ECPR Research Sessions
University of Essex, Essex
9 - 12 July 2013

Ways to Conceptualise EU-Disintegration

European Union
Political Theory

Workshop Chair
Annegret Eppler
University of Innsbruck


Workshop Proposal

Title of proposed workshop: Ways to conceptualize EU-Disintegration
Workshop Directors: Dr. Annegret Eppler and Dr. Henrik Scheller
Type of Group: b) more advanced in its research and planning a European Political Science Review or another Journal on EU-Studies
Sponsored by the ECPR-Standing Group on Federalism and Regionalism

Guiding Question: Disintegration phenomena in the EU as well as in its member states seem to increase not only since the outbreak of the global economic crisis 2008/2009. Discussions about downsizing the Euro-Zone, the UK exit referendum, the success of anti EU parties in national elections and other developments can be seen as indicators for disintegration in the EU.
How can these different developments be conceptualized in a new kind of “disintegration theory” – understood as complementary to traditional theories of European integration? The relevance of this question becomes obvious since past periods of political stagnation and crises of the integration process were very often accompanied by a theoretical gridlock in developing new integration theories. That is the reason why the common theoretical approaches (Haas 1970, Hoffmann 1982, Marks /Hooghe /Blank 1996, Olson 2002, Corbey 1995, Pierson 1996, Radaelli 2003) deliver almost no explanations for EU disintegration. Moreover, traditional EU integration theories are criticized as biased. Aside a “normative bias” (Faber/Wessels 2005), which led to a blindness for disintegration phenomena, one can also state a “constitutional” and a “problem-solving bias” (Eppler/Scheller 2013) – especially since a majority of authors presumes as a matter of course that the EU and its member states posses the competences and capabilities to manage also serious crises within the framework of the EU system. In the course of the global economic crisis 2008/2009 this is changing slowly. Some very few single papers are dealing with the issue (Webber 2013; Aucher 2010; Beichelt/Ücker 2012; Brunkhort 2011; Höpner/Schäfer 2010; Schimmelfennig 2012).
To break up the traditional discourse lines in theoretical debates about EU integration, the workshop wants to discuss sociological, economic and cultural approaches of integration and disintegration. In combining these theories with traditional European integration theories (Neofunctionalism, Intergouvernmentalism, Multi-level Governance, Europeanization etc.) as well as federalism theories it shall become easier to explain the impacts of disintegration phenomena in greater detail. The overarching aim of the project focuses therefore the question how to explain disintegrative trends. Are there “disintegration mechanisms”? What are the impacts of disintegrative forces (always understood as an integral and complementary part of integration processes).
After a discussion of different EU disintegration definitions and a common stock tacking of the wide range of European disintegrative phenomena, the workshop will discuss ways of combing different theoretical approaches, like European integration theories with federalism theories, crises theories, actor centered theories and sociological (integration) theories. In doing this, it shall be scrutinized whether a modular theoretical approach allows deeper explanations of disintegration phenomena in different policy fields. That opens at the same time the floor for analyses about the influence of individual actors, time settings, processes and institutions. Do political, cultural, and socio-economic factors matter? When differences between policy fields and dimensions of (functional, cultural, institutional) integration exist, it is also necessary to contest the theoretical model of a multilevel system. To capture also arenas outside the European multilevel system – like the financial markets – which are producing also disintegrative forces it shall be discussed within the workshop whether a “polycentric integration field” – with regard to Bourdieu – might be a better frame to model European integration and disintegration.
Although the multilevel system as analytical framework of reference would become challenged by this new theoretical idea, one possible “umbrella” to subsume the different theoretical approaches might be, nevertheless, federalism theories, because they are providing – particularly with regard to national systems – categories and reasons for “disintegration” (e.g. for decentralization in national multi-level systems). Since federal arrangements are always balancing shared-rule and self-rule competencies (Elazar 1991) on a continuum between autonomy and solidarity (Ryker 1975), they are seen as “dynamic systems” (Benz 1985). They are characterized by permanent processes of a formal and informal re-allocation of powers between the different jurisdictional levels. In analyzing the simultaneity of these processes, the direction of federal dynamics plays a subordinated role (no normative assumption towards one direction). Thought in the context of the mutli-level system of the EU, centripetal shifts could be seen as integration impulses, while centrifugal shifts would then be classified as kinds of disintegration. Using federal theories in the EU context might be also one opportunity to pass the “normative bias” of the traditional integration theories. Although federalism theories were seen as almost worthless to explain integration processes due to the unanswerable question of finality. But some of the federalism theories take also a social and economic component into account when they explain interaction between political and social actors – and that touches the important questions on the correlation between disintegration and EU legitimacy, the role of different actors in disintegration processes and the interdependencies between disintegrative developments on different EU level (including the subnational level).
Against this background the ECPR workshop in Essex will enable further and deeper discussions of how to conceptualize European “disintegration”. The results of the workshop will not only be an improved concept, but also a double-blinded peer-reviewed Special Issue of an ECPR-journal or publication in the ECPR book series.


Dr. Annegret Eppler, University of Tuebingen, Germany
Prof. Dr. John Erik Fossum, ARENA Centre for European Studies, Oslo, Norway
Prof. Dr. Andreas Maurer, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Prof. Dr. Andrew Moravcsik, Princeton University, USA
Dr. Henrik Scheller, University of Potsdam, Germany
Prof. Dr. Frank Schimmelfennig, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Prof. Dr. Richard Whitman, University of Kent, United Kingdom

- Ways to define EU disintegration
- Ways to explain EU disintegration theoretically (theories of European integration, other theories?)
- The EU as a “field” ?
- Different phenomena of EU Disintegration
- The territorial dimension of EU Disintegration
- Incompatibilities of the Markets and the Multi-level-System as disintegration driver?
- The individual and the legitimacy dimension of European disintegration

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