Understanding the European Integration through the Ideational Factors:

Kadri Kaan Renda


After the end of the Second World War, there was an urgent need to reconstruct Europe, which was ruined by the totalitarian ideologies. There were many politicians and thinkers who were discussing on the future of Europe. The ideas and visions ranged from the establishment of the United States of Europe to the maintenance of nation-states. In such circumstances, politicians at the time were separated into three groups.

The first group was called nationalist, who were against any European organization based on the notion of supranationalism, which means for them to lose their sovereignty and national identity. On the other edge of the spectrum there stood federalists who advocated the formation of the United States of Europe. They argued that unification should be realized under a federal state. The last group of politicians occupied the middle ground. Similar to the federalists, this group of politicians supported the need of supranational organization which would be helpful to re-establish peace across Europe and to reconstruct European countries. However,

they differed from federalist in their methods and priorities. For them, unification in Europe should be gradual and based on a pragmatic approach. Eventually, the last group of politicians’ visions and ideas carried the day and the debate culminated in the inception of the European Coal and Steel Community and later the European Economic Community. 

This division between the politicians illustrates that the European Union (EU) since its foundation has been witnessing debates between different visions and ideas. Even though the EU was formed in order to satisfy material needs of its members, I think that behind the scene there are three enduring dichotomies which have been playing important role in the European integration. The first one is the materialmaterial dichotomy. This dichotomy refers to the clash between member states’ material interests. For instance, the clash of economic interests between France and the UK during the 1960s was one of the reasons of de Gaulle’s opposition to the British membership. Second dichotomy is based on material-ideational debate. It means that individual interests confront with collective ideas and visions. The debate between the ideas and visions of the European institutions and the short-term interests of member states, or rather governments can exemplify this dichotomy well. Lastly,

there is a dichotomy of ideas. Ideas, which in a broader sense include visions, values, discourses and norms, are in dispute with other ideas. This essay focuses on the last dichotomy. The main assumption of this paper is that the EU can be wholly understood by the acknowledgement and treatment of these three dichotomies. In accordance with this assumption, I draw an argument that clash between different ideas are important constitutive factors in the European project and so they contribute to our understanding of the European integration. In that sense, the European integration is a dialectical process between ideas and material interests.[1] Taking this argument as a starting point, my purpose is to examine two different groups of ideational-ideational debate that have constituted the EU. The first debate is between the notion of liberal market economy and the notion of social market economy. I will argue as to how these two notions have played an important role in economic integration. The second debate results from a clash between democratic, inclusive and multicultural values, norms and identities on the one hand, and authoritarian, exclusive and anti-multicultural ones on the other. Before proceeding to explore these ideational dichotomies, the first part of the paper addresses the theoretical views on the role of ideas in international relations in general and in the European Union studies in particular.


I) Ideas in International Relations:


As John Ruggie (1998) states, “the building blocks of international reality are ideational as well as material” (p.879). Our understanding of the world should rely not only on the material facts but also on ideational elements. Neither of them is negligible and neither of them by itself tells the whole story about the world. However, ideas usually were looked down on by the theorists of international relations. This is actually because of two reasons. First reason is coming from the nature of ideas. Ideas are too “vague, amorphous, and constantly evolving” (Berman 1998:16). Second, the rational choice approach, which emphasizes the rational behaviours of actors irrespective of their identities and ideas, has been exercising a dominant power in the international relations for a long time(Hay 2002:196). However, the unpredicted end of the Cold War opened the door of the field to the

influence of ideational elements originated from the philosophical and sociological studies (ibid, 198-99). By defying the main arguments of rationalism, thinkers who believe in the power of ideational factors have gradually gained ground in the international relations theory.


According to some thinkers, notably postmodernists, the material structures are the productions of knowledge that “defines and thereby creates the world that we think we see and in which we think we act” (Tonra 2003:737). Thus, there is no reality existing without ideas. For them, ideas are the only elements that give us the meaning of the world. Ideas are the main cause of everything and material factors are outcomes of ideational debates (Hay 2002:206).


Briefly, what we observe in the world is subordinated to our beliefs, values and ideas. On the other edge of the spectrum, materialist assumptions stand. What they argue is totally opposite of the idealist thinkers. In a nutshell, materialists believe that the material factors are independent of ideas and for them ideas do not have any power to explain behaviours. This is why, the only thing we can observe and explain are the material elements. Another rationalist approach on ideas, which originated from the neoliberal institutionalism, tries to explain the state behaviour by emphasizing the role of ideas which are defined as ‘shared beliefs, road maps and focal points for states’ strategies (Goldstein &Keohane 1993). According to this approach, ideas and norms can be variables that can somehow influence decisionmaking process. As a result, one should take ideas into account while explaining state behaviour. In neoliberal institutionalists’ view, ideas can influence the policy

outcomes in three ways:


When the principled or causal beliefs they embody provide road maps that increase actors’ clarity about goals or ends-means relationships, when they affect outcomes of strategic situations in which there is no unique equilibrium, and when they become embedded in political institutions (Goldstein &Keohane 1993:3).


For Goldstein and Keohane (1993:27), ideas cannot be observed on their own, yet, what we can observe is the outcome of ideas. This strand of research claims that ideas can only be meaningful, if a causal relationship is established between ideas and behaviours (Berman 1998:18). That is to say, giving answer to the question of why ideas cause should be the research interest of the students of international relations.


Different from the both perspectives, constructivism argues that the material structures coexist with social ideas and beliefs. Social meanings attributed to the material structures as a result of shared knowledge which is caused by social interactions, can alter the states reaction to a particular issue (Wendt 1995:73). For constructivists, ideas and material factors interact and this interaction generates outcomes and constructs our world. Therefore, we cannot understand the behaviour of a particular actor without elucidating his/her ideas about his/her environment (Hay 2002:208). Constructivism argues that actors do not always behave according to logic of consequences, which rests on the assumption that actors calculate outcomes and choose the most rational one (March& Olsen 1998). Instead, actors choose the most appropriate one among their options so that their behaviour is consistent with their ideas and values. Thus, constructivists contend that actors’ behaviours are the result of logic appropriateness. For constructivism, it is better to refrain from concluding that ideas and belief systems are “calculated means to achieve predetermined material objectives” (Tonra 2003:737). In a nutshell, ideas are not subordinate to the material dynamics and strategic perceptions. In that sense, every action should be understood within itself. With regard to this argument, constructivism gives more importance to understanding rather than explanation. Understanding asks the question of how possible, whereas explaining deals with the question of why (Wendt 1999). Understanding can be achieved by taking identities, values and ideas into account as well as contextual factors. Instead of parsimonious, generalizable, law-like arguments, constructivism develops social, contextual and in-depth analysis of state behaviour. Furthermore, social constructivists differ from the rationalists in a way that they perceive interests as endogenous and intersubjective which means that the interests are shaped by the shared understandings and ideas between actors (Wendt 1995:73). National interests are not static and should not be taken-for-granted. How the actors construct themselves and their environment defines their interests and behaviours.


II) The role of ideas in the European Integration:


After the Cold War, the increase in studies that focus on ideational basis of the European integration can be explained by two reasons. It stands to reason that constructivist shift in international relations also reflects itself in the European Union studies. Secondly, the deepening and widening of the EU since the mid of 1980s have created a political order which could not be solely explained by the existing literature of international relations. Because when rationalist assumptions are applied to the European Studies, it is by and large concluded that ideas have marginal or secondary roles in the integration process (Moravcsik 2001:187). However, as Jachtenfuchs (1995:119) asserts “cultural systems of meaning and symbolic structures are the key to the understanding of the institutionalization of the modern political order”. In that respect, the political order that the EU has been trying to implement can be analyzed by revealing the ideational basis of this project. Simply focusing on the material factors such as interests and external threats do not precisely explain what is going on in Europe. For this endeavour, some academics, taking social constructivism as their theoretical basis, have been trying to understand the EU by focusing on discourses and visions of the politicians (Diez 2001; Parsons 2003). While some other academics deal with the learning and socialization process happening among and within member states (Checkel 2001). In that respect, the following part elaborates on as to how different kinds of particular ideas and discourses by clashing among and within themselves have been playing important role in the EU.


II.1) The debate between economic discourses:


The debate is actually between two different discourses and understandings of the EU. It is obvious that from the early days of the EU the term European Community has denoted different meanings for different states. On the one hand, there are member states that pursue liberal market economic rhetoric and they treat the EU as a common market, whereas other member states pronounce more social economic discourses in which the term EU refers to community between states and peoples (Diez 2001:89). In that sense, the following examples can help to understand the details about the debate between economic discourses.


The Marshall plan was launched by the USA in order to reconstruct Western Europe. That plan was fed by the idea that “Western Europe should become a freetrade area as the first step towards global free trade” (Bache and George 2006:88). However, France and some other western European states advocated government intervention in the economy. They did not want to lose their control over their economy neither to a supranational organization nor to the international free market that was envisaged by the GATT (ibid, p.88). That is why, they adopted more state centric economic policies after the war. In the end, ECSC Treaty was signed which praised cooperation and free trade between the signatory states. But the influence of the French state-centric economy policies can be easily seen in the treaty. The

establishment of the high authority exemplifies how the idea of controlling the economic affairs found themselves a place in the European integration. While ECSC’ s and EEC’s main objective was creation of a free trade area which would cultivate the seeds for the common market, it had also a social aim that focus on the welfare of workers working in the industries in concern. Article 2 and 3 of the Treaty of Rome state the aims and tasks for the EEC. Article 2 states that


 The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of Member States, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the States belonging to it (The Treaty of Rome 1957)


Moreover, the article 3 envisages an establishment of a European Social Fund “in order to improve employment opportunities for workers and to contribute to the raising of their standard living” (ibid). Furthermore,, Parsons (2003) discusses how ‘a certain idea of Europe’ in the discourses of the French politicians shaped the European integration in the early years. According to him, the choices for France are not the outcomes of economic interests and international bargaining; indeed they are the results of “cross-cutting battle of ideas” between certain politicians (Parsons 2002:56-72).


Another example for how different economic ideas and visions influenced the European integration can be easily seen during the negotiations for the Single European Act and Treaty on European Union. The 1980s witnessed a rise of neoliberal policies in Western European countries. The notion of trade liberalization was one of the factors that facilitate the further integration in Europe. The interests of member states converged on the need of a single market in Europe (see Moravcsik 1991). However, Garrett and Weingast assert that the decision of the European Court of Justice on Cassis de Dijon case, as a result of which mutual recognition became a conventional understanding of the common market, is as vital as the convergence of the interests (Garrett& Weingast 1993:191-202). They argue that the idea of single market prevailed and led the further integration because member states had ‘shared

beliefs’ on that idea (ibid, p.206). This argument sheds light on how the certain ideas can play important roles if they are shared by all member states.


In addition to the role of political ideas, owing to the environmental concerns raised in the 1970s and 1980s, the Union took the scientific findings and the idea of sustainable development seriously. The pressure coming from grass roots and nongovernmental organizations created an irresistible discourse of environmental awareness, since then the Union has been placing more emphasis on the environmental degradation, environmental hazards and pollution. Under the influence of the environmental discourses European politicians introduced an environmental dimension to the treaties of the Union. Environmental action programmes are the main documents that stipulate the environmental values and principles such as sustainable development and ecological modernization. Therefore, these ideas and concepts have become norms enshrined into the community legislation. As a result, “the idea about achieving more sustainable lifestyles in densely populated Europe” (Manners 2006:26) has facilitated the European integration in environmental policies. This indicates how some ideas and discourses, apart from interests, can lead policymaking in some fields. However, it is noteworthy that when the idea of social Europe was put forward, a debate between different visions of Europe among the member states came out immediately. On the one hand, Margaret Thatcher, who was adhered to the neoliberal economic policies, strongly opposed to the social dimension that Jacques Delors wanted to put into the treaties. Thatcher complained about the commission’s efforts to impose socialist economic policies into the treaty structures of the Union (quoted in Laffan 1994:115). That is why, during the negotiations the British government raised objections to a more social Europe.


II.2) The debate on political ideas and cultural identities:


Joseph Weiler makes a convincing argument that there were three ideals behind the European integration after the war. These are prosperity, peace and supranationalism (cited in Bankoswki &Christodoulidis 2000).


Prosperity was not bread but also the ability to live with justice, dignity and self-reliance. Peace meant something more than a quiet life. It also had connotations of being at peace with oneself and others and thus of forgiveness after the war. Supranationalism meant more than no nation state and one identity but the ability to have something like unity in difference.” (ibid, p.19).


Noel O’Sullivan (2004), similar to Weiler, contends that two different concerns dominated the political thought in the postwar era. The first concern was to establish a welfare state whose policies should cover all the classes (ibid, p.7-8). Second one was the pluralist democratic state in which all the citizens in general and the minorities in particular can live without any violation of their rights (ibid, p.13-16). As a matter of fact, the notion of pluralism and democracy has been advocated since the foundation of the Union. These values have also been incorporated into the EU treaties. For instance, the Maastricht Treaty entails the ideas and principles upon which the Union is founded. These ideas are the principle of liberal democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.


Moreover, the failed Constitutional Treaty also stated the importance and commonality of ideas in the EU, namely pluralism, tolerance, justice, equality solidarity and non-discrimination within and among the member states (Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe). Those ideas and values imply that how a strong rhetoric of democracy and pluralism have been fostering the thinking of not only politicians but also peoples of Europe. After the war these ideas were appreciated and not only elites but also the peoples converged around them. This is because these ideas represent the victory of Europe over the totalitarian regimes. In Ulrich Beck’s words, these ideas are the constitutive elements of cosmopolitan Europe after the war. According to him, “cosmopolitan Europe was consciously conceived and launched after the Second World War as the political antithesis to a nationalistic Europe and the physical and moral devastation that had emerged from it.” (Beck 2003 quoted in Manners 2006:39). The politicians of the time believed that new Europe had to be based on such democratic and pluralistic values and ideas in order to maintain the peace. Consequently, this democratic rhetoric has become an identity that the EU adheres to. However, this does not mean that the idea of a unified Europe around the notion of supranational European Union has not been challenged by the other political ideas. The idea of Europe has been opposed by anti-European and racist political views (Griffin &Braidotti 2002 quoted in Manners 2006:39). Those groups approach the idea of Europe suspiciously and even belligerently. That is why, the opposition to the Constitutional Treaty has come mostly from these groups. Therefore, their ideas and views on the EU influence the European

integration adversely.


On the other hand, there is another controversy which asks the question of to what extent these ideas are adopted by the EU institutions. Even though democratic ideas have been contributing to the European integration by gathering states and peoples on a common ground, there is an ongoing debate that stresses on the democratic deficit in the EU structures. Some scholars (Follesdal &Hix 2006) claim that it seems paradoxical whereas the EU aims at promoting democratic values, the EU institutions still lack of legitimacy and principles of transparency and accountability. For instance, the Commission is considered as an executive body which is not elected by the peoples of Europe. Moreover, the Council of Ministers is too diplomatic and too technocratic, in which the decisions are taken secretly without any public scrutiny and the European Parliament even its power has been enhanced,

still lacks significant control over some policies especially in the second and third pillar. Besides, the policies of the EU cannot gain the support of the people who are not aware of not only the process of policy making but also the outcome of those policies taken at the EU level (Follesdal &Hix 2006: 537).


Because of these abovementioned reasons the EU is accused of not being democratic and unable to reach out the people (for a counter argument see Moravcsik 2002). For the mass public, the EU is still an elite project which is not for, by and of the people. Even though elections for the European Parliament has been holding since the late 1970s and even the creation of European citizenship and office of ombudsman with the Maastricht Treaty in order to mitigate lack of democracy and legitimacy failed to alter the perceptions of the Europeans about the EU substantively. The problem is that even though to some extent there is an elite complementarity on the European project the masses do not embrace the project as the elites do. Hence, the ideals of the elites do not match with the ideals of the mass, which is sometimes a hurdle on the way towards further integration.


Apart from debates on political ideas, there exists a cultural debate day by day getting important for the future of Europe. In that respect, I put the notion of secular and multicultural Europe on the one side of the dichotomy and the notion of Christian Europe and anti-multicultural Europe on the other side. One of the famous motto of the EU is ‘ unity in diversity’ which implies that even though there are some differences between member states, the EU provides a strong incentives and is a promoter of aspiration to unite countries around common ideals. Solidarity, pluralism, inclusiveness and multiculturalism are the main principles of the EU. In that sense the purpose of the Union is to create a community of European citizens. However, the main problem is how to provide a unity between different identities. As Gerard Delanty (1995) argues that the idea of Europe differs in time and in space. From a historical perspective, he contends that exclusion and differences have played an important role in the creation of Europe (ibid, p.1-2). With regard to this problem, the main issue is defining a European identity. However, a definition of an identity means to draw boundaries of the EU integration. In many ways, such an identity definition can influence the European integration. On the one hand, a definition can eliminate uncertainties and doubts about the future of the EU. That is why, the treaties have references to democracy, pluralism and solidarity as the main constituents of European identity. On the other hand, there is an ongoing debate that revolves around the cultural and religious differences between European civilization and the outsiders. In that sense, some people emphasize the Christian roots of Europe and they advocate that European identity and ideals cannot neglect the religion, or rather the role of Christianity. This group of people comprehends the European identity as homogenous and one dimensional. For them, European idea should comply with Christianity. That is why, their understanding of Europe clashes with the ideals written in the treaties. Recently, this debate can be observed in the discussions on the ideational and cultural background of the EU during the European Convention. Although the Constitutional Treaty refrained from making an explicit reference to the Christianity, the role of religion in the European culture was mentioned in the preamble of the treaty.




In this paper I have tried to show the ideational basis of the European integration by discussing the clashes of different kind of views and visions on Europe. To that end, I have explained economic, political and cultural debates. As a result of this discussion, it can be concluded that ideational factors alongside the material ones can matter when they become discourses of the political actors and when they are challenged by other ideas or discourses. In that sense, I argue that the European integration is a dialectical process which is the result of different ideas. In my opinion, this dialecticism has been shaping the EU and thus, it has the potential to shape the future of the European integration.


However, the main question remains to be answered. How do ideas matter? The argument that ideas matter needs to be integrated to the empirical research done in this field. In order to provide a research agenda for the question of how ideas matters Risse (2001:165-6) lists three ways that social constructivism sheds light on the European integration. First one is deeper understanding of the impact of the European institutions on transformation of member states’ institutions and their domestic politics. Secondly, social constructivism based on the notion of change in identity and culture, asks the question of how this happen during the European integration. Lastly, social constructivism contributes to the analysis of how the member states understand the EU and approach to the transformation at national and European level. With respect to this research agenda set by Risse, Checkel (2001:53)

contends that socialization and learning process during the European integration are the main concepts that ideational factors can be easily analyzed. As a last remark, further research can be done on the question of how the clashes of different ideas contribute to the socialization and learning process among member states.




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[1] While drawing this conclusion I have benefited from the main approach adopted by Corbey (1995).

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