Theories of European Integration

European integration as a process that unfolds over time, and the conditions under which path-dependent processes are most likely to

Theories of European Integration

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r social environment. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, constructivists generally reject the rationalist conception of actors as utility-maximizers operating according to a logic of consequentiality, in favour of March and Olsens (1989: 160-2) conception of a logic of appropriateness. In this view, actors confronting a given situation do not consult a fixed set of preferences and calculate their actions in order to maximize their expected utility, but look to socially constructed roles and institutional rules and ask what sort of behaviour is appropriate in that situation. Constructivism, therefore, offers a fundamentally different view of human agency from rational-choice approaches, and it suggests that institutions influence individual identities, preferences, and behaviour in more profound ways than those hypothesized by rational-choice theorists.

A growing number of scholars has argued that EU institutions shape not only the behaviour, but also the preferences and identities of individuals and member governments (Sandholtz 1993; Jшrgensen 1997; Lewis 1998). This argument has been put most forcefully by Thomas Christiansen, Knud Erik Jшrgensen, and Antje Wiener in their introduction to the special issue of the Journal of European Public Policy (1999: 529):

A significant amount of evidence suggests that, as a process, European integration has a transformative impact on the European state system and its constituent units. European integration itself has changed over the years, and it is reasonable to assume that in the process agents identity and subsequently their interests have equally changed. While this aspect of change can be theorized within constructivist perspectives, it will remain largely invisible in approaches that neglect processes of identity formation and/or assume interests to be given endogenously.

In other words, the authors begin with the claim that the EU is indeed reshaping national identities and preferences, and reject rationalist approaches for their inability to predict and explain these phenomena. Not surprisingly, constructivist accounts of the EU have been forcefully rebutted by rationalist theorists (Moravcsik 1999; Checkel and Moravcsik 2001).

According to Moravcsik (1999: 670) constructivist theorists raise an interesting and important set of questions about the effects of European integration on individuals and states. Yet, he argues, constructivists have failed to make a significant contribution to our empirical understanding of European integration, for two reasons. First, constructivists typically fail to construct distinct falsifiable hypotheses, opting instead for broad interpretive frameworks that can make sense of almost any possible outcome, and are therefore not subject to falsification through empirical analysis. Secondly, even if constructivists do posit hypotheses that are in principle falsifiable, they generally do not formulate and test those hypotheses so as to distinguish clearly between constructivist predictions and their rationalist counterparts. Until constructivists test their hypotheses, and do so against prevailing and distinct rationalist models, he argues, constructivism will not come down from the clouds (Checkel and Moravcsik 2001).

Constructivists might respond that Moravcsik privileges rational-choice explanations and sets a higher standard for constructivist hypotheses (since rational-choice scholars typically do not attempt to test their own hypotheses against competing constructivist formulations). Many post-positivist scholars, moreover, dispute Moravcsiks image of EU studies as science, with its attendant claims of objectivity and of an objective, knowable world. For such scholars, Moravcsiks call for falsifiable hypothesis-testing appears as a power-laden demand that non-conformist theories play according to the rules of a rationalist, and primarily American, social science (Jшrgensen 1997: 6-7). To the extent that constructivists do indeed reject positivism and the systematic testing of competing hypotheses, the rationalist/constructivist debate would seem to have reached a metatheoretical impasse-that is to say, constructivists and rationalists fail to agree on a common standard for judging what constitutes support for one or another approach.

In recent years, however, an increasing number of constructivist theorists have embraced positivism-the notion that constructivist hypotheses can, and should, be tested and validated or falsified empirically-and these scholars have produced a spate of constructivist work that attempts rigorously to test hypotheses about socialization, norm-diffusion, and collective preference formation in the EU (Wendt 1999; Checkel 2003; Risse 2004: 160). Some of these studies, including Liesbet Hooghes (2002, 2005) extensive analysis of the attitudes of Commission officials, and several studies of national officials participating in EU committees (Beyers and Dierickx 1998; Egeberg 1999), use quantitative methods to test hypotheses about the nature and determinants of officials attitudes, including socialization in national as well as European institutions. Such studies, undertaken with methodological rigour and with a frank reporting of findings, seem to demonstrate that that EU-level socialization, although not excluded, plays a relatively small role by comparison with national-level socialization, or that EU socialization interacts with other factors in complex ways.

Other studies, including Checkels (1999, 2003) study of citizenship norms in the EU and the Council of Europe, and Lewiss (1998, 2003) analysis of decision-making in the EUs Coreper, utilize qualitative rather than quantitative methods, but are similarly designed to test falsifiable hypotheses about whether, and under what conditions, EU officials are socialized into new norms, preferences, and identities.

As a result, the metatheoretical gulf separating rationalists and constructivists appears to have narrowed considerably, and EU scholars have arguably led the way in confronting and-possibly-reconciling the two theoretical approaches. Three scholars (Jupille, Caporaso, and Checkel 2003) have recently put forward a framework for promoting integration of-or at least a fruitful dialogue between-rationalist and constructivist approaches to international relations. Rationalism and constructivism, the authors argue, are not hopelessly incommensurate, but can engage each other through four distinct modes of theoretical conversation, namely:

competitive testing, in which competing theories are pitted against each other in explaining a single event or class of events;

a domain of application approach, in which each theory is considered to explain some sub-set of empirical reality, so that, for example, utility-maximizing and strategic bargaining obtain in certain circumstances, while socialization and collective preference formation obtain in others;

a sequencing approach, in which one theory may help explain a particular step in a sequence of actions (e. g. a constructivist explanation of national preferences) while another theory might best explain subsequent developments (e. g. a rationalist explanation of subsequent bargaining among the actors); and

incorporation or subsumption, in which one theory claims to subsume the other so that, for example, rational choice becomes a sub-set of human behaviour ultimately explicable in terms of the social construction of modern rationality.

Looking at the substantive empirical work in their special issue, Jupille, Caporaso and Checkel (2003) find that most contributions to the rationalist/constructivist debate utilize competitive testing, while only a few (see, for example, Schimmelfennig 2003a) have adopted domain of application, sequencing, or subsumption approaches.

Nevertheless, they see substantial progress in the debate, in which both sides generally accept a common standard of empirical testing as the criterion for useful theorizing about EU politics.


Integration theory today


European integration theory is far more complex than it was in 1977 when the first edition of this volume was published. In place of the traditional neo-functionalist/ intergovernmentalist debate, the 1990s witnessed the emergence of a new dichotomy in EU studies, pitting rationalist scholars against constructivists. During the late 1990s, it appeared that this debate might well turn into a metatheoretical dialogue of the deaf, with rationalists dismissing constructivists as soft, and constructivists denouncing rationalists for their obsessive commitment to parsimony and formal models. The past several years, however, have witnessed the emergence of a more productive dialogue between the two approaches, and a steady stream of empirical studies allowing us to adjudicate between the competing claims of the two approaches.

Furthermore, whereas the neo-functionalist/intergovernmentalist debate was limited almost exclusively to the study of European integration,3 the contemporary rationalist/ constructivist debate in EU studies mirrors larger debates among those same schools in the broader field of international relations theory. Indeed, not only are EU studies relevant to the wider study of international relations, they are in many ways the vanguard of international relations theory, insofar as the EU serves as a laboratory for broader processes such as globalization, institutionalization, and socialization.

Despite these substantial measures of progress, however, the literature on European integration has not produced any consensus on the likely future direction of the integration process. At the risk of overgeneralizing, more optimistic theorists tend to be drawn from the ranks of neo-functionalists and co

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