Unravel complex neighbours

The Politics Today Companion to West European Politics - The European Union: How Does It Work? - The European Parliament

November 28, 2003

These books look at European politics from different angles. It is timely to review them together, as the traditional categories of "West European politics" and "European Union politics" are increasingly becoming out of date with the forthcoming enlargement of the EU and the ever-closer interconnectedness between it and the nation-states.

The first book is a reference work designed to complement the Politics Today series of introductions to the main political systems of western Europe. It is divided into four sections. Section one covers "events, groups and developments" from acquis communautaire to "young Turks". Section two is devoted to biographies, from "Adams, (Gerry) Gerard" to "Worner, Manfred". Section three deciphers a large number of acronyms, notably of political parties while also providing, with section four, a chronology of notable events in the political life of the main states and presenting the basic data for each of the 19 European states.

The book fills a gap in the market and will be a useful complement to the well-established Penguin Companion to the European Union , which focuses exclusively on the EU. The format and approach should also be commended for trying to address the main areas of European politics where a need for a reference book is likely to arise, by sensibly integrating those events, parties, leaders and so on from individual states with those of the EU as a whole.

Given the vast amount of ground covered, the book does a reasonably good job, mainly by trading, as it were, depth for breadth. Though some will be disappointed by this choice (especially those used to the greater depth of the Penguin Companion ), it would have been difficult to do much better within the existing length. The final section, however, could have probably been left out, as the content is easily available elsewhere, to allow for development of the other, more useful sections. Particularly helpful in this respect would have been an expanded list of more advanced sources for those willing to deepen their knowledge. This Companion will help undergraduate students in European politics and will also be useful as a quick reference for journalists, more advanced students and practitioners.

The European Union: How Does it Work? is a basic textbook on the political system of the EU that assumes little or no prior knowledge and introduces students to key aspects of EU workings. Through nine substantive chapters, the book covers the development of the EU, the key characteristics of the major actors (central institutions, states and interest groups); the decision-making process in the main areas of public policy; and current issues such as the legitimacy of the EU, the forthcoming enlargement and the EU's role as a global actor. Each chapter is written by a leading authority or authorities in the field; the editors introduce and conclude the volume.

Despite being an edited collection, the book is coherent and well knit, and includes discussion questions, suggestions for further reading and a list of useful websites at the end of each chapter. It strikes the right balance between breadth and depth and succeeds in conveying information about the EU grounded in research while maintaining a user-friendly style that is likely to be especially welcomed by absolute beginners facing the EU's daunting reputation for extreme complexity. The book's readership will probably be junior undergraduates in politics and European studies or the lay reader looking for an introduction to the EU.

The European Parliament is the most advanced and specialised of the three books under review. It is an in-depth analysis of the European Parliament and of its role in the EU. The nine chapters contextualise the EP among legislatures, trace its historical evolution, analyse the election process and the EP's internal organisation, assess its formal and informal influence and discuss the relevance of the parliamentary model for the EU.

The two authors are leading authorities on the EP and offer the additional advantage of combining the academic perspective with that of the public policy professional.

This book is easily the most comprehensive treatment in English of the EP to date and is solidly grounded in the most advanced empirical research available. It is a welcome contribution to the literature on European politics and is likely to remain the central work on the subject for some time. It will be essential reading for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics in the field and public-policy professionals interested in the EP and in the whole EU decision-making process.

Paolo Dardanelli is lecturer in European and Swiss politics, University of Kent.

The Politics Today Companion to West European Politics: First edition

Author - Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Pages - 194
Price - £45.00 and £13.99
ISBN - 0 7190 5420 6 and 5421 4

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