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At certain times in the history of a discipline, theories extend beyond the empirical facts that have been discovered to test them; at other times, new facts come to light that cannot be comprehended in terms of the theories available. For the past decade or more, European integration has thrown up a series of facts that escape the theories on offer. How can one explain the outcomes of referendums which shape the course of European integration? What explains public opinion, competition among political parties and the populist pressures that have thrust Europe into domestic politics? Why has the process of decision making over Europe changed? These questions have drawn comparativists to examine the European Union, but this research has rarely been guided by theories of regional integration.
The purpose of theory is to frame research agendas--to direct empirical research to interesting developments, to find and solve empirical puzzles, as well as to generalize. (1) In this article we outline a research programme that seeks to make sense of new developments in the politics of the European Union (EU) and the middle-range theories that account for them.
We do so by using the building blocks of the multi-level governance approach to European integration. Multi-level governance conceives regional integration as part of a more general phenomenon, the articulation of authority across jurisdictions at diverse scales. In earlier work we detected direct connections between domestic groups and European actors that contradicted the claim that states monopolize the representation of their citizens in international relations. (2) Here we extend this line of argument by analysing how domestic patterns of conflict across the European Union constrain the course of European integration. Domestic and European politics have become more tightly coupled as governments have become responsive to public pressures on European integration.
A theory of regional integration should tell us about the political choices that determine its course. In order to explain the level and scope of integration, we need to understand the underlying conflicts: who is involved, on what issues and with what consequences. We therefore pay detailed attention to the substantive character of the debate over regional integration. (3) What do key actors strive for?
The debate on Europe is complex, but recent research has shown it has structure. It is coherent, not chaotic. It is connected to domestic political conflict, not sui generis. And, while some have tried, no one has succeeded in reducing the debate to rational economic interest. For reasons that we turn to next, we believe that it is impossible to do so. (4)
Every theory is grounded on a set of assumptions intellectual short cuts--that reduce complexity and direct our attention to causally powerful factors. We claim that identity is decisive for multi-level governance in general, and for regional integration in particular. The reason for this derives from the nature of governance.
Governance has two entirely different purposes. (5) Governance is a means to achieve collective benefits by co-ordinating human activity. Given the variety of public goods and their varying externalities, efficient governance will be multi-level. But governance is also an expression of community. Citizens care passionately--about who exercises authority over them. The challenge for a theory of multi-level governance is that the functional need for human co-operation rarely coincides with the territorial scope of community. Communities demand self rule, and the preference for self rule is almost always inconsistent with the functional demand for regional authority. To understand European integration we need, therefore, to understand how, and when, identity is mobilized.
We describe the research programme as postfunctionalist because the term reflects an agnostic detachment about whether the jurisdictions that humans create are, or are not, efficient. While we share with neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism the view that regional integration is triggered by a mismatch between efficiency and the existing structure of authority, we make no presumption that the outcome will reflect functional pressures, or even that the outcome will reflect these pressures mediated by their distributional consequences. Political conflict makes all the difference, and that conflict, we argue, engages communal identities.
Our argument can be broken down into three logical steps. First, we theorize public and party preferences over European integration. Secondly, we theorize the conditions under which public and party preferences matter, i.e. the conditions under which European integration is politicized in high profile debate. Thirdly, we conclude by hypothesizing the consequences of politicization for the substantive character of European integration. (6) Before we lay out this argument we suggest why neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism have become less useful guides for research on the European Union.
NEOFUNCTIONALISM AND INTERGOVERNMENTALISM
Both neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism refine a prior and simpler theory--functionalism--which shaped thinking about political integration among scholars and policy makers from the end of the First World War until the 1950s. (7) Functionalism assumed that the sheer existence of a mismatch between the territorial scale of human problems and of political authority generates pressures for jurisdictional reform. David Mitrany, the principal functionalist thinker after the Second World War, believed that the welfare benefits of supranationalism would impel reform.
Later, scholars elaborated explanations from a more detached scientific standpoint. They retained the functionalist insight that regional integration is a response to the collective benefits of extending the territorial scope of jurisdictions, but they were well aware that the mismatch between collective welfare and the structure of authority does not speak for itself.
Neofunctionalists were puzzled by the speed and breadth of regional integration in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. (8) How, they asked, could rapid jurisdictional reform take place among embedded national states? They identified several political processes that intervened between functionality and the structure of authority. (9) Jurisdictional reform had to be initiated and driven by transnational interest groups demanding supranational authority to reap (mainly economic) benefits. Once set in motion, the process was self-reinforcing. As integration deepened and supranational institutions gained power, so more transnational interests would be drawn to the supranational level. Supranational actors would themselves demand more authority. Progress in one area would give rise to pressures for integration in other areas. Transnational mobilization, supranational activism and policy spill-over would intervene between sectoral pressures for jurisdictional reform and institutional outcomes.
After the debacle of Charles de Gaulle's opposition to supranationalism and the empty chair crisis of 1965-66, neofunctionalist predictions appeared too rosy. The most influential alternative approach--intergovernmentalism--describes a family of theories that conceive regional integration as an outcome of bargaining among national states. (10) The puzzle was not the speed or breadth of regional integration, but the decision of national states to create an international regime in the first place. Given their power and resources, why should states pool authority? Robert Keohane's answer was that international regimes provide states with the functional benefit of facilitating mutually advantageous co-ordination. (11)
Neofunctionalists and intergovernmentalists engaged in a decades-long debate about whether the impetus for regional integration comes from national governments or from supranational or transnational actors, whether supranational institutions such as the European Commission are autonomous from national governments, and whether regional integration transforms national states. To a considerable extent, neofunctionalists and intergovernmentalists talked past each other. Neofunctionalists were most concerned with day-to-day policy making, while intergovernmentalists were concerned with the major treaties. (12) But we should not be dismayed that facts did not settle the issue. Facts do not stand up for themselves in validating or invalidating a theory, but are deployed and debated. Such debate rarely yields a clear winner. What distinguishes positive from negative research agendas is the ability of a theory to shed light on new facts without adopting ad hoc hypotheses.
Disagreements between neofunctionalists and liberal intergovernmentalists should not obscure two commonalities. First, both conceived preferences as economic. Neofunctionalists argued that Pareto-improving economic gains lie behind demands for regional integration. Transnational interest groups and supranational actors pursue incremental economic reform along the line of least resistance. This would eventually transform the national state, and even identities, in a European direction. Liberal intergovernmentalists stressed that preferences over European integration reflected the distribution of economic gains among states or business groups.
Secondly, both neofunctionalism and liberal intergovernmentalism focus on distributional bargaining among (economic) interest groups. Neofunctionalists hypothesized that such groups would operate at the supranational, as well as at the national level. Intergovernmentalists conceived interest-group pressures within discrete national arenas. Business groups lobby national governments because this is the most direct way to exert political influence over EU decision making. (13)
A central claim of this article is that one must probe beyond the economic preferences of interest groups to understand the course of European integration. An approach stressing interest-group calculation is more appropriate for European integration in the late 1950s to the late 1980s than either before or since. Only after the defeat of a European Defence Community in the French National Assembly in 1954 by 319 to 264 votes did proponents of regional integration turn to the market. (14) Market making was considered by many as a second-best solution. Jean Monnet considered it third best--after the failure of political union, he devoted his efforts to integration in nuclear energy. Historically, the turn to market integration was preceded by conflict among, and within, political parties on the merits of German rearmament and pooling sovereignty over defence. (15)
In the 1990s, partisan conflict intensified as market integration was extended to monetary union, and as political union once again came on the agenda. According to Stefano Bartolini, European integration reverses a centuries-long process of national boundary construction by providing exit options for individuals who had previously been nationally bounded. (16) Hanspeter Kriesi, Edgar Grande and colleagues argue that European integration and globalization constitute a critical juncture for conflict in Europe. (17) The issue has spilled beyond interest group bargaining into the public sphere.
Hence, it does not make sense to regard functional economic interest groups as inherently decisive for European integration, but as decisive only under certain conditions. Neofunctionalism and liberal intergovernmentalism generalize from the first three decades of integration, when the creation of a European legal system was driven by the demand for adjudication of economic disputes between firms. (18) The implications for most people (except perhaps for farmers) were limited or not transparent. Public opinion was quiescent. These were years of permissive consensus, of deals cut by insulated elites. The period since 1991 might be described, by contrast, as one of constraining dissensus. Elites, that is, party leaders in positions of authority, must look over their shoulders when negotiating European issues. What they see does not reassure them.
Writing in 1958, Haas defended an elite perspective on the grounds that the general public was indifferent or impotent:
The emphasis on elites in the study of integration derives its justification from the bureaucratized nature of European organizations of long standing, in which basic decisions are made by the leadership, …