Has Neofunctionalism Been Superseded By A New 'Liberal Intergovernmentalism" As Currently The Most Convincing Theoretical Explanation of European Political Integration?

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Has Neofunctionalism Been Superseded By A New ‘Liberal Intergovernmentalism” As Currently The Most Convincing Theoretical Explanation of European Political Integration?

From an ambitious project originally envisaged to remove the catastrophe of war from such a war-torn continent, the European project has proceeded in ‘fits and starts’. Since its inception, there has been much debate regarding what forces drive the integration process forward. Why now, when interstate war in Europe seems impossible, do member states continue to ‘pool’ their sovereignty in so many areas? Two theories have dominated previous attempts to answer the question of “how and why states cease to be wholly sovereign, how and why they voluntarily mingle, merge and mix with their neighbours, so as to lose the factual attributes of sovereignty.”

Neofunctionalism, the idea that the integration process, once started, develops its own momentum for further integration, saw the height of popularity in the 1960s, following the initial success of the ECSC/EEC and the hugely influential theoretical explanation by Ernst Haas. The second theory, Liberal Intergovernmentalism, surfaced in the 1990s and was championed by Andrew Moravcsik. It saw flaws in neofunctionalist thinking and instead offered an alternative account in which the integrative process was always, and remains, in the hands of national governments; supranational institutions were only marginally influential. This Supranational-Intergovernmental dichotomy has remained the defining theoretical debate surrounding European integration. This essay attempts to affirm that, while neither theory adequately explains every instance of integration, to suggest that neofunctionalism has been superseded is folly.

This essay shall begin with some definitions and discussions of the two main theories. It shall be seen how neofunctionalism utilises the concept of ‘spillover’ in numerous forms to explain how initial cooperation in areas of ‘low’ politics will engage a self-reinforcing process that includes the creation of supranational political institutions, the transfer of loyalties to a new ‘European’ centre and culminates in the establishment of a ‘European’ political community. Following from this, a discussion of Liberal Intergovernmentalism (LI) will be made. It will be seen that Moravcsik’s theory stresses the importance of national governments at the expense of supranational institutions. According to LI, states are rational actors in international affairs, bargaining with other states and establishing institutions only when in their national interests. Supranational Institutions are seen to be agents of the states, which remain in firm control of both the pace and direction of the integration process. The second part of this essay concerns the Single European Act (SEA). Being the Act that brought about Moravcsik’s theory, it will be seen how Liberal Intergovernmental principles are clearly visible. However, this essay will also show that neofunctionalist factors heavily influenced the SEA and even precipitated its outcomes. This will show how, even in analysing a purely intergovernmental bargain, neofunctionalism remains a hugely relevant theory. Subsequent analysis shall regard the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Once again it will be shown that, while intergovernmental bargains are clearly important to the integrative process, particularly in the establishment of new areas of cooperation (CFSP and JHA), cultivated spillover plays an important role in the practice of the European Commission and the agreement on EMU. The final section of this essay shall briefly examine the PHARE programme, which facilitated the expansion of the EU to include ex-Soviet Bloc states. It will be seen how neofunctionalism rather than LI best explains this programme, and the spillover effects that have clearly influenced its operation. This essay shall conclude that, though Liberal Intergovernmentalism is key to explain the processes and bargains struck at IGCs, it cannot account for all variables and, by ignoring the ‘everyday grind’ of European policy formulation, misses a crucial factor in explaining the integrative process. Nevertheless, it does offer a different account of integration, which taken together with neofunctionalism help to explain “the brute fact…that integration has proceeded unevenly.”

Neofunctionalism’s attempt to explain how and why the process of integration has occurred in Europe is rooted in the functionalism of David Mitrany. However, whereas functionalism saw little room for political institutions to govern and administrate functional linkages between states, Neofunctionalism found this to be indispensable. It is through the interaction of political forces (e.g. bureaucracies, governments, pressure groups, etc), rather than functional pressures, that integration proceeds. Neofunctionalism begins as a theoretical response to the developments of the European experiment in the 1950s and draws its inspiration from Jean Monnet’s policies in Europe:

[T]he new method of action developed in Europe replaces the efforts at domination of nation states by a constant process of collective adaptation to new conditions, a chain reaction, a ferment where one change induces another.”

John van Oudenaren summarises this as “taking practical steps in the economic field to advance the grand vision of a European political union.” In practice, the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) is seen as the cornerstone, which set the process of integration in motion. However, once such a cornerstone is laid, neofunctionalism suggests that more and more steps of integration will need to be taken. This is where the concept of ‘Spillover’ plays an important role.

One of the key assumptions of neofunctionalist theory correctly affirms that states are interdependent, both between national economies and between sectors within economies. It is this assumption that leads to the idea of spillover, as problems rising in one area or sector, inevitably lead to problems in other areas/sectors and where problems exist, solutions are sought. Thus, once a step in integration is made (in the case of Europe the formation of the ECSC), the complexity of cooperation would mean that the existing policies are unable to meet the increasing need for efficiency. The formation of a common market, for instance, requires common, or at least coordinated, economic policies, which then have an influence on foreign economic policies and trade relations. The process of spillover into different economic sectors is known as ‘functional’ spillover. As Ernst Haas stated in the most significant work on neofunctionalism, The Uniting of Europe, sectoral integration “begets its own impetus toward extension of the entire economy.” This has been seen with the spillover from the ‘1992 project’ to Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and from the single market to the establishment of social policy. This process will continue with the establishment of political institutions at the supranational level, charged with ensuring the operation and efficacy of previous economic integration. The creation of supranational institutions, such as the High Authority of the ECSC and the Commission and Assembly/Parliament of the EC/EU, leads to two further types of spillover; political and cultivated.

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Political spillover tends to be exerted by political elites. Through realization that national solutions are insufficient to solve substantial problems, elites shift their activities and expectation to the supranational institutions. This leads to an increase in pressure for further integration. Cultivated spillover describes the pressure for integration exerted by the central institutions themselves. Once a supranational organization is in place, it will lead to a “self reinforcing process of institution-building.” Leon Lindberg argues that the European institutions develop their separate political will once they are created. Taking their own initiative, these institutions such as the European Commission can help further integration with their considerable ...

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This essay received a 2.1 according to the submitter. I really hope it was a high 2.1, because I would most likely have awarded this a first. It is extremely well written and structured with a very good degree of evidencing, critical engagement with the literature and independent analysis. It maintains focus throughout which in a long essay is no small achievement. An excellent piece of work.