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Explaining the EU Political System

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1 Explaining the EU Political System

2 The EU: a Political System but not a State
Democratic political systems consists of four main elements: A stable and clearly defined set of institutions for collective decision-making and a set of rules governing relations between and within these institutions. Citizens and social groups that seek to realize their political desires through the political system A significant impact on the distribution of economic resources and the allocation of social and political values across the whole system. A continuous interaction (‘feedback’) between these political outputs, new demands on the system, new decisions and so on.

3 The EU: a Political System but not a State
The EU possesses all these elements: The basic institutional quartet – the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament (EP) and the Court of Justice. An increasing number of groups such as individual corporations and business associations to trade unions, environmental and consumer groups and political parties EU outputs have a significant impact on the ‘authoritative allocation of values’ (Easton, 1957) and determine ‘who gets what, when and how’ in European society (Lasswell, 1936). The real essence of EU politics lies in the constant interactions; within and between the EU institutions in Brussels; between national governments and Brussels, within the various departments in national governments, in bilateral meetings between governments, and between private interests and governmental officials in Brussels and at the national level.

4 The EU: a Political System but not a State
The EU does not have a ‘monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion’ which, remains in the hands of the national governments of the EU member states. As a result, the EU is not a ‘state’ in the traditional Weberian meaning of the word.

5 The EU: a Political System but not a State
The EU can function as a full-blown political system without a complete transformation of the territorial organization of the state – unlike the evolution from the city-state to the nation-state in the early-modern period of European history.


7 Basics of Modern Political Science
Political science is the systematic study of the processes of government, politics and policy-making. The modern discipline dates from the end of the nineteenth century, when people such as Woodrow Wilson, Robert Michels, Knut Wicksell, Lord Bryce and Max Weber first developed tools and categories to analyze political institutions, including bureaucracies, governments, parliaments and political parties.

8 Basics of Modern Political Science
In the interwar period, a ‘behavioural revolution’ replaced this focus on the structural features of politics with ‘methodological individualism’ The new method sought to explain political outcomes as the result of the interests, motives and actions of political actors (such as elites, bureaucrats, voters, political parties and interest groups) rather than as a consequence of the power of institutions and political structures (such as constitutions, decision-making rules and social norms).

9 Basics of Modern Political Science
However in the 1980s and 1990s there was a return to interest in institutions under the label of ‘new institutionalism’, and since then many contemporary political scientists have integrated theories and assumptions about both actors and institutions in a single analytical framework

10 Basics of Modern Political Science
Common Assumptions Political actors are ‘rational’. This means that actors have a clear set of ‘preferences’ about what outcomes they want from the political process. But actors do not form their preferences and choose their strategies in isolation; they must take account of each other’s interests and expected actions. ‘Strong’ rational choice theories assume that actors have perfect information about the preference ordering of the actors in the system, and therefore can accurately predict the result of a particular strategy.

11 Basics of Modern Political Science
Common Assumptions Political outcomes are seen as the result of strategic interaction between competing actors. Optimal- interaction results in the best outcome for the actors involved Suboptimal- actors pursue strategies that do not lead to the best outcome Institutions are the main constraints on actors’ behaviour. Formal- constitutions and rules of procedure Informal- behavioural norms, shared beliefs and ideology Institutions are not fixed. If an actor thinks he/she will be better off under a different set of institutions, he/she will seek to change the institutional arrangements.

12 Basics of Modern Political Science
In sum, the basic theoretical assumptions of modern political science can be expressed in the following ‘fundamental equation of politics’ preferences + institutions = outcomes Preferences are the personal wants and desires of political actors. Institutions are the formal and informal rules that determine how collective decisions are made Outcomes (public policies and new institutional forms) result from the interaction between preferences and institutions

13 Basics of Modern Political Science
preferences + institutions = outcomes This equation illustrates two basic rules of politics: If preferences change, outcomes will change, even if institutions remain constant. If institutions change, outcomes will change, even if preference remain constant.

14 Basics of Modern Political Science
These assumptions can easily be applied to the EU. There are a number of actors in the EU system (national governments, the supranational institutions, political parties at the national and European level, bureaucrats in the national and EU administrations, interests groups, and individual voters) and, the EU institutional and policy environment is complex.

15 Allocation of Policy Competences
In the EU, as in all political systems, some policy competences are allocated to the central level (EU national/regional level) of government while others are allocated to the state level (EU level). Two perspectives Normative perspective: policies should be allocated to different levels to produce the best overall policy outcome. Positive perspective: the allocation of competences is the result of a specific constitutional and political bargain and the way in which actors with different policy goals have behaved within this bargain

16 History of the EU

17 The Legacy Of War Between 1948 and 1951 the US-funded Marshall Plan provided financial assistance to European economies in order to encourage postwar recovery. It also provided the foundations for European integration: the USA insisted on the creation of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation to coordinate the distribution of aid. In the context of increasing tension between the USA and the Soviet Union, the USA and their western European allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. This was set up with the aim of providing mutual protection to member states and sending a message to the USSR.

18 The Road to Recovery By 1945 European governments had three critical needs: to rebuild weakened economies, to ensure security from one another and external threats, and to limit the dangers of nationalism. The general goals for the peace had been set at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, which agreed on the importance of free trade and stable rates of monetary exchange. A new kind of Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union loomed, threatening an incipient peace.

19 Moves Towards Integration
Amidst an atmosphere of improved security and economic recovery, European leaders became more receptive to cooperation. There was support for greater cooperation, but governments and elites were divided over what this meant, and how to proceed. The Council of Europe was formed in May 1949, with the aim of achieving greater unity between its members. The Council’s lasting achievement was the European Convention on Human Rights.

20 Coal and Steel On 9 May 1950, the Schuman Plan (championed by Jean Monnet and Robert Shuman) was announced. This led to the signing in April 1951 of the Treaty of Paris, which created the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952. With six founding members (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), the ECSC was charged with the task of building a common market in coal and steel by eliminating duties, discriminatory measures, subsidies and state assistance. This was a first step in the process of building of European economic ties.

21 Coal and Steel

22 Early European Initiatives
The achievements of the European Coal and Steel Community were more symbolic than substantive. Supporters of further integration campaigned for further initiatives. The European Defence Community (EDC) (1952) was a stillborn plan to create a common European military as a way of binding West Germany into western Europe. The European Political Community was an attempt to create a political body to oversee the ESCS and EDC. The failure of both left supporters of integration chastened, but contributed to an improvement in Franco-German relations.

23 Rome and the EEC Economic integration inspired the signature of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which led to the foundation in 1958 of the European Economic Community (EEC). It committed its six founding members to the creation of a single market; the elimination of customs duties between members; and the establishment of common agricultural, trade, transport and competition policies. Progress was mixed: EEC institutions had little power and integration was mainly an intergovernmental process. During the 1960s the EEC was troubled by political disagreements over the power and reach of its institutions and over enlargement.

24 Rome and the EEC

25 European Enlargement With six members, the EEC had a 56% share of western Europe’s wealth. To secure regional peace and economic prosperity, other states had to join. Britain, the most obvious absentee, gradually became more amenable to integration, when it became clear that it would risk political and economic isolation by remaining outside the EEC Vetoes by De Gaulle in 1963 and 1967 delayed British membership until January 1973 (when Denmark and Ireland also joined). Greece joined in 1981 and Portugal and Spain in Now the largest economic bloc in the world, the international influence of the EEC was greatly boosted. However, decision-making processes became more complicated by requiring a wider range of interests to be considered.

26 Enlargement,

27 Monetary Union Exchange rate stability had been central to western economic and monetary policy since Bretton Woods. The first attempt to pave the way to a single currency – the 1972 ‘snake in the tunnel’ – failed mainly because of bad timing, and was replaced by the 1979 Economic Monetary System (EMS). The EMS used an Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) based on a European Currency Unit (ecu) whose value was based on a basket of western European currencies. Governments participating in the ERM made efforts to keep national currencies stable within the ERM.

28 Single European Act Concerns that progress on completing the single market was slow, leading to agreement on the 1986 Single European Act, the first substantial change to the Treaty of Rome. Coming into force in 1987, its key goal was to remove the remaining physical, technical and fiscal barriers to the single market by the end of 1992. New prominence on the Community agenda was also given to ‘cohesion’ (balanced economic and social development). It set the target of creating equal employment opportunities and working conditions.

29 International Events European integration was impacted from the start by international developments. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the end of the Cold War division of Europe, and emphasized the need for the EEC to assert itself on the global stage. However, the Community’s failure to agree on a common response to both the Gulf War and the crisis in the Balkans in the 1990s undermined its political credibility. The Community was failing to match its economic power with an international political presence.

30 From Community to Union
The Treaty on European Union (signed in Maastricht, 1992) created the European Union, and outlined a commitment to a single European currency and a common foreign policy. For some, the controversial treaty raised troubling questions about national sovereignty. The dynamics of the European debate took on a new character. The term euroscepticism entered the public debate, suggesting hostility to the idea of integration. There was also talk of a democratic deficit, which referred to the growing gap between the work and power of EU institutions and the ability of EU citizens to impact their work.

31 More Enlargement There had been no specific policy on enlargement, but as the number of applications for membership of the EEC/EU grew, so a new approach was taken. In 1993 the Copenhagen conditions were agreed, by which applicants had to be democratic, capitalist, and agree to adopt the entire existing body of the EU laws and policies (the acquis communautaire). In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU, taking membership to 15.

32 More Enlargement

33 Unfinished Business The Maastricht treaty left a number of items of business unfinished, the institutional structure of the EU in particular being strained by the prospect of more enlargement. The Treaty of Amsterdam (signed 1997, in force 1999) and the Treaty of Nice (signed 2001, in force 2003) made only relatively minor changes. The 2000 Lisbon Strategy was launched with the goal of making the EU, within ten years, the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world.

34 Arrival of the Euro Preparations were also under way for the single currency, named the euro in 1995. Convergence criteria were agreed as preconditions for participation in the euro, including controls on budget deficits, inflation, and interest rates. The euro became available as an electronic currency in 1999 and as a physical currency – replacing those of 12 EU member states – in early Only Britain, Denmark and Sweden did not take part.

35 Transatlantic Tensions
The 9/11 attacks of 2001 generated strong transatlantic solidarity, but this quickly changed once the Bush administration began preparations for a pre-emptive military invasion of Iraq in 2003. Several EU leaders were openly critical of US policy, and public opposition in Europe was deep and near uniform. With the end of the Cold War having removed much of the glue that had held the US and Europe together, the controversy over Iraq revealed a new willingness by the EU to assert itself against the USA.

36 Transatlantic Tensions

37 More Enlargement Enlargement now looked east, focusing on bringing in Eastern European states and former Soviet republics. Eight Eastern European states, along with Cyprus and Malta, joined in 2004, and Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. These new rounds took membership of the EU to 27, and were politically significant for marking the final end to the Cold War division of Europe, and the transformation of much of the former Soviet bloc states from communism to liberal democracy. As of early 2011, candidates for future membership were Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey.

38 More Enlargement

39 More Treaties In 2001 a European Convention was held to draft a constitutional treaty for the EU, ending the process of periodically amending the treaties. It was published in 2003, but rejected by national referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. Signed in 2007, and coming into force in 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon was almost exactly the same in content as its failed predecessor. It brought the rules of the EU up to date, the most significant institutional changes being the creation of a president for the EU Council, and a newly powerful High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In 2007 the EU began to suffer the effects of the global economic crisis, worsening in 2010 as new strains were placed on the euro.

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