “over the space of 50 years, the EU has increased two-and-a-half times in population, from 190 million to 493 million” (Hooghe & Marks, 108-109). Thus, the European Union is distinct in regime creation, in its speed and scope (Hooghe & Marks, 109).
Given the current crisis, each major body of theory would predict (or suggest) something different for Europe and the integration project. According to Neo-functionalism, the spillover effect of integration in one policy area (such as monetary policy) would lead to further integration in another related policy area (such as fiscal policy); thus, the current crisis would lead to further integration (Wallace et al., Ch. 2, 18). According to Intergovernmentalism, Europe and the integration project would take a step back; with focus being placed more on the nation-states than the Community (Wallace et al., 19). This is because, for intergovernmentalism, “national governments control policy outcomes” (Hooghe & Marks, 113). According to Liberal Intergovernmentalism, national governments will bargain more with each other to deal with the crisis, leading to further integration (Wallace et al., 19-20). For New Institutionalism, “EU institutions ‘matter’, shaping both the policy process and policy outcomes in predictable ways,” thus, according to this theory, institutions will continue to shape European integration during the current crisis (Wallace et al., Ch. 2, 23). Lastly, for Constructivism, the social environment plays a key role and will shape the behavior of states and the EU in dealing with the current crisis (Wallace et al., Ch. 2, 24-25).
The implication of the European Union’s actions in response to the crisis so far for the major theories of European integration varies. I think for Neo-functionalists, the European Union’s actions signal further integration with “bailouts” given to member states and the discussion over a permanent “European Stability Mechanism.” I think for Intergovernmentalism, the recent actions by the European Union goes against this theory, as integration and the EU have taken steps to deal with the crisis across many member states. However, I think recent steps demonstrate the applicability of Liberal Intergovernmentalism because of the response of the EU to the needs/preferences of the national governments of its member states. The creation of the European Rescue Fund and discussion over a permanent “European Stability Mechanism” also demonstrate the usefulness of New Institutionalism, as it appears that the EU is utilizing institutions in response to this crisis. Lastly, I think that the current crisis has created a social environment in which the EU has to respond and thus, Constructivism can be used to somewhat better understand EU action.