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What accounts for the EU's repeated decision to engage in Treaty change?
The foundational treaty, the Treaty of Rome, signed on 25 March 1957, has undergone five treaty changes (excluding the Brussels Treaty of 1965) in five decades' time.
The question prompts two discussion: (i) how decisions are made in the EU; and (ii) what the nature of the EU is. The major changes in the European Community (EC) before 1992 or
European Union (EU), however, did not happen in the context of treaties. The expansion of the union, increasing integration in both the breadth of policy areas and the depth, the growing importance of the Court of Justice and the European Parliament, all happened within the informal and formal bargaining among member states and the activist actions taken by the EU institutions. The treaties only lay the foundation of the mode of cooperation between member states and between different institutions within the union.
This essay argues that the decisions taken by the EC and the EU are the outcomes of the bargaining of member states, whose priorities changed according to their domestic situations and the change of head of states. More specifically, this essay explores the understanding of the EU as an aggregate of individuals. As heads of states and European
Commissioners change, the treaties give a constitutional framework to bind member states to decisions made by previous administrations. Therefore, treaty changes recognise that the
EC or the EU are not an entity with a will of its own, rather, it is an aggregate of individuals.
Treaty changes allow the longevity of the community despite geopolitical changes and the change of administration of member states.
The apparent assumption is that treaty changes give a legal framework to the increasing integration of the EU, which is an unstoppable, one-way process. In 1958, Ernst
Haas, in his The Uniting of Europe, already predicted this 'functional spill-over' from economic and energy collaboration in the forms of EEC and Euratom, to further integration
1 in other policy areas such as exchange rates (Wallace 15). Following Haas, others have predicted a 'political spill-over', meaning that supranational actors such as the Commission will accumulate more decision-making power in order to speed up the process of integration
(Wallace 15). Both predictions came true in the sense that integration has happened in more policy areas, such as the single market, the monetary union, foreign policy and environmental policy. There has also been a trend of increasing supranationalism demonstrated by the accumulation of power by the European Parliament through the
Maastricht Treaty (co-decision procedure), Treaty of Amsterdam (expansion of the codecision procedure) and the Treaty of Lisbon (giving the Parliament great power in deciding budget). The neo-functionalist view of the development of the EU is valuable in recognising that integration in more policy areas is required to ensure barrier-free economic collaboration and an equal competing grounds for member states. A good example of that is the introduction of workers' rights standard into the agenda of the EU through the Single
European Act of 1986 (Dinan 228). As the Treaty of Rome set out the four freedoms including the free movement of labour, and the SEA also set the European Community an objective of establishing a single market by 31 December 1992, workers' rights across member states would need to be harmonised. However, the problem with neofunctionalism is two-fold. Firstly, it does not address the timing of treaty changes. Treaty changes were much more rapid after the SEA, following a period of relative stagnation from 1960s to early 1980s. Secondly, it treats the EU as a monolithic entity, an agent that is governed by a 'European interest'.
The EU is far from an organisation with a single direction towards integration.
Between neo-functionalism and intergovernmentalism, the theory that states remain the
'obstinate' primary unit of the EU, intergovernmentalism gives more emphasis to the
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