EU-ser friendly guides to policy

Theories of European Integration - The European Mosaic - Policy-Making in the European Union - Understanding the European Union
November 24, 2000

How should students in political science be introduced to the study of the European Union? The literature available is vast. The question becomes one of how to marry the latest scholarship, embracing conceptual sophistication, with the need to provide students with a clear map of the institutional and policy maze.

One approach taken by a number of textbooks is to offer primarily descriptive accounts of the EU's history, institutions and policies. The tendency here is to eschew theorising for its abstractness. But the price can be the neglect of mainstream political-science questions and the isolation of EU scholarship.

William Nicoll and Trevor Salmon are renowned experts on the EU, and their authorship of this text amply demonstrates the extent of their knowledge. Understanding the European Union provides a historical introduction, a detailed description of institutions and processes, summaries of policy developments at the EU level, and a comparison of the support for integration found across existing and potential member states.

Ironically, the volume itself lacks integration: there is no general thematic introduction and the conclusion is barely three pages long.

The presentation is user-friendly, but the narrative is rather traditional: legally oriented description, segmented and lacking theoretical reflection. Barely any bibliographical reference is made to theoretical works - cutting students off from an entire section of the literature - and the dismissal is reflected, for example, in a single reference to a small article by Andrew Moravcsik being obscured by a misprint. The volume largely achieves its purpose, but is it the right purpose?

Policy-Making in the European Union has had iconic status since the first edition was published in 1977, and rightly so. The editors are leaders in the field. I know of no other introduction to the subject that has matched its quality of scholarship, breadth and accessibility. The new edition again brings together some of the best specialists, writing with obvious expertise and clarity. The bibliographical guides alone offer the reader invaluable commentaries and short cuts.

But the volume, of course, has a much more rounded purpose. It begins with three introductory chapters by Helen Wallace that provide an incisive overview of the institutional setting and the policy process. William Wallace concludes the text with careful reflection on the nature of governance that is evolving within the EU. Sandwiched in between are 15 chapters that deal with individual policy sectors: comprising internal and external, as well as new and old EU competencies. Almost everything the reader could reasonably expect in a guide to how the policy responsibilities have grown in these areas is provided.

Like its predecessors, the volume ably achieves its purpose. Helen Wallace explains the rationale: in eschewing "a more systematic link between theorising and the empirical evidence of our case studies", the purpose is to provide students with empirical analysis of the variety of conditions that exist in EU policy sectors. As she states, much of the volume is thus "thick description". In short, empirical knowledge of particular sectors comes before theoretical clarity, though signposts to the latter are given.

But, the question can still be put: have these major texts defined the right pedagogic purpose? The approach taken will meet the needs of a diverse set of readers: from trainees for commission posts to national civil servants and undergraduates on interdisciplinary programmes.

But how well are they tuning the minds of trainee political scientists? The compartmentalisation of "theorising" as a minority concern - a practice many of us succumb to in our teaching - or worse, its entire neglect, has inherent dangers and has contributed, in the past, to the British dependence on the lead of US academics in this area.

Moreover, the stress on policy can separate EU scholarship from that in other areas of political science, contenting scholars that it is all sui generis .

The chapter in the Wallace and Wallace volume on the Common Agricultural Policy, for example, urges students to separate it from theories of integration, interest group behaviour, joint-decision traps and the like.

The purpose, laudable in itself, is to stress its welfare state characteristics. The chapters on EU common policies in the Nicoll and Salmon volume tend to the empirically prosaic.

To be pejorative, is it best that students of the politics of the EU learn early on how the price of tomatoes is set, when the same students listening to lectures on Britain, for example, focus on more traditional political science issues? The Nicoll and Salmon book simply does not develop this kind of focus: issues of power, interest, participation and stability are addressed only in a narrow legal and institutional fashion.

Even in Policy-Making in the European Union , each of the editors mentions legitimacy only once. Moreover, its template for the individual policy chapters appears somewhat loose in its coverage of other major political-science questions. Its coverage of the conceptual literature on policy-making is also, despite its title, very limited.

The short text by Ben Rosamund addresses much of the slack of the previous two volumes. It provides a well-informed and comprehensive survey of theorising on the politics of the EU.

It is difficult to identify any weaknesses here. The book's great strength is the way in which it leads students into an appreciation of the value of theorising, the criteria by which we might judge theories and the achievements made in the art thus far. Rosamund's volume provides a history of scholarship in this area, covering federalism, neo-functionalism, intergovernmentalism, and new conceptual approaches drawn from the study of public policy and international relations.

The author recognises that much of the sterility or neglect of theory in EU studies of a decade or so ago is being overcome and there is now more rigorous and substantial debate. He communicates his ideas in an easily accessible manner. More advanced scholars may find retracing well-worn paths of early theoretical debates a problem, but the task is well worth it.

Taking a very different, holistic approach, David Gowland et al seek to introduce students to the politics, economics and culture of Europe, east and west, since 1945. As such, their edited volume fits uneasily alongside the other volumes. Its ambitious task incorporates modern history (political, economic and social), the development of the EU, the changing security architecture, the domestic politics of 11 EU states, the collapse of communism, economic integration, globalisation, the growth of communications and changing cultural self-images and national identities.

The value of such an approach is uncertain: how many undergraduate courses have such a breadth? Certainly, a student who reads it from cover to cover will have a very rounded perspective. The treatment of the subject is also lively and accessible to students. But it is difficult to judge the quality of the scholarship across such a range. There are signals of its unevenness. Indeed, the book should be assessed for how well it serves as a springboard for further study: here, deficiencies in the coverage of recent and major works represent a weakness. It is not a substitute text, for example, on the EU.

The literature on the EU affords a rich choice. In the absence of an up-to-date textbook that properly integrates theory and empirical analysis, students of politics could do no better than to read Wallace and Wallace, tempered by Rosamund. Both represent impressive achievements.


Kevin Featherstone is professor of European politics and professor of European integration studies, University of Bradford.

Theories of European Integration: First edition

Editor - Ben Rosamund
ISBN - 0 333 64716 5 and 64717 3
Publisher - Palgrave (formerly Macmillan Press)
Price - £42.50 and £13.99
Pages - 232

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