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European Integration and National Political Systems Essay Sample

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European Integration and National Political Systems Essay Sample

– European integration should be analyzed as an explanatory factor in domestic political continuity or change

– The study of national political systems has evolved largely in isolation from the study of European integration for three main reasons:

1. the separation has been a natural product of a division of labor in the discipline of political science: between comparative politics, with its focus on domestic political institutions and processes, and international relations, with its focus on international regimes and regional integration

2. Many scholars of comparative European politics have taken a healthily skeptical attitude to the study of European integration – as either a normative project or as not contributing much to generalisable political science knowledge

3. as long as the empirical impact of European integration on national politics was seemingly small, it could be ignored as a relevant variable

– This position is no longer sustainable. With the growing development of the “multi-level” European polity, the disciplinary boundary between comparative politics and international relations is increasingly porous.

– The key question asked is what has been the impact of European integration on government and politics in domestic political systems.

What is European integration?

“European integration comprises two inter-related processes: the delegation of policy competences to the supranational level to achieve particular polity outcomes; and the establishment of a new set of political institutions, with executive, legislative and judicial powers”

National Policy Delegation and European-Level Political Outcomes

Within domestic systems, policy competences are divided between different levels of government and are delegated from majoritarian institutions, such as legislatures and governments, to non-majoritarian institutions, such as central banks and independent regulators. In much the same way, European governments have delegated policy powers to the supranational level.

The competences of the EU are:

1. market regulation: the EU-level is responsible for almost 80% of all rules governing the production, distribution and exchange of goods, service, capital and labor on the European market.

– EU as deregulatory project: removal of technical, fiscal and physical barriers, liberalization of domestic markets and privatization of national monopols

– On the other hand: domestic regulations have been replaced by a new “re-regulatory” regime at the European level

2. direct redistributional capacity: is in contrast to regulation, small: EU budget is only 1.27% of the total GDP of the EU member states

3. significant indirect redistributional impact, e.g. Common Agriculture Policy

4. macro-economic stabilization: powerful role of the EU with the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), operating through three main mechanisms:

– independent European Central Bank is responsible for setting interests rates with the main goal of securing price stability

– the rules governing national budget deficits force member states to pursue fiscally conservative budgetary policies

– this is reinforced in the process of “macro-economic policy surveillance” in the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers, where national governments have to justify their macro-economic policies and strategies in light of European interest

5. In addition to these economic policy competences, the member states have begun to delegate competences in more politicized areas: justice and interior affairs, and foreign and defence policies

Supranational Institution-Building

In addition to a new policy environment, European integration has led to the creation of a new level of political institutions, on top of the existing institutional structures of domestic polities:

1. executive powers: are divided between EU governments and the European Commission

– the EU governments

a) set the long-term policy agenda by requesting the Commission or the Council of Ministersto undertake certain tasks or policy initiatives

b) they control the delegation of powers to the European level and between the EU institutions

c) they scrutinize the implementation of EU legislation by the Commission in the comitology system

d) they are responsible for the transportation of EU law into domestic law

– the European Commission

a) has a monopoly on legislative initiative in the areas of regulation and budgetary expenditure

b) concerning the administrative aspect of executive power, the Commission is responsible for ensuring the implementation of primary EU law (from the EU treaty) and of secondary legislation ( which must be transposed by the member states)

c) in so doing, the Commission can use tertiary legislative instruments (just as executives do in the domestic arena)

2. executive power is shared between the EU governments and the European Parliament

– the main legislative procedure remains the so-called “consultation procedure”, where the EU governments must receive an opinion from the EP about a piece of legislation, which they can duly ignore

– in most areas of economic and social policy, EU legislation must receive the positive assent of both the Council and the EP, in the so-called “Co-decision procedure”

3. judicial power is exercised by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg

and the courts of the EU member states; there are two basic doctrines of EU law:

– direct effect: means that the subjects of EU law are individual citizens rather than the EU statesand that the EU Treaty and secondary legislation are part of the domestic law of the member states

– “supremacy” means that if there is a conflict between domestic law and EU law, then EU law is sovereign

4. lobbyism: over 1.000 lobby groups have offices in Brussels with the specific aim of trying to influence the EU policy process. The fact that the Commission is understaffed, requires policy expertise in the highly technical process of harmonizing the diverse European market, and needs the support of certain constituencies for legislation to pass the Council and the EP, ensures relatively open access for private interests at a very early stage of the policy process

European Outcomes: New constraints, Reinforcements and Catalysts

Political outcomes at the European level have both direct and indirect impacts on domestic political systems:

1. direct impacts are outcomes that require domestic policies to be changed to conform to new European-wide norms

2. More interesting for the present study is the indirect impact of European governance outcomes on domestic political institutions and input processes in domestic political systems:

a) European governance outcomes have a significant indirect impact on institutional processes

– In the area of administration European integration propels member states to introduce new regulatory policy styles

– In the field of judicial politics, the institutional design of the EU legal system, which allows national courts to apply EU law, strengthens the judicial review powers of national courts vis-�-vis domestic executives

b) European governance outcomes have a significant indirect impact on input processes

– For example, it has been suggested that European integration is now a salient issue amongst the electorates of most member states, cutting across the traditional left-right divide

– This produces new political forces, divisions in traditional parties, and new electoral alignments

– Moreover, direct elections to the EP have indirect implications for domestic electoral processes, parties and party systems. The creation of a new and nation-wide “second-order” contest gives opposition and protest parties the opportunity to undermine support for governing parties, and gives voters the change to punish the parties they support or signal their genuine policy preferences

The European Institutional Arena: New Exit, Veto and Information Opportunities

But this is only the half story. The direct and indirect changes produced by European governance outcomes provide incentives for domestic actors to mobilize at the European level either to promote certain effects or to undermine others. As a result, the other half story is how a new institutional arena at the European level impacts on domestic political systems by providing a new structure of opportunities for domestic actors.

The existence of a new arena provides three different types of opportunities for domestic actors:

1. the European level offers the advantage for domestic actors to exit the domestic arena. This will occur if an actor is blocked from achieving a desirable policy or institutional outcome at the domestic level, but can predict that the direct or indirect impact of European-level outcomes will facilitate the ultimate end goal in the domestic arena

2. domestic actors can use the European level to seek a veto on domestic actions (sometimes in direct opposition to the exit opportunity) This can occur if an actor is a loser in the domestic arena, but can reasonably predict that the direct or indirect impact of European-level outcomes will promote their cause in the domestic arena.

3. actors who a formally and informally part of the process of European-level governance can also use this position to gain informational advantage in the domestic arena

Determining the European Effect: Incidence and Intensity

– Amongst the Europeanization literature with a strong orientation to formal organizations, it

is worth highlighting at least four main emphasis:

1. governmental-administrative institutions

2. national parliaments

3. the judiciary

4. interest associations

Of these four, the institutions of national government and public administration have perhaps

received the earliest and most sustained attention. This is scarcely surprising, giving the

pivotal role of national executives in the integration project.

A second major focus has been legislative bodies. Two closely related concerns dominate in

this literature:

1. How can national parliaments adapt their traditional working methods to deal effectively with EU-related business, notably as it relates to the transportation of EU legislation into national law?

2. How can they influence supranational decision-making processes?

Third, the role of national courts in the integration project and the domestic impact of

European legislation and the European Court of Justice feature quite prominently the

Europeanization debate.

Finally the Europeanization of interest associations and changes in national patterns of interest representation in the wake of European integration have been studied systematically

– The Europeanization debate tends to focus on short time horizons. This concentration on the

recent past and current developments has two critical consequences:

1. the early periods of Europeanization are little understood and are relegated to the province of “institutional history”, somewhat outside the mainstream of comparative politics

2. Europeanization tends to be discussed in substantive term, while the procedural characteristics, which can only be adequately grasped from a longer term perspective, are often neglected

Explaining the European Effect: Varieties of Institutionalism

Four main categories for institutionalist explanatory accounts:

1. explanations that operate principally at a macro-institutional level and conceive of both European integration and, in particular, the national effect primarily in institutional terms

2. accounts that adopt a broad understanding of institutions, but again understand the European effect primarily in institutional terms

3. studies that stress individual utility calculations in explaining European effects

4. analyses that likewise emphasize individual behavior, but refer to a “logic of appropriateness” in explaining patterns of national reaction to European integration


To summarize in order to advance beyond the present state of the analysis of the domestic impacts of European integration, the analytical and theoretical reach of this emergent field of comparative research needs to be broadened in several directions:

1. the present emphasis on policy and institutional aspects needs to be complemented by more sustained efforts at examining the domestic political effects of integration

2. in studying the European impact, substantive effects can only be properly understood if more systematic attention is paid to the modes and processes of domestic Europeanization

3. While it is necessary to disentangle European integration as an explanatory variable and the European effect as a dependent variable, both will need to be “re-entangled” if we wish to do justice to the real-life interdependency of forces of economic, political and cultural change

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