To fully understand what the EU is all about we need to consider the factors that have influenced the outcomes that make the EU what it is today. If we take the example of the initial drive towards European integration in the post-1945 era, many people stress the influence of France and Germany. This consequently results in attention being focussed on individual countries and particularly the role of government. But just as we can take a broad-brush approach by comparing the influence and attitudes of governments, we need to look at the individuals that have been of particular importance. In the early years of European integration this meant that much attention was attached to the role of the so-called ‘founding fathers’. It is, however, not enough to comment on individuals without giving some consideration to their own background. Were there particular issues that shaped their views? This might be their own background, the section of society they came from, and common experiences such as the Second World War. But we also need to consider the role of other groups within society, such as business, trade unions and political movements. Believe it or not, the Communist party actually played an important role in forging European unity. Today, this list also includes what are commonly known as social movements. These are groups that reflect particular interests in society, such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.
A picture should be emerging that any study of European integration needs to pay attention to a number of factors that range from national governments through to business movements and the EU institutions themselves. A key point that needs to be emphasised is that the decision to expand the number of policies that are dealt with at a European level has for the most part been the result of the pragmatic decisions of member states themselves. At the same time, we also need to be aware of the fact that it would be wrong to purely view the EU through a lens that emphasises the relationship between member state governments and the predominantly Brussels-based institutions. Rather, the relationship is far more complex and emphasis needs to be given to the way that local and regional government engage in policy at a European level. Some academics actually consider the EU to be a bit like a tiered cake where the different layers reflect the distinct areas of activity. This is namely the supranational, national and sub-national. As such, we can conclude that the EU reflects a multi-level body where there are different centres of power. Not all power rests in Brussels.
Alasdair Blair (email@example.com)
Jean Monnet Chair and Professor of International Relations
Department of Politics and Public Policy
De Montfort University