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About this book

The European Union affects the lives of Europeans in many and varied ways, yet, in spite of its reach, it often appears a constrained political system – struggling for internal consensus, reliant on the agreement of national governments, and hampered by the scepticism of electorates. These issues have become even more acute in the wake of the global economic and eurozone crises. This new text provides a concise and up-to-date introduction to the nature of the European Union, giving an account of its evolution and structure that makes sense of its current challenges.

The text analyses the EU's institutional structure and decision-making procedures, and highlights the manifold conflicts as well as the sophisticated mechanisms for consensus-building among the core institutions. It explains the ways in which the EU differs from other forms of political order, and how this leads to political processes that are characterized by cooperation and conflict. In providing this context, the author invites readers to a critical assessment of the functioning of the European Union, and of the implications of this for its democratic legitimacy and future prospects.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Political System of the EU

Abstract
The European Union (EU) constitutes a political system that shares powers with the member states, a fact that makes it difficult to comprehend its true nature. On the one hand, the Union appears to be superordinate to the member states and, as such, significantly constrains national sovereignty. On the other hand, the Union seems to depend on the member states, since it is national governments that decide on any transfer of powers to the European level. For their part, most European citizens perceive the Union as being too powerful, as its decisions clearly impact on domestic politics and policies in fundamental ways. For example, citizens attribute the dismantling of welfare state measures at national level to decisions and policies that originate in the EU. At the same time, however, they wonder why the EU is often unable to make forceful decisions and take common actions in the face of pressing political problems — as, for example, with the economic and financial crisis or foreign policy issues. Overall, the European Union appears to be a political system full of contradictions, with widely varying perceptions and assessments of its nature.
Ingeborg Tömmel

Chapter 1. Theorizing European Integration and the Union as a Political System

Abstract
The features of the European polity outlined in the introductory chapter have stimulated academic analyses and debates in a variety of ways. In political science, in particular, there is a long tradition of theorizing the creation and evolution of the European institutions, beginning first with the EC (European Community) and, later, the EU and the political system that subsequently emerged. Two core questions underlie these theoretical approaches: first, what explains the dynamics of integration? Second, what are the characteristics of the polity that emerges from this process? Depending on the perspective and objectives of the analysis, scholars conceptualize the EU either as a state-like political order, or as an international organization or regime (for summaries, see Rosamond 2000; Wiener and Dietz 2004; Neyer and Wiener 2011). Whereas the first perspective was primarily launched in comparative politics, the latter was developed in international relations. While the international relations perspective initially dominated the academic debate, the comparative perspective has recently become more influential. Yet, both perspectives are increasingly combined to pose new research questions and to elaborate alternative explanatory approaches.
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Chapter 2. Building the European Union: Supranational Dynamics and Intergovernmental Configurations

Abstract
This chapter, together with Chapter 3, analyzes the evolution of European integration. These chapters view integration as a dynamic process, driven by a variety of forces and actors that, through their interactions, build and shape the institutional structure of the European Union. For analytical purposes, I divide the history of European integration into four phases (see also Gillingham 2003). For practical purposes, I have chosen to present this history in two separate chapters. This chapter looks at the first three phases, which were instrumental to building the European polity in its multifaceted dimensions and in its unique combination of intergovernmental and supranational institutions. In contrast, Chapter 3 considers only the fourth phase, where the Union has already evolved into a full-blown, mature polity. During this fourth phase, the EU continues to evolve in terms of its size, its institutional structure, and its decisionmaking procedures. However, these changes generally serve more to expand, consolidate, and diversify the existing system than to bring about a fundamental transformation of it. Accordingly, a close look at the respective evolutionary processes will highlight the continual dynamics of system-building beyond the nation state that characterizes the EU.
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Chapter 3. Consolidating the European Union: Enlargement, Deepening Integration and Crisis Management

Abstract
This chapter analyzes the most recent phase of European integration and the ongoing process of system-building. By the 1990s, the European Union could be considered a mature polity. However, it still continued to enlarge its membership and transform its institutional structure and procedures of decision-making in response to newly emerging external challenges and persistent internal deficiencies. Moreover, since 2008, the Union has been seriously affected by the international financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis of its member states, resulting in a deep crisis of the Euro. These crises have called into question the architecture of monetary union and have triggered a series of institutional, procedural, and regulatory adjustments in the monetary sphere. Yet, these adjustments did not result in formal Treaty amendments, as this would have provoked further dissent among the member states. Thus, the most recent phase of European integration is characterized by formerly unknown challenges that are placing the Union and its political leaders under enormous strain.
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Chapter 4. The Core Institutional Structure

Abstract
In the previous chapters, we saw that the political system of the EU unfolded through an ongoing process of institution-building. This led to the emergence of a political order based on both supranational dynamics and intergovernmental configurations. In those chapters, however, we did not analyze this institutional structure in great detail. So, in this chapter we will turn our attention to an in-depth analysis of the core institutional structure of the EU, comprising five primary institutions: the Commission, the Council, the European Council, the Parliament, and the Court of Justice. Four of these institutions were established when the European Communities were founded. These four can be seen as forming the solid core of the European polity. This is not to say that these institutions have never altered their structure and performance. On the contrary, they have significantly grown in size, expanded their competences and scope of action, diversified their institutional structure, and improved their efficiency. Despite these changes, their position within the overall institutional structure of the EU has remained stable. In contrast, the fifth institution, the European Council, was an addition that was undertaken much later. Through a gradual process of consolidation, the European Council eventually became formalized in the Treaties. This was a massive change in the structure of the European Union.
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Chapter 5. Decision-Making: Cooperation and Conflict among the Core Institutions

Abstract
In the previous chapters, I outlined the basic characteristics that make up the institutional structure of the EU. Yet, in order to fully understand the position, powers, and the importance of each institution within the overall structure, we must consider how they work together and interact in the process of decision-making. In this analysis, I distinguish between three forms of decision-making in the EU, depending on their scope and political significance. First, I consider decisions around legislation and rule-making; second, I turn my attention to fundamental decisions regarding widening the Union and deepening integration; and, third, I look at those decisions that pertain to the exercise of executive powers. All of these decision-making processes are regulated by the Treaties, together with additional rules of procedure. However, these rules and regulations give broad leeway for the institutional actors to define the range and scope of their activities for themselves. These opportunities may help to streamline decision-making into an efficient and effective process. It will come as no surprise, however, they also provide an important arena for power struggles and conflicts among the relevant actors and institutions. Thus, the institutions and actors of the EU seek to expand their competences and to compete for powers to define, shape, and control the process of European integration.
Ingeborg Tömmel

Chapter 6. Decision-Making and Consensus-Building within the Core Institutions

Abstract
The previous chapter analyzed the process of European decision-making and, in particular, the interaction among the institutions of the EU in this endeavour. In this chapter, we explore the process of decision-making within each individual institution, and consider how this process evolves within the context of, and alongside, the previously discussed interinstitutional relationships. In order to elaborate fully on the specifics of each institution, I also examine the respective internal organization, procedures, and performances. This will highlight how every institution attempts to maximize its real power and influence in the European concert, by making as much use as possible of its formal powers and institutional resources, and also by improving its overall capabilities. Improving its performance involves developing sophisticated means of internal consensus-building, as well as devising specific tactical skills to exercise influence over the other institutions. In this way, we will learn how the institutions use different strategies in their individual struggles for dominance, even as they maintain an overarching consensual spirit that characterizes also the internal relations of the EU institutions.
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Chapter 7. Expanding and Diversifying the Core Institutional Structure

Abstract
Chapter 4 provided an outline of the EU’s core institutional structure; in reality, however, this structure is even more complex and diverse than is apparent from an analysis of only the main institutions, and their roles and power in the system. A wide variety of additional institutions have gradually been created in order to make the European Union work more efficiently and effectively. However, the desire to improve efficiency and effectiveness has not been the only factor behind the EU’s institutional expansion and diversification. Rather, this expansion and diversification is also encouraged by the power struggles among the European institutions and, more broadly, the omnipresent conflict between the intergovernmental and supranational forces. This arrangement has led to a sequence of actions, reactions, and counteractions among the European institutions. Along the way, each institution has attempted to optimize its own competences and procedures for decision-making, in order to gain greater influence on the entire process, or to contain the expansion of power and influence of their counterparts. This jostling for power and influence has resulted in a sophistication of the procedures of European decision-making, in the establishment and consolidation of a number of additional institutions, and in relatively flexible and informal institutional arrangements.
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Chapter 8. Promoting Integration: Policies, Policy-Making and Governance

Abstract
The previous chapters have analyzed the EU’s institutional structure and its processes of decision-making. This chapter now takes a different direction and focuses on EU policy-making, its evolution, its specific forms, and its modes of governance, as they are shaped to a large extent by the EU’s institutions and their interactions. Thus, this chapter picks up on the themes of the earlier chapters, but integrates them in a different way.
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Chapter 9. Building a Multi-Level System

Abstract
As an emergent political order, the European Union is constantly expanding and altering its institutional structure. This process leads to the creation of additional institutions at the European level that complement the basic structure of the system (see Chapter 7). Within the member states, European decision-making and policy implementation transforms existing institutions and affects the actors involved. These processes primarily incorporate national governments and administrations but, over the long term, they also affect lower level governments, semi-public institutions and agencies, and private actors and their organizations (see Chapter 10). None of these institutional changes is the direct consequence of a concise and coherent strategy to build and expand the European polity. Instead, they are the responses to the contradictions and imperfections of the system itself. Since the member states are not willing to build strong European institutions, even when the pressure to put forth common solutions is intense, they respond to emerging problems by expanding the Union’s institutions in a piecemeal fashion and a decentralized manner. One way to do so consists of involving existing state-level institutions in European affairs. In the long run, these processes inevitably lead to a gradual transformation of national political systems.
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Chapter 10. Building a Multi-Actor System

Abstract
The previous chapter highlighted the role of public actors and institutions at the national and regional levels in the political system of the EU and the subsequent evolution of a multi-level system. This chapter will explore the role of non-state actors in European decision-making and policy implementation. The role of these actors and their associations ranges from ‘classical’ forms of interest representation and lobbying to advisory functions and direct participation in decision-making, including legislation in certain cases (Falkner et al. 2005; Coen and Richardson 2009; Greenwood 2011). Furthermore, non-state actors and organizations also perform various functions in the implementation of European policies at different government levels.
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Chapter 11. Assessing the European Union: Efficiency and Effectiveness

Abstract
The preceding chapters have analyzed various dimensions of the EU including its evolution, its institutional structure, its procedures and processes of decision- and policy-making, and its processes of systembuilding. However, we did not assess the EU’s institutional structure or its performance. This chapter now focuses on an assessment of the emerging European polity, and particularly on two highly-contested aspects of the EU’s performance: its efficiency and its effectiveness. Efficiency is generally defined as the relationship between resources and outcomes. Thus, a high degree of efficiency is reached when significant outcomes are achieved with a comparatively low input in resources. Effectiveness refers to the successful achievement of desired results in relation to defined objectives, while the input in resources is not specifically taken into account. Assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of the EU implies assessing its institutional structure, the performance of its institutions in decision- and policy-making, as well as the procedures that shape this performance, and the costs and benefits associated with them. These are very broad themes that could be approached in a number of different ways. For the purposes of the present analysis, they will therefore need to be defined more narrowly.
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Chapter 12. The Democratic Legitimacy of the EU

Abstract
One of the most widely discussed problems in the EU centres around the issue of legitimacy, often referred to as the ‘democratic deficit’. This issue, which has accompanied the EC/EU since its inception, became particularly acute with the passage of the Treaty of Maastricht. At that time, it became clear that citizens were no longer willing passively to support the European project. On the contrary, as the referenda on the Maastricht Treaty in Denmark and France proved, citizens were deeply concerned about the incalculable consequences of European integration and wanted to see the process slowed down (Dinan 2004: 258–61; Down and Wilson 2008). From that point on, it became necessary for European elites to take public opinion into account when making decisions on the speed, direction, and model of integration. As a consequence, the European elites put the issue of improving the democratic accountability of the EU on the agenda. However, improving the EU’s democratic constitution based on a model of national democratic systems would necessarily strengthen the supranational dimension of the European polity (e.g. Majone 2005). It is obvious that neither national governments nor the citizens of the EU want this. Thus, correcting the democratic deficit of the EU becomes a project of squaring the circle.
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Chapter 13. Conclusion: The Nature of the European Union

Abstract
This final chapter seeks to infuse the observations of the book with a more theoretical perspective on the European Union as an emergent political order beyond the nation state.
Ingeborg Tömmel
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