The History of the European Union: Origins of a Trans- and Supranational Polity 1950-72

By Wolfram Kaiser; Brigitte Leucht et al. | Go to book overview

3   Supranational governance in
the making
Towards a European political
system

Morten Rasmussen

In 1994, British political scientist Simon Hix argued forcefully that the European Union (EU) was best conceptualized as a political system.1 His article was a response to the rather sterile debate between a revitalized neo-functionalism and intergovernmentalism over how to interpret the new dynamism of the integration process since the Single European Act (SEA) of 1986. It also reflected how Comparative Politics scholars like Hix increasingly analyzed the EU as having its own internal political arena. According to the classic standards defined by Gabriel Almond2 and David Easton,3 the EU indeed qualifies as a political system. Thus, it has stable and clearly defined institutions for collective decision making which continuously interact with societal groups. Citizens and societal groups seek to achieve their political objectives at the EU level either directly or through intermediary organizations, such as interest groups or political parties. Finally, supranational legislation affects citizens across the EU by redistributing important economic resources and shaping social and political values.4 At the same time, the EU in fundamental respects lacks features of classical statehood such as a single government, a coherent foreign policy and a standing army. Moreover, the EU still relies on the member-states to implement legislation and administer coercion. While the EU can be defined as a political system, this does not entail any teleological prediction of the development of a European state.

In this book we demonstrate how important cornerstones of the European political system were laid during the formative period of the EU from 1950 to 1972. Historians have tended to assume that states acted in a unitary manner in the European field and largely controlled the development of European institutions and policy-making. This is lamentable because these crude conceptualizations preclude a nuanced understanding of the relationship between the member-states and EU institutions, which arguably is fundamental to tracing the historical roots of the European political system. Political scientists, in contrast, perhaps because they have had to come to terms with the emerging European political system during the last two decades, apply much more refined theoretical and conceptual approaches to analyzing this system.

To overcome the theoretical and conceptual poverty of current historiography, this chapter will consequently explore recent institutional theory. The somewhat narrow focus on this body of theory is justified in this context because it particularly

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