European Integration

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European Integration

European Integration


The process of European integration has been one of the most remarkable features of the six decades that separate us from the end of the Second World War. Nowhere else in the world have independent states gone quite so far in pooling their sovereignty and taking a wide range of decisions in different policy areas collectively rather than individually. Nowhere else has so complex a supranational institutional system been created. And in no other part of the world has so large a body of shared legislation been drawn up, enforceable by courts across Europe, directly affecting the lives of all of Europe's citizens and taking precedence over laws devised within individual member states. Such uniqueness would of itself justify a closer investigation of why Europe has gone so far down a path only tentatively followed elsewhere. The fact that this course of action has also been inextricably tied up with the continent's economic and political recovery from the traumas of the Second World War makes it doubly important to examine in detail and to explain.

The integration process emerged out of the dire circumstances faced by western Europe in the immediate postwar period. Its radicalism reflected the seriousness of the situation then faced by France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Yet, while some early accounts suggested that the gravity of the position in which these countries found themselves prompted national politicians to set aside traditional calculations of national interest and throw themselves into an idealistic attempt to transcend the nation-state, it is now widely recognized that it was actually for national motives, both political and economic, that they chose to devise cooperative institutions and to confront some of their problems collectively and not individually. And such hard-headed calculations of national interest have remained at the heart of the integration process ever since. The EC and then EU have thus developed largely in accordance with the wishes of their member states, taking on new tasks as required and evolving to respond to the altered circumstances in which the states of Europe have found themselves. The gravitational pull, both economic and political, of the EC/EU has meanwhile ensured that the number of countries involved has grown continuously, with each new entrant able in turn to raise its priorities and concerns within the collective decision-making process.


Fifty years on from its creation, the Union does admittedly face a number of serious concerns. The years since 2000 have thus been marked by a dearth of strong political leadership within the EU, a crisis of public legitimacy (epitomized by the negative votes in the French and Dutch referendums of 2005), and a sense of gloom at the recent economic underperformance of several of the larger member states, notably France and Germany. So numerous, however, are the national interests wrapped up in the integration process that it seems improbable that Europe's leaders will let the EU drift for long, still less abandon the endeavor entirely. Instead, the likelihood is that, faced with a new ...
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