Intergovernmentalism: Old, Liberal, and New (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
European integration theories help us understand the actors and mechanisms that drive European integration. Traditionally, European integration scholars used grand theories of integration to explain why integration progresses or stands still. Born out of assumptions that are prevalent in realist international relations theories, intergovernmentalism was first developed as a theory in opposition to neofunctionalism. In a nutshell, intergovernmentalism argues that states (i.e., national governments or state leaders), based on national interests, determine the outcome of integration. Intergovernmentalism was seen as a plausible explanatory perspective during the 1970s and 1980s, when the integration process seemed to have stalled. Despite the fact that it could not explain many of the gradual incremental changes or informal politics, intergovernmentalism—as did various other approaches—gained renewed popularity in the 1990s, following the launch of liberal intergovernmentalism. During that decade, the study of European integration was burgeoning, triggered in part by the aim to complete the single market and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty that launched the European Union (EU). Intergovernmentalism also often received considerable pushback from researchers who were unconvinced by its core predictions. Attempts to relaunch intergovernmentalism were made in the 2010s, in response to the observation that EU member states played a prominent role in dealing with the various crises that the EU was confronted with at that time, such as the financial crisis and the migration crisis. Although intergovernmentalism is unable —and is not suited—to explain all aspects of European integration, scholars revert to intergovernmentalism as a theoretical approach in particular when examining the role of member states in European politics. Outside the EU, in the international arena (such as the United Nations), intergovernmentalism is also observed when studying various forums in which member states come together to bargain over particular collective outcomes in an intergovernmental setting.