Given the long delay in ratifying the new EU constitution, describe the theoretical arguments that emerge between the proponents of Intergovernmentalism and those of a more supranational persuasion.
Dr CL Nwaneri
Institute of Public Administration
National University of Ireland
Following the complexities surrounding the evolution of the constitution system in European Union and the ratification of the new EU constitution of 2004 by the French and Dutch representatives ‘NO’ votes in the referenda in the mid-2005, the document is presently not in use.
This essay attempts to describe the theoretical arguments that emerged between the proponents of intergovernmentalism and those of the more supranational persuasions in the dynamics of European integration. As these paradigms emerged different scholars, academia and politicians have taken different sides in terms of supporting credibility arguments and yet there is no single acceptable view.
As I attempt to describe the arguments, I also explain and highlight the different paradigms.
Overview of the Paradigms or theoretical frameworks of European Integration
Neil Nugent (2006) defined the paradigms in his work entitled: The Government and Politics of the European Union. He defined Intergovernmentalism as “...arrangements whereby nation states, in situations and conditions they can control, cooperate with one another on matters of common interest. The existence of control, which allows all participating states to decide the extent and nature of this cooperation means that national sovereignty is not directly undermined.”
While supranationalism “involves states working with one another in a manner that does not allow them to retain complete control over developments, that is, states may be obliged to do things against their preferences and their will because they do not have the power to stop decisions. Supranationalism thus takes inter-state relation beyond cooperation into integration, and involves some loss of national sovereignty” (Nugent, 2006).
Supranationalism in the form of federalism or neofunctionalism or spill-over neofunctionalism is a concept model in the European Union integration policy. Neofunctionalism focuses on human welfare needs, not political conflicts and law, and that individuals aggregated into interest groups as the main actors in integration. Neofunctionalism developed and refined between 1955 and 1975 by Haas, Philippe Schmitter, Leon Lindberg, Stuart Scheingold, Donald Puchala, Joseph Nye, and many others still remains the most comprehensive and sophisticated attempt to provide a general theory of European Integration and a touchstone for subsequent scholarly works (Moravcsik, 1993).
Neofunctionalism was used to analyse European integration at the supranational level. Since 1975, despite many insightful case studies of specific issue-areas, overviews of the European Community history, and criticism of neofunctionalism, no comparable theoretical synthesis has appeared (Wallace et al, 1983., Moravcsik, 1993). The neofunctionalistic central prediction was that European economic integration would be self-sustaining. The theoretical basis for this prediction was the concept of “functional & Political spillover” whereby initial steps towards integration triggers endogenous economic and political dynamics leading to further cooperation. As Mikkelsen put it the ‘integration within one sector will tend to beget its own impetus and spread to other sectors’ (Mikkelsen, 1991: p4).
Intergovernmentalists take on a completely different perspective towards European integration, focussing on State actors and the dominant concept of national sovereignty and security in interstate relations (West, 2004). Intergovernmentalism proposed the Logic of diversity, which ‘set limits to the degree which the ‘’spillover’’ process can limit the freedom of action of the governments. The implications of the logic of diversity are that on vital issues of common interest, losses are not compensated by gains on other issues’ (Hoffman, 1966:p882). Moravcsik’s liberal intergovernmentalism has three essential elements which combine; a liberal theory of national preference formation; an intergovernmentalistic analysis of interstate negotiation and; the assumption of rational state behaviour.
Syncretic Model of European Integration is based on the premise that the European Union was founded on ambivalence in terms of objectives that were secondary to the overarching objectives of making another European war unthinkable. The Syncretic model is based on the common sense view that the EU is a mixed system, a hybrid of both supranational and intergovernmental elements which co-exist along side each other.
Theoretical arguments that emerge between the proponents of Intergovernmentalists and Supranationalists
In an attempt to convince the people on the reasons for proposing and possibly choosing a particular theoretical framework for European Union Integration, different theorists began to engage in political debate over EU policy making in terms of autonomy and authority (Rosamond, 2000). Those who support intergovernmentalism consider key actors to be nation states and their governments while supranationalist supporters argue that it is supranational organizations and their institutions who represent it.
It is worthwhile to define the basis for the different schools of thought and the issues which form the foundation of the proponents’ arguments. Their main cases for arguments and differences occur in the following areas: who they consider to be the key actors of integration; question of possession of power; their perceptions of EU; what character of decision making they prefer; types of politics they focus on; how they view the relationship between politics and economics; how they approach the question of sovereignty and national security.
Arguments by the Intergovernmentalists
Proponents of intergovernmentalism had cited the limitations of supranationalism exemplified by the Luxemburg compromise in 1965, when then French Ministers boycotted Council meetings in a process later known as the “empty chair” policy, and the failure of the paradigm to take account of the role of strong and influential National leaders and the resilience of the Nation State (Wallace et al, 1983., Wallace & Wallace, 2005).
They also cited the fact that Ernst Haas, the ‘father of neofunctionalism’ recanted and discarded his own theory in 1975 as evidence of impracticability of the framework. The arguments goes further to reiterate its point especially following the events in the late 1990’s when the economic recession and depression culminate din the development of a new non-tariff barriers to trade across the member states of the EU resulting in the empowering the concept of the intergovernmentalistic approach through the formation of the European Council in 1974. In furtherance to the realization of need to establish the intergovernmental aspect of community method of governance in the European community, the Committee of Permanent Representative was established whose function was to prepare legislations for adoption by the Council of Ministers (Wallace & Wallace, 2005).
As the arguments lingers on, the intergovernmentalist suggest that although widely accepted at that time, Federalism was characterised by sceptism as there were differential acceptance of the objectives of a federal Europe by member states of the European Union. The intergovernmentalist believe that the neofunctionalism is flawed because it assumes that integration in low politics such as economic will lead to integration in areas of high politics such as sovereignty, which it states would not be possible since the issues of high politics are integral to the national interest hence integration would only be possible when national interests coincide, though unlikely (Nolan, 2006).
Also in reviewing the assertion made by Hoffmann, proponents of intergovernmentalism proposed that states were uniquely powerful for two reason: because they possessed legal sovereignty; and they had political legitimacy as the only democratically elected stakeholders in the integration process, hence unlike what Hoffmann thought, governments had much more autonomy than in the view of neofunctionalist (Wang, 2007).
They also argued that the neofunctionalistic approach of supranationalism which was short lived would not be acceptable in the current political climate since it failed to predict accurately the outcome of regional integration in Europe. In support of this argument Wallace & Wallace (2005) in citing the 1966 work of Stanley Hoffman, the leading proponent of intergovernmentalism stated that “the nation state was not obstinate, not obsolete”. Different scholars like Milward (2000) had argued that it was the EU national governments who have played a great role in the historical antecedents of the EU which have reinforced and enhanced its integration (Wallace & Wallace, 2005).
It is also seen that the modalities of operation and policies surrounding the European Union have been positively reinforcing and re-asserting the theories of intergovernmentalism especially in terms of neither compromising nor diminishing the values of National Sovereignty of member states.
Intergovernmentalism argues that European integration is driven by the interest and actions of the European Nation States. In this interpretation, the main aim of governments is to protect their geopolitical interests such as national security, defence and national sovereignty (West, 2004).
Arguments by the supranationalism proponents
The Supranationalists argue that following the failure of the Nation state by the end of the World War II, the concept of Nation state had become obsolete and redundant hence the need to promote an alternate form of framework. In its argument, the supranationalistic proponents inform that other alternatives of Nation State are Federalism and neofunctionalism.
In its debate, the proponents argue that federalism played parts in the pre-World War and post-World War era with the formation of the union of European Federalists in 1946, and are today the founding members of the EU. According to the work of Tsebelis et al (2001) which focused on the changing treaty base of the EU, they had stated that from the foundation of the Rome Treaty which was later ratified in 1958, through the Single European Act of 1987, the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 (which was ratified in 1992 and implemented in 1993) to the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999 it was the supranational concepts that established the three institutions of the Commission of the European Communities, The European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament. And that it was only the Council of Ministers that originated from the ideology of intergovernmentalism (Tsebelis et al, 2001).
In illustrating its argument the supranationalistic theorists emphasises that what distinguishes the European Union from all other international organisations in Europe is the institutional structure of EU provided for by the original Paris and Rome treaties of 1951 and 1957 respectively amended, which gave them extensive law making powers in agreed policy areas-a new international legal order, hence in support of supranationalistic paradigm.
The proponents of the neofunctionalism, approach of the supranationalistic paradigm argue on the ground of the functional needs which governments in the EU face in the modern era creates a sense of common purpose, which would invariably lead to a network of international organisation to facilitate international cooperation.
O’Neill (1996) in quoting the work by Ernst Haas defined European integration as: "the process whereby political actors in several distinct nation setting are persuaded to shift their loyalties and expectations towards a new centre, whose institutions process or demand jurisdiction over the pre-existing nation states” (O’Neill, 1996). The work of Rosamond (2005) reassessed the statements made by Haas and concluded that Haas never abandoned neofunctionalism but changed it and accepted more the view of ‘complex interdependence’ (Rosamond, 2005).
The supranationalistic framework theorists argue that the intergovernmentalism does not accurately reflect political reality as the institutions of the European Union are clearly invested with extensive law making powers and intense cooperation and integration. It further stresses the point that this paradigm did not fully account for such common purpose and action as were to be seen among the member states. And that the political will in favour of common policies went beyond what one would expect of a conventional intergovernmental organisation.
The complexities and fluidity of the EU, and the argument outcomes between the traditional supranationalistic and the more recent intergovernmentalistic theorists led to the shift in the proposition of the theoretical framework of European integration. The more recent argument is that of the syncretic theoretical framework.
In the process of European Union Integration, it is not entirely surprising that the debate between the proponents of intergovernmentalism and those of the Supranationalistic school of thought have been ongoing, but partly as a result of long delay in the ratification of the new EU constitution. Intergovernmentalism and Supranationalism differ not on the role and importance which proponents affirm to member states in the process of European Union integration but also on how they treat the EU institutions. It is on the basis of these arguments that different institutions of EU are found and operate.
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Mikkelsen (1991). Neo-functionalism: Obstinate or Obsolete? A Reappraisal in the Light of the New Dynamism of the EC. Journal of International Studies. Vol. 20, No. 1. 1-22.
Milward, A.S (2000). The European Rescue of the Nation-State (1992, revised edition 2000)
Moravcsik, A (1993). Preferences and Power in the European Community: A Liberal Intergovernmentalist Approach. Journal of Common Market Studies. Vol. 31. No. 4.p476.
Nugent, N.(2006).The Government and Politics of the European Union. 6th Edition. Palgrave Macmillan. [Online]. Available at http://books.google.ie/books?q=Neil+Nugent%27s+Government+and+politics+of+European+Union&lr=&sa=N&start=10. (Accessed: 7 March 2009).
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