Things will only get messier

European Integration, 1950-2003
October 15, 2004

European Union studies attracts scholars from many disciplines.

Political scientists, economists, historians, lawyers and international relations specialists deploy myriad theories and methodologies in their efforts to enhance our understanding of the process of integration and to explain its underlying dynamics. Yet working within their artificially constructed disciplinary boundaries, few scholars possess the means or the will to look through the glass walls that separate them from contemporaries who are manifestly interested in the same subject but approach it in quite different ways.

John Gillingham is one of a rare breed who uses a genuinely multidisciplinary way of generating information about Europe. He is at home with both neoclassical economic theory and neofunctionalist theories of integration; he is as comfortable dealing with detailed case studies as he is using sweeping narratives; he deals in quantitative and qualitative analysis; and he is happy to speculate on the ifs, buts and maybes that flow from his findings. This last point alone is telling. Few scholars seek to risk their reputations by placing bets on the future, but here we find Gillingham musing in his conclusion on the balance sheet for Europe, its member states and those waiting in the wings to join the European Union.

With almost 600 pages, European Integration is a weighty tome in all senses. A reviewer cited on the jacket remarks that "every student of postwar Europe will have to come to terms with it", implying that it might be tough going. I am glad to report that it was not.

Gillingham structures the text in chronological fashion and in four parts, each with its own mini-introduction and mini-conclusion. The opening part examines the early history of the European project: the Fifties and Sixties, taking in the influence of liberal economic ideas and the roles played by the founding fathers such as Monnet. Here, the overall tone is set, as Gillingham also examines the results of the trade-offs that occurred in these critical years between key nation-states in Europe responding to pressures domestic and international (the US).

The second part is concerned with the "regime change" that occurred in the Seventies as a result of the collapse of the Bretton Woods financial system, the problems surrounding the transference of economic decision-making power from mixed economy welfare states to the European level and the birth of "Europessimism". In a succinct pointer to one of his major conclusions, Gillingham notes that the differences between the larger European states "rule out a one-size-fits-all European federal model".

Bankers take note.

Gillingham admits that the bulk of his book is geared to assessing what he considers to be the most important years, the Eighties and Nineties. He deals with the first 30 years of integration in a little under 150 pages, and the 15 years or so since in well over 300. The third part examines developments in Eighties Europe: the challenges from globalisation and US foreign economic policy, Jacques Delors' agenda for integration and Margaret Thatcher's pioneering reform of Britain, which set the scene for changes across western and northern Europe. It continues by examining how these competing agendas played out in the negotiations that led to the Single European Act (SEA) and how they affected future integration.

The origins and effects of the Maastricht Treaty are the central themes of the final part, which comes up to date through analysis of the momentum behind the drafting of a constitution for Europe. This, says Gillingham, is a futile exercise in top-down integration inspired by overenthusiastic Brussels technocrats, when history and experience show that integration can proceed effectively and with popular support from the bottom up. Only market liberalisation with minimal institutions acting as regulators and law enforcers as required - akin to a free-trade area - will generate the democratic legitimacy and public assent necessary for success. Both are severely lacking in the design we are lumbered with. Constitution drafters take note.

My highlighting of the "big bargains" of integration - the Schuman Plan, the Treaty of Rome, the SEA and the Maastricht Treaty - may give the impression that the book is another trot through the history of integration. It is more than this. Gillingham's analysis puts the process of European integration in its global context. At one level, he shows it to be a response to developments in the global political economy. At another, he sees it as the output of individual ideas and deals done within nation-states, between nation-states, and between nation-states and European institutions. By construing integration as the result of the meeting of these various theories, opinions, ideas, government policies and private business practices, he gets beyond teleology and hagiography and makes the whole thing seem messier than is usual in academic works.

His core argument is compelling: "The previous half-century was an era of transition not only from material ruin to immense wealth and from institutions to markets, but from bureaucratic thrall to a freedom within reach but not yet grasped."

His conclusions are dramatic, and I will mention just a few. The first is theoretical in nature: neither political science nor economic theory alone can accurately explain the process of integration. By contrast, a "historical institutionalist" approach that combines evidence from political science with that from history and economics takes us nearer the mark. Given Gillingham's faith in historical institutionalism, I would like to have seen deeper analysis of the competing theoretical approaches to integration and why this is the most relevant theory. If it is to displace well-established theories such as functionalism and liberal intergovernmentalism, he needs to make his case more strongly.

Other conclusions are policy oriented. The technocratic efforts to "deepen" integration through monetary union, the creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the development of "social Europe" have led to economic troubles, borne few practical fruits and further eroded public support for the European idea. Then Gillingham argues that, with hindsight, a looser free-trade area was more desirable than the one fostered by the Rome Treaty in 1957, not least because it would have prevented the development of the economic and political disaster that is the Common Agricultural Policy.

Finally, he is in line with much current opinion in arguing that enlargement will only exacerbate existing problems. By dodging these at various stages since the end of the Cold War, decision-makers at national and European levels have stored up potentially vast troubles.

This book is suitable for advanced students of European affairs, for scholars of the subject from any disciplinary background, and for politicians, civil servants and diplomats working to sell the idea of Europe to increasingly sceptical publics across the continent.

Oliver Daddow is lecturer in defence studies, King's College London.

European Integration, 1950-2003: European Integration, 1950-2003

Author - John Gillingham
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 588
Price - £47.50 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 521 81317 4 and 01262 7

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