European integration is dominated by informal decisions instead of legal frameworks

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European integration has since its very beginnings been dominated by informal decisions, political scientist Kálmán Pócza writes in his review of the book “The Informal Construction of Europe”.

Although political scientists looking into the decision mechanisms of the European Union tend to agree that informal decisions have had an increasing role since the turn of the millennium, this is not strictly true, Pócza writes for Hungarian news portal Ludovika.

“Informality has been playing an important role in the life of the European community ever since the foundation of the precursor institutions of what is now the European Union,” Pócza writes. “In other words, the phenomenon is not new, but one of defining importance for the European community since its very beginnings.”

The study volume begins with the premise that the decision-makers of Europe have always gone beyond the existing rules — sometimes because the treaties were not clear on what to do in a particular crisis situation and sometimes driven by a desire to increase centralization. Oftentimes these informal decisions happened to detriment of other governing bodies but were justified by the perceived or real interests of the community itself or its component nations.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is that it does not deal with main players of European politics, but instead focuses on the processes through which supporting actors have an informal influence on major decisions. These secondary characters include various intellectuals, lawyers, NGOs, and assorted lobbying or pressure groups. But the volume also deals with the very definition of informality, which depending on the subject or body in question, may not be clear-cut at all.

Furthermore, informality does not necessarily mean decisions are arrived at behind closed doors or in smoke-filled rooms.

For example, before the adoption of the Single European Act (1986), which was the first document that gave the European Parliament decision-making roles, many elected MEPs often and publicly argued in favor of one or another side in decisions that were at the time beyond their purview.

Given the fact that the written rules of the European community more often than not only reflected the lowest common denominator in many controversial issues, political actors took a very creative approach when applying them. Although it was only the 2007 Lisbon Treaty which gave the European Council, the gathering of the heads of government or state, a formal decision-making role, it has in effect been making decisions since its inceptions in 1974.

The final conclusion of the book is that informal decisions have been a fundamental part of the European Union since its very beginnings, and as such deserve further academic attention.

The author of the book, Kálmán Pócza, holds a PhD in political sciences and is the deputy director of the Institute of Political and State Studies of the National University of Public Service.

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