Taken together, these five very different books provide a state-of-the-art analysis of the European Union political system, Europeanised policy processes, Europeanisation and member states and comparative political analysis. They contribute in distinctive ways to the study of Europe. They range from the theoretically and methodologically ambitious (by Simon Hix) to an empirically rigorous approach that explicitly eschews theory (by Steve Marsh and Hans Mackenstein), with the three others lying somewhere in between. Three of the five are broadly concerned with the operation of the EU's institutions and policy processes (those by Hix, Marsh, Mackenstein and Derek Beach), another views Europeanised processes through the prism of the member states, and the last one (by Tim Bale) is explicitly comparative in a transnational manner.
Beach's The Dynamics of European Integration is an innovative study that considers each intergovernmental conference since 1985, as well as treaty negotiations for the most recent 2004 enlargement. His study is in essence a research monograph, based on extensive archival work and interviews, rather than a textbook. He challenges some important aspects of liberal intergovernmental arguments in order to claim a more important role for EU institutions in treaty negotiations than is traditionally admitted.
As much as a revisiting of European integration theory, however, this is a study in political leadership. While liberal intergovernmental accounts emphasise the centrality of states in treaty-making negotiations, Beach focuses attention on the potential political leadership role of EU institutions in treaty-making and accession negotiations. He proposes a framework of analysis that emphasises the contingent nature of treaty negotiations, the importance of leadership resources and a shifting opportunity structure. As leadership is essential in intergovernmental negotiations and as there is no predestined right of states to provide leadership, supranational institutions can, in the right circumstances, exercise a leadership role.
Specifically, Beach argues that EU institutions can provide leadership in two situations: by tabling moderate proposals that reflect their interests in highly technical areas and when they can broker deals with the Council presidency. The book's great strength is to elucidate leadership opportunities offered to supranational institutions through their capacity to minimise transaction and bargaining costs. Whether or not the EU institutions exercise influence in treaty-making negotiations depends on precise leadership configurations and opportunities to exploit institutional positions, as well as to set agendas.
In stark contrast, Marsh and Mackenstein's book "eschews theoretical, institutional and policymaking discussion in favour of an empirically oriented research agenda". The result is a solidly researched book about the EU as a global actor. The crux of the argument is that the EU does have a foreign policy, but, because it is not a state, it does not have a "normal" foreign policy reliant on military might. The EU has a principled foreign policy that involves projecting principles across borders and persuading others to support them. It increasingly attempts to use its "soft" power resources to export security and secure political and economic influence. EU external relations policy is much more effectively conceived in terms of conditionality than it is in the development of military capacity.
There are a number of obstacles preventing the EU from developing a more coherent foreign policy. The EU's own governance structures lead to "absurd" divisions of competencies from a strictly foreign policy perspective. The survival of concurrent member state interests undermines the EU as a global actor, even in fields such as trade negotiations. The EU finds it difficult to develop common positions outside of the European arena, where member states have rival interests. Most important, EU capacity is weakened by the division of foreign policy and external relations in the Maastricht "pillar" structure. There is a constant battle for competencies between the Commission and member states, which leads to sub-optimal policy and an inability to respond quickly to crises. The EU is good at slow, incremental change but not at crisis management. Marsh and Mackenstein make a valuable empirical contribution that goes well beyond formal institutional description to encompass analysis of the EU as a global actor.
Bale's European Politics: A Comparative Introduction looks most like a textbook out of those reviewed. It makes very good use of textbook techniques, such as boxes, tables, graphs and an accompanying website. As with most good textbooks, it is based on years of teaching the subject and understanding what students want. Though written at a level comprehensible to undergraduate students, it manages to convey the sense of key concepts such as Europeanisation and multi-level governance, and theoretical frameworks such as rational choice. It has the merit of capturing political dynamics within and beyond the "EU 25". Lucid in its analysis and extensive in its coverage, it addresses key issues of comparative politics, such as converging trends, nationally patterned variations and comparisons across space and time. An intelligent use of concepts is interwoven with examples drawn from national cases. Bale offers a broader overview than traditional texts, with chapters on territorial politics, governance, the media, political economy and migrants and migration, as well as the traditional staple of political parties, elections, pressure politics, governments and parliaments. Combining a clear thematic focus with national examples is a strength. Few comparative politics textbooks manage to do so, and Bale's book is likely to become a leading text in comparative European politics for years to come.
The first edition of Hix's The Political System of the European Union established it as a leading work on the EU. Now in its second edition, its basic argument is that the EU is a political system and thus the focus of analysis ought to be on the core features of a political system: the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, public opinion, parties and elections, interest representation and public policy. This simple idea was radical at the time and has still not been unambiguously accepted by scholars. The second innovation of this original book is to link theoretical debates in political science and European integration with analysis of segments of the EU's political system.
There is a high and consistent level of theorisation linking the politics, policies and processes of the EU with theories of political science. This is an original, important and impressive book. It engages in meticulous research and investigation of the political institutions, partisan forces and public policies of the EU. Each chapter allows readers to connect the European polity with generic political science theories. Thus, executive politics are interpreted in terms of principal-agent relations; legislative politics in terms of games, coalitions and actors; judicial politics in terms of actor strategies; elections in terms of European party systems reflecting basic political families in the member states, and so on. There are no obvious weaknesses, though the choice of political science references mainly from the rational-choice school will not be to everyone's taste.
Finally, editors Simon Bulmer and Christian Lequesne embark on a different sort of venture. It is the only edited volume here and its contributors read like a "Who's Who" of contemporary Europeanisation studies. The focus is on the member states and Europeanisation, something elided in Hix's study. The EU is viewed, for once, through the prism of the member state.
The introductory chapter by Bulmer and Lequesne sets out a strong case as to why member states matter (a position I share). They matter in the Council, in the intergovernmental conferences, in the committee procedure.
They are key actors in the implementation of decisions, and they provide the administrative capacity on which the EU depends. Much EU policy is devised by national actors, even when operating in Brussels, and elections are primarily fought at the level of the nation-state. Bringing the member state back in is the chief objective of this book. The twin themes - revisited in a mixture of analytical, country-specific and thematic chapters - are that states are important for EU politics, and EU politics are important for member states. The theme of Europeanisation is the conceptual glue that holds these case studies together, a term used in part for capturing the impact of European integration on member states. Of all the books reviewed, this one gives the most in-depth insights into the member state level, the level at which EU policy is part-formulated and implemented.
Would I recommend these books to my students? Yes, all of them. Each makes a distinctive contribution. Though students are likely to find Hix's tough-going, I would encourage them to persevere - and if they do, they will learn a good deal. Marsh and Mackenstein's study is rich in its empirical detail and refreshing in its approach. Bulmer and Lequesne refocus analysis at the level of the member state and provide a set of valuable case studies absent in some of the other accounts. Beach is rather more specialised, but it is systematic in its treatment and original in its findings. Of the five books, the one I would use for teaching would be Bale's excellent book.
Alistair Cole is professor of European politics, Cardiff University.
The Dynamics of European Integration: Why and When EU Institutions Matter: First edition
Author - Derek Beach
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 304
Price - £55.00 and £18.99
ISBN - 1 4039 3633 1 and 3634 X