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Institutional Reform of the EC/EU: Historical Institutionalism in the Research Agenda Achievements and Prospects Bla Plechanovov Charles

s University Prague, Institute of Political Studies Department of International Relations plechanovova@mbox.fsv.cuni.cz Draft of the paper prepared for presentation at the epsNet Plenary Conference 2004 Charles University, Prague June 2004

Abstract

Historical institutionalism belongs to the family of the new istitutionalism approaches, which entered the field of European Integration studies in the last decade. Historical institutionalism brought several research projects, one of them being the explanation of the process of institutional change in the EU. The present paper will try to assess what are the results of this research, as the institutional reform became one of the major topics, both of political debates and academic examination. The process of institutional reform seemed to have some clear aims, which had to be reached, but the results of the three intergovernmental conferences during the last decade leaved an impression that the member states were unable to reach a consensus on the methods how to approach these tasks. Once they agreed on some institutional solution, it often had not complied with their aims, which were originally set. Legitimate question was how it came about, how it was possible that rational actors the member states and main EU institutions were ready to propose and accept institutional solutions, which then particularly when analysed by methods of rational choice approaches proved to represent suboptimal solutions. Historical institutionalism offers an explanation based on historical analysis of institutional development of the EC/EU, which takes into consideration the effect of interaction among the actors, the formal and informal institutions within which they operate and particularly the influence of these on the decisions of the actors. The paper evaluates what results the historical institutionalist research produced, as they may seem to be up to now sporadic compared to the width of the topics of institutional reform agenda in the last decade. The aim is to identify the most significant and pressing issues for future research and provide the explication of their relevance for the European Integration studies in general.

I n t ro d u c t i o n

Historical institutionalism belongs to the family of new institutionalism, which emerged in late 80s as a rejuvenated version of the older institutionalism enriched by results of the behaviouralist revolution in social sciences of 60s and 70s. The structural legacy of structural functionalism of the previous period may be seen in the approach to political community as a system composed of mutually interrelated components where the main factors structuring the collective behaviour and giving shape of the outputs of the system is

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institutional organization. The concept of institution is defined compared to the old institutionalism very broadly, to encompass both formal and informal procedures, norms, routines and conventions entrenched in the organizational structure of the political community or political economy. They may be constitutional rules, standard operational procedures of the bureaucracy, conventions ruling the behaviour of each group of actors (officials, firms, trade unions etc.) etc. Each of the institutionalist approaches has its specific apprehension of the concept of institution, historical institutionalism defines the institution in a broader sense, as mentioned above, i.e. as both a result of intentional behaviour of the actors and the cumulative effect of the collective action, of which the actors need not be aware at the moment of its creation, sometimes they may be unaware of them even later when they are acting according to them. That also means that institutions may sustain even confronted with attempts for their change. Historical institutionalist does not deny the rational and purposeful character of the actors behaviour. Compared to rational choice approach s/he does not see the institutions as exogenous since s/he understands that the institution is a constituent part of the basic actors comprehension of the situation on which s/he has to decide. Formal institutions, informal routines and conventions provide a framework, within which the actor constructs both his problem and its solution. Individual actor from this point of view is presented as somebody who strives to satisfy his needs, achieves his aims, but whose primary motivation is not to maximize utility since such behaviour necessarily brings risks and possible change of the environment, which might again prove dangerous. In relation to institutions, the actor tends to be satisfied up to the point when s/he comes to the conclusion that the current institutional setting does not serve her/his main interests any more. Even then s/he is on both the individual and collective level torn between the wish for institutional change and the fear of the potentially dangerous consequences of this change. Because of that, s/he is inclined to prefer the institutional status quo, or to approach the institutional change by small, incremental steps, which are seemingly unable to distort the current institutional balance and which seem at the same time to be compatible with the existing setting. Decision on such institutional choice is taken even the actors know that the effect of the institutional change would not be optimal and they may help themselves to bolster their decision by the reference to the positive effect of the existing institutional setting. On the other hand, the institutions themselves provide a framework within which the solution is being looked for. Consequently, the solution is predestined by the current institutional setting, by which is meant not only the formal and informal institutions, but also the way, how they are understood and internalized by the polity. It gives rise to the path dependency, the development influenced by former decisions and their understanding, suggesting that one cannot step off her/his shoes. The stability of institutions is thus perceived as a result of embeddedness of the actors in the institutional framework, which provides kind of a filter through which the actor observes and internalizes the surrounding reality, without this filter the world might not make sense to the actor. These assumptions bring the historical institutionalism near to the sociological institutionalism or social constructivism as two normative approaches to the study of political community or international relations normative not in a sense of the old normative theory of defining and promoting any values, but in a sense of concern with norms and values as explanatory variables in the analysis (Lowndes 2002). Historical institutionalism among other new institutionalist branches may be characterized by: i) Possibly the broadest concept of institution, eclectic in a sense that it tries to encompass both the calculus approach typical for the rational choice institutionalism, concentrated on the formal institutions and their influence on the strategic behaviour of the

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actors, and the cultural approach of sociological institutionalism giving the main attention to the informal institutions; ii) It gives emphasis on the asymmetric division of power among the social groups in connection with functioning and development of institutions. It does not see the society as freely-contracted individuals but as a world where institutions give some groups or interests disproportionate access to the decision-making process. It also means that it denies that same operational inputs produce the same functional results as new, identical institutional settings and rules introduced to various environments will produce different results due to mediation of the old institutions, which structure the process of accepting the new institutions. iii) Here comes the emphasis on historical character of the process of institution building and institutional change, which allows explaining, why these processes are path dependent, why they produce often unintended consequences and inefficiencies in functioning of the institutions. The main aim is to answer the question how current institutions structure the reactions to new stimuli, which come and present the claim for change. iv) Historical institutionalism does not claim that its analysis can explain the whole process of social or political change so it strives to integrate its results of the institutional analysis into a broader picture where results of other approaches may be applied too. (Hall and Taylor 1996) To sum up, this approach is historical because it recognizes that political development must be understood as a process that unfolds over time. It is institutionalist because it stresses that many of the contemporary implications of these temporal processes are embedded in institutions whether these be formal rules, policy structures, or norms (Pierson 1996).

Historical institutionalism and European integration

The major questions are: What is the relevance of historical institutionalism for the analysis of the political system of the European Union and what has been achieved? How do recent debates within the institutionalist discourse influence the possibilities of historical institutionalist research of the institutional reform of the EU in 90s and early 00s? Historical institutionalism found its way into the analysis of the EU in early 90s. The reason why it was not earlier, may be seen in two basic factors: i) Freshly gathered momentum to the European integration process connected with the Single European Act project and the Maastricht Treaty enlivened the discourse on European integration in general and on the institutional aspects of it in particular. The start of this newly found discussion was overshadowed by the expectations of the comeback of the old paradigms federalism and neofunctionalism. These proved to be relatively short-living, as the transformation of the European Communities has shown that what was perceived until then as generally a tool for balancing the inter-state cleavages turned out to be a kind of political system, even a system sui generis. The old approaches based in the theory of international relations were still there, but unable to explain the effects of the institutions on the position/power of individual actors (member states) or the mutual relationship between the institutions. The space for institutionalist approaches was opened and it did not take long before it was filled in. This process may be seen also from the opposite side; political scientists engaged in study of various political processes within the EC member states have found that they can no longer understand the domestic processes and outcomes that interest them without addressing the role of the EC (Pierson 1996). ii) Institutional changes brought upon by the Maastricht Treaty attracted attention to the institutional setting and decision-making rules per se, that is to say they became

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interesting object of observation and analysis of their own right, which, of course, is the effect of the fact that they became more important within the transformed EU. Next to it, the 90s brought two major sources of change: enlargement and institutional change driven by the process of deepening the integration and simultaneously interconnected with the enlargement. Both these topics were behind the major political contention within the EU during the decade to accomplish the institutional change in any definitive way. These processes represented a wide spectrum of questions, which soon found those who wanted to answer them. Institutionalist approaches proved their worth as they brought substantial information about the functioning and influence of EU institutional setting on both the member states and the mutual relations of the institutions. In doing so, they were confronted by the traditional approaches, mainly the liberal intergovernmentalism. The application of the institutionalist approaches to the European integration/European politics was influenced by two stages of the theoretical discourse. The first one, as outlined above, in first half of 90s, was marked by the internationalist/comparatist dispute. This dispute in fact opened the way for the political science approaches to the EU studies. The debate was described in Jupille and Caporaso (1999), who at the same time pointed to the largely overemphasised cleavages between these two positions as they recently both have a sustained tradition of cross-level (international-domestic) analysis and inference (p. 431) and neither of them can do without institutions in explaining social and political processes. The second theoretical debate developed within the institutionalist branch and was concerned mainly with two questions: The first, the theoretical role of institutions; i.e. whether the institutions are exogenous or endogenous? (Jupille and Caporaso 1999: 431) Where institutions are exogenous, analysts invoke them in explaining noninstitutional political dynamics and outcomes. They are an independent variable, which structure the incentives, prescribe or proscribe the behaviour of the actors, etc. If institutions are endogenous, they are dependent variable and their origin and survival can only be explained in the context of the relationships of all actors involved within the given environment. The second question is where the actors preferences are placed; are they exogenous to the institutions, i.e. are they ex ante given, stable, not transformable by the institutions, or are they endogenous, i.e. given ex post, being a result of the interaction among the actors within the institutional context. Answers to these questions structure the positions within the recent broader institutional debate (Jupille and Caporaso 1999). This seminal study tried to establish the relevance of institutional research in the EU studies with clear indication that the existing cleavages among the positions on aforementioned questions should not be a hindrance to making the best of the institutional approaches and methods for the field as a whole. Even the theoretical basis of historical institutionalism was solidly built in midnineties (Pierson 1996; Hall and Taylor 1996), it took several more years to bring first empirical results in European integration/European politics studies. Still, historical institutionalist research has not produced a single approach to major aspects of European research agenda, largely due to the inclinations to different sources of institutionalist explanation. Some works tend to see the preferences of the member states as exogenous to the institutional setting of the EU (Pierson, 1996) even reformulated in Pierson (2000) and dismiss the structural qualities of power, others stress the role of culture in forming the institutional setting (Armstrong and Bulmer, 1998). In general, we may distinguish between those more inclining towards the rational choice position and those inclining towards the sociological institutionalist position, the stress on the temporal dimension of the social process being the only real specific feature of the historical institutionalist research. Those closest to the rational choice perspective discount culture and see institution as power-neutral; those

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close to the sociological institutionalism have the opposite stance. For a long time these differences divided historical institutionalist research and made the integration impossible. What stays common, point Aspinwall and Schneider (2001), historical institutionalism predicts that agency rationality, strategic bargaining and preference formation are conditioned by the institutional context. As to the main point of interest of this paper the institutional reform of the EU from the historical institutionalist perspective, the results are up to now scarce. One reason may be seen in very strong position of the liberal intergovernmentalism represented by Moravcsik (1993, 1998), but basically endorsed by considerable number of historians engaged in European integration history (e.g. Milward, Gillingham). With this position so strongly stated, it seemed difficult to look at the topic of reform of institutions the arena for the Heeren die Vertrge from a different position, which might question their rational, utility oriented behavior. Probably only the recurring disasters in form of the institutional results of the IGSs of the 90s brought home that the process of institutional change even on this highest level is influenced by causes, which result in institutional choices representing from the point of view of preferences of member states suboptimal solutions, or that the combination of different preferences and motives of various actors results in similar effect. The institutional solutions need not then satisfy interests of none of the actors involved. The start of this track of research may be seen in Bertold Rittbergers study Which institutions for post-war Europe?, which starts with the task at the very beginning of early 50s. The author tries to identify main motives behind the institutional preferences of the founding member states of the ECSC, distinguishing the economic and security- or statusrelated preferences and uses different methods for testing hypotheses about these two groups of preferences. He argues that the actors whose preferences are more strongly shaped by the security- or status-related concerns are prone to be led by commonly shared views or norms or philosophical beliefs in situations, in which they are not certain about the distributional consequences of co-operative arrangements (Rittberger 2001: 684). In the particular situation of the inception of the first community, he identifies the relevance of including the Common Assembly into the institutional setting of the ECSC and sees the main reason for it in: 1) decision to provide the High Authority with supranational powers and 2) France and Germanys preference in status-or security-related motives that led to logical requirement for an institution of democratic control. The institutional development of the EP is a subject of further two studies (Rittberger 2003) and (Lindner and Rittberger 2003). The first one contests the functional theory of delegation as represented by Pollack (1997, 2002) or Moravcsik (1991) and explains the empowerment of the EP by the continuous struggle to solve the problem of legitimacy deficit within the EC. Using the examples of the budgetary treaties and the Single European Act as situations when the member states took decisions on further integration steps and looked for appropriate institutional adjustments, he suggests that the aim was either to fill the legitimacy gap (SEA) or to balance off the expected distributional gains from the policy decisions (CAP). Rittberger points to the relevance of different legitimating beliefs in the process of looking for the particular institutional solution as important factor tending the choice towards a general concept of political accountability within the institutional structure, which helps unintentionally to strengthen the supranational character of the EC. Lindner and Rittberger come back to the case of the first budgetary treaty and further develop the argument by adding a thorough analysis of the institutional operation phase of the period of implementation of the treaty and inter-institutional agreement of 1988 as an adjustment of the institutional solution, which had the purpose to lower the level of rule contestation. Even they stick to the historical institutional position they tend to explain the unintended consequences as a result of too distant positions of the actors on institutional solution, which result in its vague definition

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allowing too wide space for interpretation and consequently leading to rule contestation by both the state and institutional actors. Authors point also to the relevance of their findings on the differences on the level of polity ideas in the member states for the recent debate on future of Europe and the Constitution. Second major contribution to the historical institutional research on institutional reform can be found in the special issue of Journal of European Public Policy (Vol. 9, No. 1: 2002) devoted to the institutional reform of the 90s. It is represented there by Falkner (2002) and Sverdrup (2002). Falkner uses the case of incorporating the Social Protocol into the Maastricht Treaty to show the process of harmonising the national position of member states asking particularly how it was possible, that four member states which had reason to be afraid of common rules in social policy (Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland) either were for the inclusion or were indifferent. She finds the explanation in a long-term influence of the Eurolevel actors, mainly the Commission that by its programmatic activities prepared the ground for the decision, assisted by the social partners representation on European level. She concludes, recalling (McNamara 1997) that social construction of rationality, the member states perception of good practice in social policy at Maastricht was not what it had been in 1986 (p. 113). During that time, the member governments accepted the arguments of the Commission about the relevance of social policy for the functioning of the internal market, the British being the only exception. As well, Sverdrup contests in his article the liberal intergovernmentalist position on institutional design or change. He concentrates on three aspects of the institutional reform during the 1996/7 and 2000 IGCs; the path dependency of the process, normative order and the temporal location and timing of the conferences. In his analysis, he points several important factors influencing the formation of positions on agenda issues, mainly the interaction of the two constitutional levels, the national and European, seen as large-scale process of mutual adaptation (p. 126). Another factor is the opening of the process of preparing the institutional change, bringing also specific aim for the whole process to make the EU more democratic, transparent and close to its citizens. This opens more space for the influence of the institutional actors, namely the Commission and the EP. Sverdrup points also to the higher level of interconnectedness of the national administrative elites with the European structures having the effect of producing the shared meaning and common understanding the issues. Finally, he points to the relevance of the temporal factors as the effort to exclude the EMU from the debate on institutional change during the 1996/7 IGC or the position of the Commission after the resignation of Santer team for the IGC in 2000. He concludes that all these factors influence the particular institutional choice during the IGCs. The author of this paper also made use of historical institutionalist approach in her recent study on institutional reform in 90s (Plechanovov 2004). She followed the development of the three major institutional issues during the 1996/7 and 2000 IGCs; the size of the Commission, extending the majority voting in the Council and extending the codecision procedure. Coming largely to similar conclusions, she points to relevance of the position of the institution concerned to its own future under certain conditions as has been proven for the Commission and the issue of its own size and functioning during the 2000 IGC, leaving its traces even to the Convention and its proposal on this particular issue in the Draft Constitution.

Conclusion

It may be concluded that the historical institutional research as illustrated on the selected works has proven its relevance for the explanation of the treaty reform in the institutional

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sphere starting with the ECSC up to the Treaty of Nice. What seems more important though, is the potential this approach has together with other methods for the analysis of the institutional change as prepared by the Convention method. It is clear that the structuring of the actors involved in this process is different from what had been the case in the institutional reform of the 90s, but the interinstitutional links, the temporal context, the broader conception of the preference forming, etc. give hope that this path may be promising and may bring more light to the recent development in the sphere of institutional change.

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