Adapting to an unprecedented outcome at the first Lisbon vote in Ireland by calling another vote. Electing the Commission President with the Nice treaty, his Commissioners with the Lisbon treaty. Filling up the ranks of the EP with 18 phantom MEPs, unprovided for in any legal EU documents. Zapatero's plans for a (supernational) European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB). Possibly bailing out Greece with EU money, unforseen by any existing regulation.
All these are examples in which the EU reaches beyond the scope that was defined in the treaty framework or in secondary legislation. EU critics could say the EU exceeds its competencies. But you can also see it in a different way. The EU is again adapting to problems without precedence by taking bold actions without precedence.
Sound familiar? Exactly, that's the theory of Neofunctionalism, defined by Ernest B. Haas. As the first Commission under the EEC-Treaty of 1957 encountered problems that transcended individual DG portfolios and individual member states, a need for European integration in other fields became apparent. Hence, an economic and atomic cooperation evolved into the semi-sovereign construction that we have today.
Much has changed since the first years of Neofunctionalism; after a wave of EU enthusiasm under Delors in the late 80s, European integration can be rightfully described as stagnating throughout the last decade. There are no indications that the EU is moving closer to the citizens after Lisbon; the electoral mobility caused by the EP elections last year soon gave way to confusion again.
Yet, there are signs that neofunctionalism is back. The new faces installed by the Lisbon treaty, Van Rompuy's new methods, the federalist proposal by a national prime minister (Zapatero) and the increased power of a supranational vis-à-vis an intergovernmental institution are indicating a changing climate between the institutions. A change towards the f-word. Needless to say that many of the problems facing the EU today have become supranational as well. Climate mitigation, regulation of financial flows, sustainable energy provision, protection of intellectual property, the conclusion of the Doha round and food security to name but a few.
Therefore, it is not completely illusionary to expect another spillover with regard to financial regulation and climate mitigation. Especially regarding the latter, every single citizen can make a difference. A combined effort in private reduction of waste and emissions can make a tremendous difference with regard to reaching the 20/20 goal. Thus, a healthy integration process should involve citizens through social media and through established forms of pluralism.
Social media allow the EU to create a common feeling of belongingness, a space for personal fulfilment and identification. Desertec has been doing this by calling for donations, setting up a Facebook group, installing a blog and demanding people's opinions about the project. The EU could do the same thing without a lot of additional cost. What it takes is for the Commission to really start using web 2.0 - and for the heads of government to send Moravcsik to the dungeons.
Please also see the discussion in the comments section, in which Professor Moravcsik reacted to the points expressed in this post
Update: In a recent statement, Commission President José Manuel Barroso takes the position that a de facto change of the institutional relationship between the member states and the EU instititutions has to take place, if Europe wants to maintain its place in the world.