Compare The Elements of Supranationalism and Intergovernmentalism – Government Essay
Both terms which I am going to analyse and compare in this essay – Intergovernmentalism and Supranationalism – belong amongst the key concepts related to the talks
about the nature of EU integration. In the beginning I feel it is necessary to start with brief definitions of these terms as they are described by one of my sources, Neill Nugent. In one of his books he refers to Intergovernmentalism as
“…arrangements whereby nation states, in situations and conditions they can control, cooperate with one another on matters of common interest. The existence of control, which allows all participating states to decide the extent and nature of this cooperation means that national sovereignty is not directly undermined.”
His definition of Supranationalism is following :
“Supranationalism involves states working with one another in a manner that does not allow them to retain complete control over developments. That is, states may be obliged to do things against their preferences and their will because they do not have the power to stop decisions. Supranationalism thus takes inter-state relation beyond cooperation into integration, and involves some loss of national sovereignty.”
The aim of my essay is to compare the key elements of above mentioned terms, but I am also going to argue with one part of both mentioned definitions. I am going to argue that it is not necessary the loss of national sovereignty which is at stake in supranational concept, but rather a loss of autonomy. Due to the fact that the concept of national sovereignty is part of both definitions and therefore the question of its loss vs. preservation can be considered one of the main distinguishing elements between intergovernmental and supranational approach I feel it is necessary to start the discussion with this argument.
First, if we understand the sovereignty as a characteristic feature of every state where “the state stands above all other associations and groups within its geographical area and its jurisdiction extends to the whole population of the (state’s) area” we can not argue, in my opinion, that during the process of integration states loose any of these elements. Neither does the state cease to stand above groups and associations within its area , nor does its jurisdiction stop to extend to the whole population of its territory. Rather, I want to argue, the process of integration involves additional institutions which can share the influence on the associations, groups and individuals existing within the area of the state but they do not stop the state to stand above them as a sovereign on its territory. Moreover, the integration process in the judicial area does not stop the state’s jurisdiction to extend to the whole of its population. I agree that the legal supremacy of the EU law has a significant influence on legal systems in EU member countries and that it can result in such outcomes as e.g. state legislatives being prevented from introducing certain national laws which they desire, but in my point of view, it does not interfere with the definition of sovereignty as it was described above. I am trying to argue that it is an autonomy as “an ability to make decisions without the informal influence of other subjects” or as “a degree of political independence possessed by territorial division” which is at stake in the process of integration.
Second, I want to argue with Nugent’s statement that “no modern state can now be regarded as being fully sovereign in de facto sense, and the EU member states cannot even claim that they are fully sovereign in de jure sense.” In fact, I think this statement interferes with his own definition of sovereignty as it is described in my first argument. In my opinion, it is again autonomy what modern states are lacking in recent history and times of closer integration and globalisation. To support my argument, I am agreeing with Tokar’s statement that “according to international standards formally sovereign is even a small and economically unimportant state” and with Rosamond who says that “Sovereignty is about absolutes: states either have it or they do not. (…) the present international system is founded on the principle of sovereign statehood.” Basically, every existing internationally recognized state is sovereign in a sense that it possesses four key characteristics of the state – territoriality, sovereignty, legitimacy and monopoly of governance within its territorial area. But, not every state, especially not a small and economically unimportant state, possesses the same amount of autonomy (as described in the first argument) to make important decisions without both, formal and informal influence coming from outside its territory.
Third, and this is my last argument concerned with autonomy vs. sovereignty, the loss of sovereignty of any state requires changes of the statehood (e.g. existing state can join with another state and form a new one – either unitary of federative state; existing state can disintegrate and form two or more new sovereign, independent states; or a nation can be successful in claiming its right to self-determination and if recognized by other states it can evolve into formation of a new sovereign state) while loss of autonomy is a process where states remain formally sovereign but they gradually experience impotence to make certain decisions independently from other (usually higher, supranational) influence. And this is, I want to argue, the case that occurs during the process of European integration.
Now that I have explained how I view the concept of sovereignty as one of the key elements of both, intergovernmental as well as supranational approach, I can begin to compare their key characteristics.
When studying integrational theories and their character, one can find a clear division between how the two above mentioned approaches view certain processes and situations. The main differences occur in the following areas:
• who they consider to be the key actors of integration
• question of possession of power
• how they view EU
• what character of decision making they prefer
• types of politics they focus on
• how they view the relationship between politics and economics
• how they approach the question of sovereignty
Those who support intergovernmentalism consider key actors to be nation states and their governments while supranationalist supporters argue that it is supranational organizations and their institutions who represent it.
This attitude is also connected to the question of possession of power. While intergovermentalists see the power (especially decision-making power) as a possession of member states, supranationalists view the EU as a quasi-state where member state governments still have the power but they decided to and therefore must share it with other actors. While in the first case independent appointees of governments have solely advisory or implementational functions, in supranational organization the power is held by representatives elected by the legislatives or by the people of member states and states have no power to stop their decisions. This is conjoined with the way these two approaches view the EU – one as a sort of international organisation and the other as quasi-state.
As to the character of reaching decisions, intergovernmentalist approach favours decision-making by unanimity while supranationalist approach strongly supports majority voting arguing that where decisions must be made by different governments acting unanimously it could take years to reach some decisions (if reached at all).
In the sphere of politics, intergovernmentalists make a distinction between “low” and “high” politics arguing that it is possible for governments to cooperate in areas of “low” politics, while area of “high” politics including issues of key importance where national interests are at stake makes it difficult for governments to agree on integration. On the other hand, supporters of supranationalist approach focus on areas of “low” politics only.
With regard to the relationship between politics and economics, intergovernmental approach presents the idea of economics and politics being relatively autonomous fields and therefore concludes that economical integration doesn’t necessary cause political integration. On the contrary, supranationalists came with the idea of “spillover” by which they explain their assumption that economic integration creates a pressure for integration in other sectors (one of which is political sector) and therefore they argue that politics follows economics.
The last important comparison is how the two approaches view the question of sovereignty (autonomy). While supporters of intergovernmentalism argue that EU integration should only involve pooling of sovereignty (not giving up some part of it) which strengthens the nation state and that supranationalism is a threat to national sovereignty and democracy claiming that only national governments should possess the necessary democratic legitimacy, supporters of supranationalism do not fear the loss of sovereignty (autonomy). In fact, they support the idea that states should voluntarily give up some of their sovereignty and pass it onto collective institutions in return for many gains, prosperity and collective strength that such integration provides.
Despite of all above mentioned differences, there is no single solution which would indicate that only one of these approaches would be more appropriate than the other when speaking about the process of ongoing European integration. In fact, the uniqueness of EU lies in the fact that it embodies both – supranational as well as intergovernmental features in its system of governance and that it considers both of these approaches as important for its functioning. This reflects in EU having both types of institutions involved – supranationally organised Commission, Parliament and the Court of Justice and their intergovernmnetally based counterparts such as European Council and Council of Ministers. As history has proved the balance should remain – at least until the time when different states will be able to reach a consensus in the question of the direction which the future EU should betake.
Reading and Comprehension
1. This essay doesn’t have a very clear structure. To improve it put the following headings where you think it is more appropriate.
Introduction (Context, Hypothesis and Essay Plan)
Body or supporting paragraphs (Suggest some subtitles your self)
Conclusion (Statement of Argument and Implications)
2. Is the writer using footnotes, quotations or citations? Find examples. How are they introduced in the text?
3. What are the arguments and counter arguments in this essay?
4. What are the weaknesses and the strengths of this essay? (Imagine you are the teacher).