Politics of the European Union: Literature Review

Nugent, N. (2003) The Government and Politics of the European Union, Palgrave.

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Nugent offers an analysis of the European Union in a historical context. He argues that many of the problems that sceptics tend to rely upon as criticism for EU membership were, in themselves, already present before the integration of the EU actually occurred. Many critics assume that the EU has significantly eroded and displaced the sovereignty of states. Nugent, however, posits that this occurred much earlier, and that integration into the EU cannot solely constitute the basis for erosion of sovereignty in nation-states. He suggests, in a historical analysis, that “the member states of the EU were seeing their sovereignties being steadily eroded long before the EC / EU was established” (1), and the rest of the book is informed by this view. He argues that the EU plays only a minor role in eroding state sovereignty, as broader economic factors such as movements in financial markets, multinational corporations and the general side-effects of dominance by the U.S. tend toward this model. In fact, Nugent suggests that the EU may in fact help to preserve autonomy in some ways because it provides a voice, albeit one marred by bureaucracy and corruption, that can compete economically with America and the emergent China.

Nugent looks at the question of the EU in a historical way. He provides a historical analysis of state relations prior to the instigation of the EU. In this analysis, he insinuates that, while prior to the war states were notably more different in economic, cultural and in political ways, the period after the war signalled a significant shift in the ways the European states tended to interact. The integration of the EU was therefore defined by these factors, and present criticisms about the overwhelming bureaucracies that operate in Brussels merely represent something that is necessary.

Bache, I & George S (2006) The Politics of the European Union, 2nd Ed., Oxford University Press

The Politics of the European Union provides a detailed and comprehensive overview of the operative and dynamic processes that determine how the EU functions from day to day. While some historical analysis is supplied, the focus is also focussed upon certain key issues in government. The book is split into five discrete sections. The first section looks at the theories of European integration, and essentially provides the background as to why European integration should (or shouldn’t) happen, dependent upon a number of different views. It also looks at how the European Union should be organised based upon these theories, and looks at ways in which the European Union should go in the future if it is to be adherent to these particular theories. Part two looks at the history of the European Union, and upon how certain developments in European politics led to the integration of the EU. Part three provides an atomised look at the various member states of the EU, with a particular focus upon Germany, France and Britain. Although other member states are mentioned in a brief chapter, the absence of analyses of other significant countries in the EU, and more detailed analysis of Eastern European, Spanish and Scandanavian member states gives the book a certain biases toward the previous three countries. Part four provides an interesting analysis of how the various institutions of the European Union operate, with a focus upon the nuts and bolts of the day to day functioning of policy change and implementation, rather than more detailed historical analysis. Finally, Part 5 looks at how the EU has implemented certain policies and why, ranging from its policies on agriculture, on the single market, on the monetary union and on external relations. Overall, the book provides a good textbook overview of the basic functioning, purpose, and theory behind the EU.

Bomberg, E & Stubb A. (2003), The European Union: How Does it Work?, Oxford University Press

Again, The European Union: How Does it Work? provides an interesting and detailed analysis of the various ways in which the European Union has come to be what it is, and also focuses upon the institutional, theoretical and historical factors that have determined how and why it operates. The book is organised in a similar way to the previous book, insofar as it focuses first upon the historical and theoretical basis for European Integration, and then looks in more detail at the various policies that have been implemented, and the member states that act as players in the EU. Of particular importance is the analysis of how member states operate within the complex framework of the EU. Bomberg and Stubb concentrate upon the complexities of the EU, and try to rationalise the often overwhelmingly complicated issues at stake, using simple logical statements. They argue that, far from being an institution racked with bureaucracy which serves neither the interests of the EU nor the interests of individual states, that the mechanisms and institutions in place create a series of checks and balances that allow the opinion of every participant state and political parties that operate within these states to function more appropriately. They argue that “What emerge as national interests from domestic systems of preference formation remain central to how the EU works”, and also suggest that what is implemented officially is also affected by considerable and sophisticated “horizontal networking” behind the scenes. This tendency to look at the actual, rather than the theoretical or institutional realities of the EU is a strength of this book, however, this intrinsically makes the project of the book more ambiguous and difficult to pinpoint. Rather than providing a coherent overview of the surfaces of the European Union, the book delves into the complexities and the awkward issues that inform and orient decisions surrounding policy, power and practice.

Describe how Politics comes into the Process of European integration

The process of European integration is a very complex one, and if a nation state chooses to integrate itself into the complex political arena of the European Union, one has to consider the effects that this will have upon the given state internally, and externally. In essence, the integration of European states means that a given state will take its interests from the domestic front and into the European Union. As Bomberg and Stubb (2003, p. 70) comment, “once a state joins the Union, politics may begin at home but no longer end there. National politics, polities, and policies become ‘Europeanized’.” As such, the externalisation of internal quandaries that, previously were a matter for the sovereign state, now have to be considered as an integral, institutional and political whole. While Nugent argues in The Government and Politics of the European Union that sovereignty was being eroded anyway before the processes of European integration took place, the political processes that operated within nation states to deal with problems concerned with globalisation were not. A political climate emerges in the process of European integration as a result of conflicting or combined interests that interweave. Such issues as the integration into the single market, the single European currency, and agricultural policy levelled to prevent the overt exploitation of free markets and the production of substandard goods.

The question of governance is also a complex political one regarding the EU, and the question of who governs shines light upon how politics tends to function and become a part of the process of European integration. The policy process of the EU is extraordinary in global political affairs, because it is not governed by a central body, moreover, it is governed by a series of nation states Stubb and Bomberg (2003, p. 148) comment that “No state or other international organization makes policies through such a complex, transnational process in which politicians, officials, and interested groups from across a continent interact to shape – sometimes to prevent – shared policy outcomes.” As such, politics becomes intertwined into European integration because of the melange of interests that operate under the umbrella of state, governmental, or political interest. Because no state, political or official group is in overall control of the policy making process, politics is essentially a part of European integration because it is via the institutions and the backroom political wrangling that the European Union makes its overall policy and political decisions.

The political process in Europe enters the system through a variety of means. While supranational organisations tend to confirm political issues, it is often left to the member states and elected representatives of these states to conduct policy based upon how they would like political developments to proceed. The EU is an example of “networked governance”, and the ways in which the member states, individuals, pressure groups and other officials interact in the EU act to determine overall political policy. While a coherent political policy based upon the interests of these states tends to be cumbersome and bureaucratic, this is how politics tends to become instigated into the process of European integration. By becoming a member of the European Union, states have to recognise that their own sovereignty has been reduced by a political process that operates within a more European context.

What are the challenges facing European integration today?

The EU faces a number of significant challenges as it changes to adapt to new economic, political and supranational factors that determine and legitimate its efficacy as a political institution. Firstly, the expansion of the EU poses significant challenges for both existent member states and those that are new to the European Union. For instance, the integration of Eastern European member states such as Poland and the Czech Republic have proven to be controversial issues, because both these countries have a significantly different economy than those that are currently established. The challenges that face the EU is to consider the political climate of these emergent countries while making sure that the interests of those states currently in the European Union are considered. The policy processes and changes that take place in the European context must juggle these interests, while remaining firm to previous trade policies. As such, in the words of Bomberg and Stubb (p. 71), expansion and continued expansion into Eastern Europe and possibly Turkey and Cyprus, facilitates the importance of tolerance within the European Unions institutional framework: “managing difference is thus a key challenge to the Union.”

Secondly, the economic challenges facing the European Union on a global basis will undoubtedly prove to be extremely important, especially following the successful implementation of the Euro into economic affairs. The EU is a significant global player on the economic field, and trade with the emergent countries of China and India as well as with established superpowers such as America and Japan have to be considered very carefully if successful relations are to be established. The presence of global aid programmes and other benevolent factors such as an easily mobilised team of peacekeepers is also an issue that is linked indirectly to processes of globalisation. The recent crisis in the Balkans was marred by the inability for the EU to make a coherent decision on troop assignment to the region. As such, issues of defence and aid may prove to be one of the central challenges facing the EU in the future.

The relationship between the EU and the states outside of the EU may prove essential to determining a process whereby aid or trade can be granted to developing countries in a system of integrated change. The EU’s response to global crises has been far from efficient in recent years, and changes in the dynamic of the EU, which includes its expansion into regions of Eastern and Central Europe have further exacerbated tensions on this issue. While the EU have always been relatively generous in the giving of aid to other countries, the general trend posited in the WTO report is that the giving of aid is simply not enough to resolve problems on a global scale. Instead, the EU have to implement foreign trade more effectively into its policy, and, because of varying interests from its different participants, this may prove to be a stumbling block for more successful European integration. Lax spending programmes and bureaucracy concerning the giving of foreign aid may also hamper developments in the global context: “the Commission had far to go before it escaped charges that it was the ‘worst development agency in the world’ (Bomberg & Stubb 2003, p. 204).

Does spill-over imply that there are no limits to the number of policies that can be dealt with at the European level?

The concept of “spill-over” is defined as a process whereby the integration in one sphere of policy begets a residual impact in other spheres of policy, and creates a more generalised integrated series of policies in all areas of the European Union. For instance, the integration of agricultural policy in Europe tends to affect the internal policies of that sovereign state in ways that harmonise it with other nation states. Naturally, this facilitates the integration process because it allows for discrepancies and disagreements between various regions, officials and member states to be ironed out more generally. As such, it can be argued that this concept of ‘spill-over’ allows for significantly greater integration to occur, and the gradual homogenization of European member states may provide a forum by which all member states operate on a very similar basis. Therefore, by this method, all policy decisions can be discussed in the European Union.

However, this system of spill-over is not without its flaws or its criticisms. For instance, political processes in some powerful member states that feel directly affected or marginalised by processes in the European government may not succumb to the integrative factors of spill-over, and regional, geographical and political factors still require consideration. While domestic policy is further eroded by the concept of spill-over, some tenets of policy that impede upon concepts of sovereignty, or perhaps indirectly attack or influence one particular region or nation-state operating within the framework of the European Union may disallow an invasive series of policy making decisions to be integrated into the European agenda. While a great many issues have been affected by the concept of spill-over, and the general process of unification that occurs as a result of spill-over into other policies on a European level tend toward a process of unification, some policies still remain too sensitive or regionalised to implement into European political processes.


Bache, I. & George, S. (2006), The Politics of the European Union, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press.

Bomberg E. & Stubb A., ed. (2005), The European Union: How does it work?, Oxford University Press.

Nugent, N. (2003), The Government and Politics of the European Union, Pelgrave.