The former French President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, once stated that the European Union was an “unidentified political object”. This phrase highlights the complexity of the EU polity, which various theories have tried to capture and which has sparked controversy among the students of European integration. Among those theories, two models emerged between the late eighties and the early nineties, focusing on the relationship between supranational, national and subnational institutions, drawing opposite conclusions on the role of these actors in EU policy making. The term “multi-level governance” was coined by authors such as Gary Marks and Liesbet Hooghe, to describe European integration as “a polity creating process in which authority and policy-making influence are shared across multiple levels of government – subnational, national and supranational”. This model points at the dilution of national sovereignty and at the autonomous role of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Court of Justice.
[...] relevance of both models in describing the current state of the European Union and wonder to what extent European integration represents a move from state-centric to multi-level governance. On the one hand, it will be argued here that the state-centric governance theorists' claim that European integration has not challenged the sovereignty of the member states, which remain firmly in the driving seat of EU policy making, is by far too excessive. On the other hand, the multi- level governance model seems to overstate the shift of authority and policy- making influence to the regions. [...]
[...] Case law sustains this interpretation of the EU as an independent polity: in the case Costa v. ENEL (1964), the European Court of Justice asserted the supremacy of EC law over national law, and in the case Parti écologiste les Verts (1986), it said that the Treaty establishing a European Community was a “constitutional charter”. National jurisdictions across the Union have also asserted, though sometimes reluctantly, as in the French case, the supremacy of EC law and the obligation for national governments to implement European directives. [...]
[...] State-centrists argue in return that majoritarianism in the Council of minister camouflages, but do not invalidate state sovereignty. They seem to have a point here, because agreement in the Council of Ministers is usually reached through compromise, and pieces of legislation adopted unanimously. However, multi-level governance theorists are right to insist that powers have shifted from national to European level in a wide range of competencies, such as competition, aid to firms and trade negotiations, where the Commission has autonomous powers. [...]
[...] The multi-level governance theory has contributed to the study of European integration in a stimulating way, by putting the emphasis on the fact that decision-making competencies in the European Union are shared by actors at different levels and no longer monopolized by state executives. If it seems too excessive on its account of the movement of regionalization across Europe, it sheds light on the fact that regions are associated with European integration and are pushing for a greater say at the European level. [...]
[...] Nevertheless, it is still too early to speak of a Europe of the regions: “rather, we have seen the emergence of a Europe with the regions, or, more accurately, a Europe with some regions”. If the multi-level governance model shows some weaknesses as regards explaining European regional policy, it proves stronger in its claim that the European Union is a polity building system. The European Union as a polity creating process For the state-centric model of governance, European integration does not challenge the autonomy of nation states, and policy-making in the EU is determined primarily by state executives constrained by political interests nested within autonomous state arenas. [...]
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