Leadership in the European Union (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Leadership in the European Union is an empirical phenomenon that has increasingly come to attract scholarly attention. While a call for leadership in the EU is often heard, not least in times of crisis, it is also accompanied with a general reluctance to centralize powers. This leadership paradox has historical roots and has resulted in a dispersed type of leadership governance at the EU level. Scholarly work varies from mainly descriptive accounts of leadership by particular individuals to more theory-testing approaches to leadership.The academic field of EU leadership studies contains variation along three primary dimensions: (1) how leadership is defined, (2) by which theories it is explained, and (3) through which empirical cases and approaches it is studied. First, there is a wide differentiation in the literature of how leadership is defined and approached as an object of study. Four leadership approaches can be distinguished in the literature, focusing on the role of individuals, an actor's position, the process of leadership enactment, and the outcomes produced by leadership. Second, leadership in the EU has been theorized and explained in a variety of ways. Explaining leadership in the EU requires an understanding of what power resources different actors draw on, ranging from material to institutional and ideational powers. These sources often also translate into different types of leadership strategies. A substantial amount of research has departed from rational choice institutionalism, which highlights the importance of a formal position to exercise leadership. Sociological approaches have more recently attracted attention to conceptualize leadership as a social role based on the interaction between leaders and followers. Third, the empirical study of leadership in the EU encompasses a range of different approaches in terms of the type of actors studied, the issues covered, and the data and methods used. EU leadership studies include different types of leadership actors ranging from individuals to institutions, member states, and the EU itself as a global leadership actor. The empirical policy domains vary from issues relating to treaty amending processes, environment and climate policies, eurozone governance and crisis management, to foreign and security policy. Although comparative studies of leadership in the EU exist, the focus has predominantly been on single actors during particular policy processes. An increasing use of explicit comparative designs in the study of EU leadership could have the potential to further advance theory building in the scholarship of EU leadership.