Robert Schuman’s notable phrase “ Never war between us” is one of the most critically acclaimed lessons learned by most Europeans with regards to the topic of European unification and integration. This lesson became Schuman’s main foundation in declaring the start of integration in his 1950 speech in the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. It can be noted that European integration, through the ECSC, started on a plan to control resources and production. This was also seen in the evolution of the European Defence Community and later the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. However, there was a concern with in the six founding members of the integration process as to how the integration could proceed from the ECSC. There is also the question of the roles each government will play in the integration. Out of the many various theories that have sprung at present time which explains how European integration came into fruition, intergovernmentalism has been one of the most prominent. Looking at the present structure of the European Union, it still retains the intergovernmentalist elements which have been applied since its foundation. However, with its intergovernmentalism elements, are national governments the main actors on the integration process? The purpose of this paper is to understand the theory of intergovernmentalism and the claim that national governments still control and drive the integration process.
Intergovernmentalism is one of the major theories on European integration that pertains to state-centrism in explaining the integration process. The foundations of this theory were taken from classical theories such as the realist and neo-realist claims in interstate bargaining. Realism cites that states are rational actors defined by their interest. State interest becomes concentrated on survival in both economic and physical aspects. Realism also notes that nation states are key actors in international relations and all decisions decided upon by national governments. For neo-realism on the other hand, they see states as self-regarding actors under a chaotic setting. To them, regimes are places negotiations of zero-sum agreements are done. However, neo-realism assumes that states have specific problems that may cause policy preferences to fail to fruition. This is the reason why neo-realists believe that institutions reduce the anarchy that causes policy preferences to falter. 1 Stanley Hoffman used both realist perspectives to explain the principles neo-functionalism fails to address and has cited that integration can only depend on bargaining. This led him to create the intergovernmentalism theory, which depicts that States bargain with one another and the result of these bargaining talks are the policies to be enforced. 2 In addition to his belief with regards to the capacity of the nation-state in influencing the integration process, Hoffman also adds that the idea of supranational actors to stimulate integration would be impossible since member states have placed limits in these actors. Integration can then be compared to a grinder which stops when member states do not give it ingredients or responsibilities to continue grinding. 3
Intergovernmentalists have their own notion on how Europe should become. For them, joint projects must be controlled solely by the national government. According to them, this control would help a reformed Council of Ministers and European Council retain its power since ministers would only handle matters under their written obligations. It would be up to the heads of states to decide on the matters pertaining to the powers of the EU itself. However, the powers of the Commission and the Parliament would be reduced considerably because the responsibilities that should have been theirs will be handled by the national governments. Most intergovernmentalists believe that the Commission must not have executive responsibilities since they believe it would be more productive if it is more concerned with civil service. Implementation of new policies would also be more efficient if the Commission is given this responsibility. The Parliament would work hand in hand with national parliaments in passing new laws and monitor execution of these laws. It is under the belief of intergovernmentalists that the people of Europe have elected these governments since they are capable in deciding on important decisions for the continent. Integration according to intergovernmentalism is also seen as a zero-sum game which is both limited to policy areas that do not involve national sovereignty, but is driven by the positions of nation states. 4
However, the intergovernmentalist argument mostly concentrates on the role of national states or governments especially in the integration process. National states or governments are seen as the major actors in integration process due to their capacity to influence particular decision-making in the institution. They note that for a supranational institution such as the ECSC up to its successors to function, national governments must give its blessing before each action is to be made. Supranational institutions also cannot exert their influences without backing. For intergovernmentalist, these institutions only serve as passive facilitators to achieve intergovernmental bargaining between states. Intergovernmentalism is also a specific type of decision-making strategy that not only happens in the European region but also in other international organizations. These organizations are classified as intergovernmental bodies which become a medium for states to discuss agreements and ideas. 5
In one example, the power of the EC and its influence is not realistic according to the intergovernmentalist theory since the Commission only functions through proposals drafting an acceptable compromise for the major European states included in the institution. In addition to this, the policies of the EC usually would reflect the national interest of its Member States. Decision-making procedures for the EC are usually referred to as a joint decision trap since unanimity rule is used for major reforms. Governments can veto the decision on improving the EC in meetings of the Council of Ministers or of the European Council. Intergovernmentalists also see that ” there is no ‘gradualist way’ in which joint-decision systems might transform themselves into an institutional arrangement of greater policy potential.” Even the ECJ or the European Court of Justice has no autonomy over its actions as it only acts autonomously once member states agree with the rulings filed by the court. 6
National governments, upon deciding on decisions for the integration process, would often consider on how they could protect and promote their own policy preferences especially in times of great uncertainty. This is seen in the development of the Economic and Monetary Union in the 1990s that would have asked member states to adopt the common currency of Euro to their economies. However, not all countries have agreed to the collective action of the EMU as this was not applied in some countries. Most of these member states have argued that the EMU conflicted with their national interest thus the reason for their refusal. One example to this is the United Kingdom upon the creation of the EMU. The UK believed that the Euro would demote their own currency, the Pound. It would also domestically ruin the UK as they would need to sustain the economies of Euro countries. Eventually, this fear has escalated since the addition of other member countries and the economic inflation has made the British people shoulder most of its European Union member countries through their taxes and financial aid. The economic instability of other member countries are also felt by the British people since with their currency, they could sustain the instability. 7
This action of the British Government presents the notion that national governments take over the control in the integration process because of the pros and cons it will bring to their territories. If national governments take part into the cooperation process, they will first consider the pros and cons of membership. Most of the founding members all agreed in the ECSC that coal and steel trading would be easier and practical once the institution is founded. It was a success as coal and steel production and trading became regulated through the ECSC and enabled economies to efficiently use reap the fruits of the institution. Member countries also take into account the efficiency of each bargain that can be achieved should they take part on the integration process. Not only do they see this as a form of investment, they see this as a way to protect their national interest. 8 Looking back at the founding of the EMU, each country had to consider the pros and cons it will do to their economy. For UK, it had to consider the Pound’s current rate and should they have been lenient on the application of the Euro, they would have to endure several market changes and economic instability to achieve the same rate as the Pound.
The argument on the importance of the role of member governments in the integration process is then explained further by the liberal intergovernmentalism theory founded by Andrew Moravcsik. This updated theory was first used to explain the emergence of the Single Market Act. Unlike neo-functionalism, liberal intergovernmentalism closely focuses on the influence of national interest itself. According to this theory, states are the ultimate policy makers which can allow authority to be given in limits since supranational institutions can only be the ones to execute specific policy goals set by these states. In comparison to Hoffman’s approach, Moravcsik assumed that states were rational actors and only liberal intergovernmentalism has the ” basic tripartite structure” that can cater to state’s different policy preferences, inter-state bargaining and delegation. Each part of the structure plays a key role in the ” basic tripartite structure”. The first part caters to the domestic process that allows each state to stress their own national interest and enable them to find a specific position once negotiations are set. The second part concerns more on the conflicts in national interest and enabled the CoM to play as the negotiator in these talks. Finally, the final part lays down the guidelines in which governments can entrust responsibilities to supranational institutions once discussions are underway. 9
The preferences of national governments regarding integration can be seen in the economic interests of each country rather than looking their interest in general concerns like security and European cooperation. Like in the post-Second World War, the European integration shifted more to investment between north-north intra-industry trading rather than north-south intra-industry trading. In this example, national interests prefer more on geopolitical and economic concerns. Integration is a means for securing economic advantages in producers and exporters. This can be reflected in Charles De Gaulle’s appeal to oppose British membership to the institution. It can also be included that intergovernmentalism also concerns with geopolitical interests as seen in Moravcsik’s The Choice for Europe. Here he notes that economic preferences alone would be able to create an institutionalized pan-European free trade. 10
Furthermore, intergovernmentalism or in liberal intergovernmentalism shows that the national government’s preferences and influence designed the model Europe the integration process must take. This model of Europe is not influenced in any way by the supranational organizations present in the region. Intergovernmentalists also use State-Centric models to show how complicated the relationship of national governments and interests appeal to the European integration model. In the assumption of the model, European integration does not challenge the autonomy of these member countries. In fact, the sovereignty of these states is protected by the integration since they are members of the Union. For this model, supranational actors exist to support and assist these member states. 11
However, there are still experts and theorists that find the argument of intergovernmentalism flawed which can be seen mostly in the arguments against the Moravcsik-led liberal intergovernmentalism. The first argument is the selective nature of references used by intergovernmentalism to stress the inner workings of the EU. Moravcsik cited more on the historical decisions rather than showing the day-to-day decision-making procedures done by the institution especially as to how national governments give their insights on the decisions. This alone shows a distortion emphasizing the unusual decisions that are already influenced by the numerous state actors. The second point that intergovernmentalist arguments fail to address the earlier stages of decision-making since it only focuses on the formal and final stages. It is important to consider the informal integration constraints that would influence the formal decision-making strategy. This can visibly be seen in the SEM programme and the SEA, for Moravcsik, he claims that these two proposals are the result of negotiations between member states. However, he failed to show that these two programmes are the result of formalization by national governments which already have been in practice before its formality.
Critics also note that intergovernmentalism fails to show the ‘black box’ of the state or the separate components that influences the government. Critics see that liberal intergovernmentalism does not fully explain how governments choose their policies and the classification of their national interest. Most of the objectives, strategies and positions are usually done in disorder and it could be unpredictable which is why politics cannot be a rational process. There will always be an instance that national positions will be influenced by ideologies when it comes to their substance. Finally, critics see that the arguments of intergovernmentalism understate the powers of the European integration process by supranational actors, namely the Commission and the ECJ. Contrary to the intergovernmentalist argument, there are evidences that show that supranational bodies in the European Union have slowly obtained autonomy and influence and they have succeeded. But for intergovernmentalism, this is not the case as they are only mediums with no power without national government consent. There are some who argue that what makes intergovernmentalism weak in its argument that national governments control the integration process since the theory itself does not fully explain itself as a theory of intergovernmental bargaining. 12
The roles of each actor in the integration process can both influence and support it, despite the notions that prove it otherwise. The position of the national governments when it comes to decision making is also crucial to enable cooperation to succeed. This is important because this would initially affect the countries included in the organization and their present situations. If national governments are not allowed to argue for their national interest in several key decisions making in the EU, there are less chances of producing programs that would enable each country to adapt to the program without backlash. Intergovernmentalism and its predecessor explain this very important fact as decisions cannot be harmful for some countries and be beneficial for others. It must be a decision that everyone can agree to and benefits are transferred equally. With regards to supranational institutions, they cannot act without considering national interests since they would have to stand as a bias group in integration. Ideas of the intergovernmentalist perspective have its merits and strengths and yet, critics are also correct in saying that supranational institutions also support these national governments to formulate their positions and therefore, would help create a Europe that can be applied by all.
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2. Pollack, Mark. “ Theorizing EU Policy-Making”, in Wallace, Helen, Wallace, William, Pollack, Mark. Policy Making in the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005): 18.
3. Lelieveldt, Herman & Princen, Sebastiaan. The Politics of the European Union. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 38.
4. Bromley, Simon. Governing the European Union. (New York: SAGE, 2001): 149
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6. Laursen, Finn. The political economy of European integration. (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1995): 34.
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8 Cini, European Union Politics, 101.
9. George & Bache. Politics in the European Union. 13.
10. Liesbet Hooghe & Gary Marks. Multi-Level Governance and European Integration. (England: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001): 2.
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12. Nugent, Neill. The Government and Politics of the European Union (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006): 566-567.
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