Nineteen ninety-six saw the start of another Intergovernmental Conference (ICG) dominated by many of the old and diverse issues which have dogged the European Community and the European Union since the first steps towards integration were taken in 1951. Issues such as: the powers and organisational rules of the main European institutions; relationships between those institutions; the difficult problems presented by the possibility of further eastern and southern enlargement; the familiar issue of 'deepening'; the role of non-governmental actors such as interest groups and citizens, and above all, the fundamental question of whether the gradual erosion of national sovereignty should continue or, indeed, whether it might actually be reversed, are all still on the agenda. These fundamental political questions are being discussed in the context of strong globalisation tendencies and increased pressures for transnational regulation which force all policy actors, public or private, to recognise the benefits of collective action.
The familiar cries of Europe in 'crisis', of Europe having lost its way, of Europe entering another period of Euro-sclerosis are all being heard. However, like the many predictions about the collapse of the economy of this or that state that we have heard periodically since the Second World War, the doomsters are almost certainly exaggerating the current difficulties and failing to appreciate just how resilient most political systems are. It takes long-term and fundamental trends, as developed in the old Soviet bloc, for systems to fail. This is because modern, pluralistic systems are dynamic learning organisations, capable of change. The key institutions and individuals operating those systems have enough intelligence to know when to draw back, when to change tack, and when to lie low and let issues stew. They also have a keen sense of the risks of moving away from a process that has been under way for decades, in favour of high risk go-it-alone strategies in the face of the globalisation trends referred to above. Perhaps it is foolish to make political predictions, but I suspect that the current period of self-doubt and criticism will be just one more phase in what has been a fairly continuous process of Europeanisation. Like teenage children the European Union may be in one of its many 'difficult' phases but this should not blind us to the busy 'low polities' of European integration which seemingly marches on.
If this assertion is correct, what is the main purpose of this book? Its task is straightforward, albeit difficult to fulfil adequately in one reasonably short volume. It is to explain to students of European integration (and to some degree to students of the politics of individual states which are now embedded in the EU policy process) the ways in which power is exercised within the EU today. Our focus is on the policy-making process, as that ultimate arena of power in society. What role do institutions and other actors play in