Is Europe a Bargaining Forum?

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Is Europe a Bargaining Forum?


Starting with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, and subsequently the treaties of Rome in 1957, up until the Single European Act of 1986, the member states of the European Community (EC) engaged in hitherto unprecedented levels of inter-state cooperation, even though there not always was a unidirectional development towards an “ever closer union”.  The dramatic events of 1989 and the following years fundamentally altered the geopolitical situation in Europe, and this consequently may have produced a different logic for economic and political integration in the region.  Thus, the scope for this essay is the process which tied a large part of Western Europe together during the post-WWII period up until the political “earthquake” of 1989, and it will discuss whether it by 1989 had become clear that the EC was a mechanism through which member states bargained rather than an entity that had fundamentally changed the nature of those states.

This essay argues that important characteristics of the states that made up the EC in 1989, actually had changed as a result of the steps towards integration:  there had been some interesting developments, including, in some areas, shifts from one decision-making arena to another, and a “Europeanisation” of national interest.  

First, the history of the EC will sketchily be outlined, and then it will be discussed whether it represented more a forum for inter-state bargaining rather than a process inducing change in the nature of the member states, by assessing the evolution of the EC in regards to the sovereignty, the autonomy and the national interest of these states.  The discussion will primarily consider approaches to integration provided by state-centric and (historical) institutionalist theories.  Finally, the essay gives a brief description of the development post-1989.


A few clarifications on the concepts in question may be useful for the discussion, and given the limits for this essay, it will for the sake of brevity be relied upon rather simplistic and superficial definitions.  

The concept of the state used here is mainly a political one, and it may be defined as the central government controlling a delimited territory and its population; its most prominent features being its sovereign status, autonomy, and functions of guaranteeing the security and welfare of the population, as well as representing the national interest vis-à-vis other states and actors. State sovereignty refers to the exclusive right of the state to exert control over its own territory and population, and state autonomy can be understood as the ability to pursue policies consistent with its national interest.  It may be assumed that the national interest, or “national preferences”, reflects “ the objectives of those domestic groups which influence the state apparatus” (Moravcsik 2003:24).  Thus, changes in the nature of states here means change along any one of these dimensions.  The process towards increased inter-state cooperation, commonly called “integration”, implies that “the economies, societies and administrations of these national entities become gradually merged into a larger identity” (Milward 1992:2).  

It is also useful to describe the EC in order to say something about the relationship between the Community level and its member states.  Obviously, different theories present different views on what kind of arrangement the EC might be.  State-centric approaches treat it as some kind of intergovernmental organisation, where the ultimate power lies with the member states.  Institutionalist approaches on the other hand, view the EC as more than just a channel for bargaining between independent (or to some degree interdependent) nation-states:  policy making decisions are actually formed also at the Community-level, and this level has a fundamental influence on the associated states. 

The EC clearly contains elements of both intergovernmentalism and supranationalism:  the Commission, from the start, as well as the EC Court of Justice, clearly had a supranational character, whereas Community legislation through the Council displays a more inter-governmental profile.  Keohane and Hoffmann (1991:15), for example, reject a strictly statist or intergovernmental model of the EC, because, as they see it, “supranationality” (defined as a process of decisionmaking that emphasizes compromises and a search for common interests rather than vetoing by the participants) indeed is an important aspect of the Community political system. 

Historical evolution of the EC

From the establishment of the ECSC in 1952, European integration slowly evolved through some major treaties where participating governments decided to pool, or even concede, sovereignty at the supranational level.  The geopolitical situation after 1945, characterized by a desire to prevent new wars, superpower struggle, the revitalisation of Germany (FRG), as well as increasing transborder trade flows, drove the governments of Western Europe towards recognition that cooperation in one way or another was inevitable.  Surely, supranational ideology, as functionalism and federalism, did play a role in “moulding” the political environment to accept deeper forms of cooperation, even though, scholars such as Milward (1992) and Moravcsik (2003) contend that integration was driven forward by, partly geopolitical, and, primarily economic, national interests .

After the attempt to set up the European Defence Community was trenched in the French general assembly in 1954, efforts to establish closer economic cooperation nonetheless continued.  As the German Chancellor, Adenauer, favoured close relations with France, the treaty of Rome resulted in a customs union and a common agricultural policy, establishing the EEC, in which Britain did not want to take part.  The evolution continued in the 1960s with the consolidation of the common market.  When Britain, out of economic necessities,  applied for membership, entry was blocked by de Gaulle (Moravcsik 2003).  In January 1966, the Community took a clear intergovernmentalist turn with the ”Luxembourg-compromise”, as the French government ensured that qualified majority voting in practice became limited by asserting the right to veto in matters where ”vital interest was at stake” (Moravcsik 1991:42, Wallace 1997:29).

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The economic turbulence of the 1970s and dollar dominance induced efforts to establish closer monetary coordination, and in 1979 the European Monetary System (EMS) was launched in order to create a zone of monetary stability in Europe (Dyson and Featherstone 1999:2).  After a period of ”Europessimism” and ”Eurosclerosis” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, integration was relaunched in 1986 with the Single European Act (SEA).  This reform aimed to create ”an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital is ensured” (Article 8A of the 1985 Commission White Paper, as amended by ...

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