Book Review: The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric

By Frank Schimmelfennig

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 323 pp. $45

By Omer F. Orsun | 17 July 2010

In his scholarly and widely-cited book (229 times as of today) The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric, Schimmelfennig analyzes the reasons behind the Eastern Enlargement of both the EU and the NATO from the perspectives of both the demanders and suppliers of membership. As a problem-driven theoretically informed study, it mainly argues that the constitutive liberal norms of the western international community, rather than expected utility functions in terms of security, economic interests and power, holds the largest promise in explaining the factors in the expansions of NATO and the EU; however, it is striking that the process was not materialized through the logic of appropriateness, too. If so, what accounts for these two organizations’ enlargement? In the absence of both self-interest and internalization, how can one explain the outcome? This book succinctly and convincingly raises this question and analyzes it with an original data and concludes that it is rather the rhetorical action through which the enlargement outcome was materialized. The book does not only contribute to our understanding of the explanations of the enlargement through community rules and norms, but it also provides a strong theoretical contribution to the analysis of international institutions as well as to the debate between rationalist institutionalism and constructivism.

Frank_Schimmelfennig_BookThe study begins the analysis of the enlargement from a rationalist perspective, and it defines NATO and the EU through club theory according to which clubs are defined as voluntary groups deriving mutual benefit from sharing impure public goods which are characterized by divisibility, excludability and rivalry as opposed to the characteristics of pure public goods. Since the benefits of membership to a large extent are divisible, consumed in a rivalry and they are exclusive through the criteria of membership, for an international organization to enlarge, the cost of enlargement must be outweighed by the benefits of enlargement for member states as well as for candidate states to support it. The analysis tests the rationalist assumption of exogenous interest for both demander and supplier of membership within the grounds of security maximization approach (defensive realism), power maximization approach (offensive realism) and welfare approach (neoliberalism) for both NATO and the EU.  It found that the rationalist approach can easily account for the interest of candidates; however, it does not explain the why of enlargement decision of NATO and the EU as an outcome as security, power and welfare approaches as well as the selection of type of institutional relations, that is association instead of membership for EU and Partnership for Peace for NATO, do not account for full membership.

The study, then, turns to the sociological institutionalism to solve the puzzle that rational theories failed to explain the Eastern Enlargement of these two organizations. It defines the EU and NATO through sociological institutionalism which conceptualizes international organizations as formal, rule-based community organizations in which “membership decisions are based on collective identity, common values and social norms…” (pp. 89). Basing its argument on the assertion that the “conditions of the EU and the NATO enlargement can be treated identical…” (pp.89) since their members, collective identities and values almost overlap; therefore, the study argues that

“CEECs desire to join NATO and the EU if they identify themselves with the Western international community and have internalized its liberal norms or, at least, if they perceive these norms as legitimate and work toward institutionalizing them. NATO and the EU admit CEECs that share liberal identity of the Western international community and have internalized the liberal community norms.” (pp. 89)

The findings drawn from a large-N study show that not only those countries internalized the liberal norms applied to both of the organizations, but also those who deviated from these rules. On the supplier’s side, the enlargement was driven mainly by liberal norms, values and the collective identity these two organizations have. From a community approach, NATO and the EU enlarged to the CEECs as “representatives and community building agencies of the Western international community” (pp.152) and admitted only those countries who share their liberal identity and enact the liberal norms. However, it is argued that the different preference constellations of member states and candidates, the initial decision-making and negotiation process on Eastern enlargement cannot be explained from a sociological institutionalist perspective, since the level of institutional impact of these organizations on enlargement in the form of habitual action (habitualized rule-following) ,  normative action (rule-based normative reasoning) and communicative action (deliberation for truth seeking and appropriate use of arguments) do not produce convincing arguments to explain the process of the Eastern enlargement. However, only the rhetorical mode of action (deliberation for persuasion and strategic use of arguments), through which the interest-driven initial outcome was turned into the rule-based outcome even when the shamers were in a weak bargaining position, holds the largest promise to solve and provide the causal link between the double puzzle of inability of rationalism to explain the enlargement outcome and the inability of sociological institutionalism to explain the initial process of enlargement. To sum, what Schimmelfennig defines rhetorical entrapment, for which to occur “rhetorical commitments are put to test by rhetorical arguments” (pp.265), led to the Eastern Enlargement of both the EU and NATO.

Drawing on Goffman’s work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Frank Schimmelfennig views interactions in the international community organizations as interactions in social life and adopts the drama conceptualization of Goffman’s theory of social life among the other conceptualizations (ritual and game variants). While social life as a ritual is the closest to constructivist perspective with its primary emphasis on maintenance of “morality and social order”, game variant with its emphasis on the “strategic planning of performances” “based on manipulation” takes place on the rationalist edge of the spectrum (Branaman 1997, lxiii-lxiv). Social life as a drama, however, combines the both variants and does not separate one from another as sees the relation as an interplay between manipulation and morality on a mutually inclusive basis since attachment to moral order of the society is materialized through attachment to face (Branaman 1997, xlvi) For this conceptualization, Goffman see individuals as having an interest “…in attempting to control the impression others receive of their actions in social situations…”  and “… the smooth flow of social life depends upon participants accepting the impressions others attempt to convey concerning their identities and the meaning of their actions” (cited by Branaman 1997, lxiv) Moreover, Schimmelfennig incorporates the cultural (the exogenously given cultural and normative repertoire beyond actors’ manipulation), processual (sincerity and consistency with former and other actions) and social constraints (an action of the performer should be credible[1] within the setting) inherent in social settings as limits to impression management and framing.  (Branaman 1997, 231;  see Schimmelfennig 2003, 196-197)

Another utilized idea of Goffman in the book is the concept of frame, by which the meaning and significance of a social event is defined (Branaman 1997, xlvi-xlvii).Schimmelfennig depends on frames in his concepts ofclaims, grounds and warrants as we see in his analysis of a persuasive argument, for which to qualify as, “a rhetorical actors frame their claims, grounds and warrants in a way that they think is most conducive to persuading their audiences and opponents. Powerful arguments depend on compelling frames (my emphasis)” (Schimmelfennig 2003, 201)

For the coherence of the theory and a later counter-argument to Risse (1999) (2000) to differentiate it from the communicative action, the author argues that the internalization of rules is not condition for the norm compliant behavior, since norm compliance, according to Goffman, is “explained by our strategic determinations that we stand to lose more than we might gain by engaging in face-gaining maneuvers” (Branaman 1997, lxiii) Following this assertion of Goffman, the author makes the preliminary point for his synthesis that

“…at the level of basic assumptions, the strategic conception of rules combines the social and ideational ontology of constructivism- in a non-structuralist, processual variation- with rational instrumentalism” (Schimmelfennig 2003, 198)

Moreover, he asserts that the strategic conception of rules is far from the over-socialized view of actors as well as from the under-culturalized view of them, but it is conceived as “a strategic action in a community environment” (Schimmelfennig 2003, 1999)

With such an appealing synthesis of rationalism and constructivism, rhetorical action received wide recognition among scholars studying in a wide range of areas concerning negotiation and competition. The following is a short elaboration of those publications.

With a focus on sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council to Libya in the early 1990s, Ian Hurd (2005) demonstrates how a weak military state such as Libya can use norms, values and symbols on which international society is built as levers against powerful states such as the US, the UK and France and undermine their credibility by challenging the interpretation of the each of the themes of due process, respect for international organizations and peaceful dispute settlement. According to the study, Libyan government “…attempted to reduce the appeal of the sanction to other states by engaging in rhetoric” questioning the ability of the Council’s position to represent the will of international community and showing that it is “unreflective of the community values” (Hurd 2005, 509) by not attempting to delegitimize the Council itself, rather by using the proper liberal language to delegitimize the interpretation of each of the claims imposed by those countries and reinterpreted the norms according to its material interests. Libyan government was so successful in reinterpreting the community norms against  the claims provided in the sanction that it created a situation where the sanction had to be sacrificed by those parties to preserve the legitimacy of the Council.

With a focus on the Economic Partnership agreements of the EU, Ole Elgström (2008)  analyzes how different conceptualizations of the EU’s image either as an angel or a demon creates an impact on the discourse producing parties. The study mainly argues that the EU risks being entrapped by its projection as an angel for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries  by Commission officials and the NGOs risks losing any possibility to influence the EU policy by being entrapped by their demonizing discourse of the EU. On the one hand, presenting the EU as an angel for the ACP countries opens the EU to demands for “negotiation concessions” and “post-negotiation accusations” and creates capabilities and expectations gap (Elgström 2008, 7). Secondly, one rhetoric for particular audience may create a perception of double standard for others and risks EU to be perceived as betraying its own ideals. On the other hand, NGOs depicting the EU as a demon lose their possibility to influence the EU’s development policies if they are perceived as enemies by the Commission representatives.

With a focus on the institutionalization of human rights in the EU, Frank Schimmelfennig (2006), analyzes the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) references to fundamental rights in its jurisprudences since 1960 and the competition over jurisdiction on the issue between the European Court of Justice, national constitutional courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Successful claims for jurisdictions must be justified with the ability to protect human rights no less effective than competitors. Therefore, firstly national courts were entrapped in this competition with the effectiveness rhetoric, then; ECJ has become entrapped by its acknowledgement of the superiority of ECHR as it based its jurisprudence on the European Convention of Human Rights.

With a focus on the process of negotiations on the adoption of Common Foreign and Security Policy, Daniel Thomas (2009) analyzes the impact of normative institutionalism’s impact on the negotiations held within the area of common foreign policy. He argues that policy-making process is shaped significantly by member-states’ framing of a policy area as consistent or inconsistent with the formal norms and prior policy commitments in the area of foreign policy as one of the main hypotheses. Since the study has not conducted its case studies yet, it has not produced any findings.


logomini Evaluation of the Methodology and the Research Design:


As a problem driven theoretically informed study, the book conducts two case studies to discover explanatory variables behind the Eastern enlargement decisions of both the EU and NATO from a rationalist perspective and then conducts another set of case studies to discover the causal mechanisms from a constructivist perspective. Then, it conducts a large-N study with the event history analysis technique to see whether the findings of case studies are generalizable. After, interpreting the findings, it turns to process tracing to connect the findings of both rationalist and constructivist perspective.

As a problem driven research analyzing the reasons behind the enlargement decisions of the two organizations, the case selection of the study does not seem plausible as they have different internal structures and different existential reasons, therefore, they can control for each other. Moreover, I have serious reservations about the quantitative part, by which the findings of case studies are generalized, as the operationalizations of the terms as wells as year selections for the models.

As the study’s one of the main achievement, it showed that NATO and the EU as community organizations admitted countries that share liberal identity of the Western international community and have internalized the liberal community norms. And the majority religion in the accession countries did not have any impact on these decisions since the liberal identities these organizations have are acquirable (pp.80-81) and in the statistical tables of the quantitative section, this hypothesis seems proved. However, one should be very cautious about what is introduced to the statistical model. If the religion or cultural variable measures whether the country is dominantly Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim, not as dominantly Christian and dominantly Muslim, the results for sure will be in line with the argument of a community identity based on liberal norms, however, it is too far from testing the alternative argument of Christian Club hypothesis. It is too far because the study does not differentiate Orthodox Christianity from Islam.  The findings would have been more robust if the study had introduced dichotomous variables and categorize them as dominantly Muslim or dominantly Christian, the hypothesis would have been tested under a stronger setting and the outcome would probably quite contradictory for the study’s main hypothesis.

Moreover, while it is fine to see the overall enlargement rounds and other kinds of institutional relations, why does not the study have analysis for different periods since it would be interesting to see the impact of Cold War era, Post-Cold War era (or post-Maastricht era) and Post-9/11 era?  I am sure the impacts of the variables would have different significance levels as well as different values since the community had experienced evolutions in these different periods; therefore, we could see different patterns for the reasons behind the enlargement for different periods as the enlargement does not happen in a vacuum.

Secondly, it is hard to understand why the author changes his attitude towards alternative hypotheses in the quantitative part.

“…note that the main purpose of the EHA (Event History Analysis) is to test whether liberal norms have a significant influence on the enlargement… The other variables mainly serve as controls; it is not the goal of the analysis to evaluate competing theories, hypotheses, or explanatory factors.”(pp.129)

This presents two problems. First, this acknowledgement does not work for such a model, not only because in the case studies he presents the opposite what he says here and allocate one main chapter of the book in testing rationalist hypotheses, but also such a model will yield a tailored or biased model  based on undermining the alternative explanations. Secondly, in accordance with the same argument, the author presents only different sets of models for each stage of EU institutional relations instead of a single model since each element account for the level of the institutional relation, then we could see whether only normative concerns provide the valid argument or rationalism[2] as well as religion or kinship based arguments could also account for the enlargement decision of these countries as proposed above. Moreover, consolidation of democracy is precondition for accession set a rule; therefore, the democracy variable mainly shows whether the EU complies with its conditions when deciding for enlargement.  Another problem to mention here is the author ignores a large literature regarding the relation between credibility of membership and the political cost of compliance for the regime change. In other words, it is clearly an egg-chicken problem as to whether the level of institutional ties makes democracy possible or democracy makes the advancement in the level of institutional ties. The study should have used two stage models with instrumental variables to overcome this problem of endogenity.

Other studies (Sjursen 2002; Rumelili 2007) using different methodologies also provide different findings and supportive of my contention while Lasas (2008) provides another angle to look at.

Sjursen (2002) analyzing the reasons behind the enlargement and the certain prioritization among candidates tests three different types of reasons: pragmatic reasons, ethical-political reasons and moral reasons. Pragmatic reasons are defined as “the reasons justified with reference to the outcome” and concerned with utility maximization. Ethical Political approach relies on “particular conception of the collective us and a particular idea of the values represented by a specific community” and moral approach relies on “universal standards of justice” (Sjursen 2002, 494). The finding of the study puts forward that ethical-political reasons, as a sense of kinship-based duty, determined the enlargement of EU to Eastern Europe and their prioritization.

Rumelili (2007) conducting a comparative case study, questions how the EU interacts with difference, and with what implications for regional and global order and analyzes relations of the EU with CEECs, Turkey and Morocco. The findings of the study confirm that while the EU may have enlarged to the CEEs on the basis of their acquired characteristics, the rejection of Morocco on the basis of its geographical position demonstrates that it was rejected on the basis of its inherent characteristics.

Lasas (2008), analyzing the impact of guilt on the CEE enlargement of both the EU and NATO, argues and confirms that collective guilt, regarding the betrayal of the Euro-Atlantic Community to CEECs at “the Black trinity” of the Munich Agreement, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Yalta-Potsdam Conferences and leaving these countries behind the iron curtain, was the driving force behind the eastern enlargement and the selection of the countries for enlargement as a compensation mechanism.



 Book Reviews


Even though it is very widely cited, the study received only two reviews. Both reviews firstly provide a short summary of the arguments, findings and its contribution to the literature. The first review (Mariani 2004) raises three points regarding the weaknesses of the book. First, it warns that the study needs a theoretical refinement if it is to gain further importance in IR, since it does not specify the scope conditions for when, by which elements the rhetorical action succeed and fail to persuade “brakemen”. Actually, Schimmelfennig gives the details for when and by which elements questions for success and failure (by a reverse causation): since rhetorical entrapment happen when “rhetorical commitments are put to test by rhetorical arguments” (Schimmelfennig 2003, 265), it will not happen if the brakemen resisted to appeals of arguing rhetorically and its success as well as failure depends on the manipulation of the frame of reference and the actor’s level of credibility.   Moreover, the review questions the generalizibility of the study to other international organizations since the European enlargement constitutes an easy case for constructivist hypotheses. However, as shown above it was used by Libya in the UN Security Council. Finally, it criticizes the synthesis of the rationalism and constructivism through a sequencing[3] with a reference to another study which argues that there is always two stories to tell… and the combination of the two does not solve the problem.

The second review (Spero 2005)finely summarizes the study; however, the critiques are irrelevant to the contribution of the study as it questions whether America and Europe can revive allied ties within these enlarged organizations and raises that a failure to revitalize will leave Europe more divided and with less direction.


logomini  Conclusion:


To conclude, the study provides a new insight to the international organization literature by its application of Goffman’s framework of social life and it clearly contributes to our understanding of rationalist-constructivist debate and shows that the framework it provides is more equipped than rationalism in its better approximation of the world. For constructivism, it also provides a good insight in answering the question of when norms influence the collective outcome and convincingly shows that “not before the interaction sets in” (Schimmelfennig 2003, 222) I would strongly suggest to all international relations, European integration as well as political theory students to add this book to their library.




Branaman, Ann. «Goffman’s Social Theory.» The Goffman Reader in  Charles Lemert and Ann Branaman, xlv-lxxxii. Blackwell Publishing, 1997.

Elgström, Ole. «Images of the EU in EPA Negotiations: Angel, Demon or just Human?» European Integration Online Papers Vol.12, 2008.

Elster, Jon. Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

—. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

—. The Cement of Society: A Study of Social Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Hurd, Ian. «The Strategic Use of Liberal Internationalism: Libya and the UN Sanctions, 1992-2003.»International Organization 59:3 , 2005: 495-526.

Lasas, Ainius. «Restituting Victims: EU and NATO Enlargements through the Lenses of Collective Guilt.»Journal of European Public Policy, 2008: 98-116.

Mariani, Renato. «Book Review: Frank Schimmelfennig, The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric.» Journal of International Studies Vol. 33, 2004: 456.

Risse, Thomas. «”Let’s Argue!”: Communicative Action in World Politics.» International Organization, 2000: 1-39.

Risse, Thomas. «International Norms and Domestic Change: Arguing and Communicative Behavior in the Human Rights Area.» Politics and Society, 1999: 529-559.

Rumelili, Bahar. Constructing Regional Community and Order in Europe and Southeast Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Schimmelfennig, Frank. «Competition and Community: Constitutional Courts, Rhetorical Action, and the Institutionalization of Human Rights.» Journal of European Public Policy 13:8, 2006: 1247-1264.

—. The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Sjursen, Helene. «Why Expand? The Question of Legitimacy and Justification in the EU’s Enlargement Policy.»Journal of Common Market Studies 40:3, 2002: 491-513.

Spero, Joshua B. «Book Review: Frank Schimmelfennig, The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric.» Slavic Review 64:2, 2005: 413-414.

Thomas, Daniel C. «Explaining the Negotiation of EU Foreign Policy: Normative Institutionalism and Alternative Approach.» International Politics 46:4, 2009: 339-357.

[1] The concept of credibility is developed under the premise of the relation between rhetorical action and legitimacy with a reference to Jon Elster as a proponent of rationalist approach to deliberation, the components of credibility includes impartiality and consistency for disguise of selfish interests. According to Elster, consistency is decomposed as imperfection constraint (proposal with less than a perfect coincidence between private interest and the rhetoric) consistency constraint and plausibility constraint. (Elster 1998, 102,104) However, John Elster’s conceptualization of limits to disguise and Goffman’s conceptualization of limits to impression management seems almost overlapping.

[2] Very widely used Affinity of Nations (measuring Foreign policy similarity) would be a good measure to test for rationalist explanation of enlargement.

[3] The book works the synthesis through sequencing rationalist and constructivist explanations and argues that “rationalist stage of preference formation is followed by a constructivist stage of international interaction in which organization culture shapes the collective outcome” (pp. 284)

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