Monday, February 1, 2010

Bye bye Moravcsik: Neofunctionalism is still on

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.


  1. I am not sure that the examples you mention are good examples to prove that neofunctionalism is still a valid theory:

    "Adapting to an unprecedented outcome at the first Lisbon vote in Ireland by calling another vote."

    I see a lot of classical rational choice arguments in what happened in Ireland. The second referendum was clearly pushed by those saying that if the Irish voted against the Treaty for a second time, this would have severe consequences for the economy of the country.

    "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."

    These are rather singular issues because of the unclear transition period from Nice to Lisbon. I don't see any connection to neofunctional arguments.

    "Zapatero's plans for a (supernational) European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB). Possibly bailing out Greece with EU money, unforseen by any existing regulation."

    These are rather intergovernmental dynamics, driven by the interests of member states and only agreed upon if there is a clear agreement between all member states. I also have doubts that Zapatero's proposal will come to life. And the bailout for Greece might become a precedent not legally foreseen, but even if member states agree to do this, this will remain a singular event and won't become a legal basis of the EMU.

    So I am not sure that it's worth digging up the old neofunctional arguments; a lot that is happening at the moment is just the rebalancing of a new institutional setting agreed upon by 27 member states after quite some bargaining and an international crisis that is demanding large-scale reactions involving each and every member state.

  2. Admittedly, the examples I mentioned in the beginning don't indicate a functional spillover that could be put into binding legislation. Yet, some of the cases (bailing out an EMU country, the competency of the Council President and the High Representative) have the potential to become a sort of ius cogens, unwritten principles of compliance that will be used as a reference in future. In that sense it compares to the Open Method of Coordination - even if that has been far from successful in the past.

    My hope is to see spillover in financial supervision and climate mitigation most of all. There is neither room for beggar-thy-neighbor fiscal policy, nor for do-it-alone national legislation on climate change in the EU.

  3. I think that if Greece is bailed out, then it could lead to a spillover effect, simply because pressure would move on to Spain and Portugal and Ireland - if the markets want a guarantee for these Eurozone countries, then a common institutional basis would become a more rational choice. It would become harder to ask countries specifically to underwrite the Eurozone, but if the problem is "Europeanized", then it may become more politically predictable and easier for the Euro countries to support politically (if it can be shown - or more easily shown - as a fair institution to help out all countries).

    On Neofunctionalism generally, I do think there's a lot to it, though intergovernmentalism is undeniably a big part of the EU. Arguably the stalling of integration is because people perceive that the competence increases to NOT be rational overspills. There's been little explanation for competence growth beyond Maastricht, so there hasn't been the support needed for (smoother) progress on integration. The old stories and arguments are used to explain treaty reform rather than the policy and the problems and the true underlying reasons. Perhaps if a political sphere was created where such argument and ideas could compete with others for public support, it would be easier to test out Neofunctionalism's validity?

    Tsk, tsk. Much enthusiasm, but such poor manners! It’s impolite to bid good-bye, let alone condemn to a dungeon, without proper introduction. And condemnation before a proper trial: Doesn’t that violate the ECHR? In any case, it leads to inaccurate judgments.

    No surprise, then, that your defense of neo-functionalism contra liberal intergovernmentalism (LI) rests on a misunderstanding. Whatever Pierson and others may wrongly attribute, LI rests on regime theory, which assumes fundamental uncertainty about the future. Hence that countries do not foresee all contingencies and are surprised ex post is not only unsurprising but is predicted by LI, as Schimmelfennig and I have recently written. Nor is a certain amount of feedback in the system surprising, without which new equilibria would not be stable. As Robert Keohane teaches us, this is why member states create institutions and organizations (regimes) with explicit and implicit discretion, not simply one-off treaties. What member states may have wanted in 1957, 1979, 1991, or 2002 is irrelevant, theoretically; certainly a few examples of “spillover” are theoretically unimportant. This is one reason why I insist in CHOICE FOR EUROPE that 1:1 testing of LI against neo-functionalism is misleading—a point that James Caporaso highlights brilliantly in his review in JCMS. Similarly misleading is your tendency to assume that whenever the EU moves forward, neo-functionalism us correct, whereas periods of stasis support LI.

    The more interesting question, it seems to me, is whether the system now functions in such a way as to deliver what domestic interests in member states want it to provide—or whether regulations they do not want are being rammed down their throats by institutions that are out of control. Previous commentators are right to suggest that your examples are singularly unpersuasive: climate, energy, financial regulation, intellectual property, Doha round, food security, Greek bail out, the second Irish election all share two characteristics. One, constitutionally, they are closely allied to previous EU functions. Second, the member states have expressed a sustained interest in seeing the EU act.

    I have written elsewhere that there is, for functional reasons having to do with the nature of externalities, a “European constitutional settlement” in place. Taxing and spending, fiscal priorities, social welfare, education, health care, third country immigration, local law and order, defense spending and such remain national or local, while trade, money and finance, some environmental regulation, and business regulation have been partially Europeanized. Public opinion and governments are supportive. Your trends are consistent with this. If Europe were suddenly to move in a new direction, without any exogenous shock or state support, that would call LI into question.

    Finally, you believe that redirecting political mobilization and identity of 600 million Europeans simply requires we create a Euro-Facebook page and change the Commission’s operating system. Who could still believe such things after a decade of constitutional debate based on just this premise? The notion that voters could be so easily swayed violates everything we know about comparative politics, which suggests that voters in every OECD democracy are broadly inattentive and extremely resistant to such attempts to redirect their attention away from taxation, social spending, education, immigration, and a few other highly salient issues. When one forces them to engage in non-salient EU issues—as Euro-referendums or elections customarily ask them to do, and you would like to invite them to do, on line—one gets apathy or chaos. Be careful what you wish for, you might deliver Europe into the hands of Euroskeptics—not ones you wrongly imagine to exist (like me), but the real ones.

    But thanks for the interest...always like to spend a few minutes escaping from the dungeon.

    Prof. Andrew Moravcsik
    Princeton, NJ
    February 2010

  5. Dear Professor Moravcsik,

    Thank you very much for your comment and for your interaction in this discussion. Please have my apologies for the choice of words; I meant to be humorous but in no sense insulting, neither personally nor with regard to the ideas you expressed in Negotiating the Single European Act: National Interests and Conventional Statecraft in the European Community.

    Rather, the post expresses my hope that our policy-makers will face up to the challenges of the future, particularly with regard to climate change and the common market, by allowing for a transfer of competence to an economic government and a single European voice in international negotiations. The challenges of China as an emerging world power constitute a new situation that demands responses on a supernational, European level, as ex-Commissioner Verheugen expressed in this interview. In order to give an adequate response to these challenges, the President of the European Council and the High Representative need a discretion and an international acceptance that is not curtailed by the head of governments desire to be represented on photo ops.

    My hope is to see the EU act in the fields I named, but I have my doubts if the heads of governments have a sustained interest that it should do so with all the support it needs. Hence my hope that external pressures will necessitate a de facto shift of competence toward the new institutions foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty.

    I don’t have the illusion to involve 600 million Europeans into communication with the civil servants in the Commission or the members of the Council Working Groups through social media. However, I think that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the blogosphere have a lot of potential in involving interested citizens into politics who would not join a political party. A recent example in Germany shows this very well. A video about the English language competence of the new German Commissioner Oettinger was circulated through social media for so long that it increased pressure on the conventional media. Thus the video was broadcast inter alia by the political Sunday evening show “Bericht aus Berlin” and Commissioner Oettinger agreed to enroll in an English language course as a result of the media pressure. Obviously, Germans had not been happy with the way they should be represented in Brussels, and the pressure that built up via Youtube was enough to trigger a response. A similar case is a video of the European Green Leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit currently circulating on Facebook and through the blogosphere.

    And finally, I do not want to hide that I did not expect you to react to this post. The interaction of citizens and bloggers with policy-makers, MEPs and experts is another phenomenon that is greatly facilitated through social media communication. In this sense, citizens can be induced to develop an interest in politics (and European politics in particular) because they have the feeling that their voice can actually make a difference. The more citizens feel that they are integrated into the debate, the more responsive they will be (see MEPs Ska Keller and Jan Philipp Albrecht as an example for integration of the citizens). Changing the communication policy of the European Commission and allowing for more personalized blog posts, Twitter messages and Facebook groups can therefore make a substantial difference in my view.

    Therefore, thank you very much again for your reaction to this post and the interaction and discussion that it can bring about.

    Kind regards,
    André Feldhof