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Neo - functionalism

Page history last edited by Jasmine Ganeshalingam 10 years, 7 months ago





The theory of neo-functionalism emerged in the mid 1950s; it is a theory of regional integration in a process by which countries remove barriers to free trade. Neo-functionalism helps to explain the integration theory of the Western Europe. The theory is tightly connected to the strategies of the integration of the founding fathers. Jean Monnet’s approach to integration aimed at individual sectors in hopes of achieving spillover effects to further the process of integration it is also said to be followed by the early neo functional steps. Schmitter (1969) argues that Jean Monnet’s methods of mutual recognition and piecemeal problem solving imbedded in the nature of neo-functionalism. Rosamond stated that "Neo-functionalism can be read at one level as a theory provoked entirely by the interactive activity among the original six member states" (2000, p. 10). Further down, Eilstrup-Sangiovanni argues that neo-functionalism is a product of the behaviouralist turn in American social science which also focuses on institutional forms and behavior and process of integration (2006, p. 89). However at the time of the ‘empty chair’ crisis neo-functionalism was considered too incapable of describing the process of integration in general because of its extreme Eurocentric nature. Rosamond states that it is emerged from the process of complex web of actors pursuing their interests within a pluralist political environment (2000, p. 55).



Key Thinkers


Neo-functionalism was developed by Earns Haas who first brought the theory in 1958 in his work ‘The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social and Economic Forces 1950-1957’ (Cini 2004, p. 81) the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and director of Policy Planning of the US department of State. Haas’ aims were to give an explanation to a regional integration of Europe after the Second World War. The theory was also aimed to explain the regional integration and development in the areas of economics cooperation in Latin America but it was Europe where political and economic integration was best developed therefore theory become closely associated with EU (Cini 2004, p. 83)






Neo-functionalism reformulates the functionalist principles in the context of regional institutions. While functionalists view integration as an unpreventable result of development which imposes more functions on the states and pushed them to the cooperation with international functional institutions. However, integration in the view of neo-functionalists is that created institutions drives the integration further by inertia even if originally it was not aimed so. There is also a difference in the final results of the integration process between functionalists and neo-functionalists. According to the functionalists view the end result of the integration process is where there is a separate institutional organization performing their functions. Whereas for neo-functionalist everything is shifted to the one new center as the result of a "new political community" which arises (Haas 1958). Jean Monnet saw an increased European integration as the most important originator to a peaceful Europe. According to the neo-functionalism the importance of nationalism and national state will decline in the light of a central supranational sate. There are three mechanisms that neo-functionalists view as a driving force of the integration process positive spill over, transfer of domestic alliances, technocratic automaticity.



Positive spill over


According to Wallace (2004, p. 15) "positive spill over" is when the sector such as coal and steel governed by the central institutions creates pressure so that the neighboring areas of policy such as taxation and wages are influenced by integration. Cini describes concept of spill over as the process of generating new political goals (2004, p. 85)



Transfer of domestic alliances


According to the neo-functionalism theory, in the process of integration the different national interest groups, associations and elites will shift their loyalty away from national institutions toward the supranational European institution. The explanation to this is that the national groups will recognize the newly formed institution as a better instrument through which they can achieve a better outcome in their interests rather than through national institutions. This will lead to an establishment of elite groups holding pan-European ideas and norms and they will try to persuade national elites to turn their loyalties to the supranational co-operation (Cini 2004, p. 87).  



Technocratic automaticity


It describes the process when the integration is accelerated the supranational institutions themselves will be able to lead and sponsor the further integration because they will be more powerful than the Member States.





Haas believes that the development of the neo-functionalism theory can lead to the emergence of ‘dramatic political actors’ also, changes in international systems may affect the regional cooperation. He believes that the concept of the spill over can also develop further to ‘spill-around’ and ‘spill-back’. Nevertheless neo-functionalism revealed the logic of the development of the Europe in the post war uniting. The theory is still very useful in theorizing although very limited in its capability. Schmitter argues that it provides building blocks for frameworks and is useful in reformulation he states that this might be due to the tendency of self criticizing of its actors. (2004, p. 45) He also argues that the theory has its impact on enlargement as it leads to tensions, contradictions and demands which can be resolved by further integration (2004, p. 62).





Intergovernmentalists criticize the neo functionalism for the continued dominance of the national state and of the national interests. Moreover they argue that state still plays an important role in the external policies. Cini argues that it is in the interests of the states to have national civil servants in commission and that their states are represented (2004, p. 89). There is also criticism over “spillover” from economical to political integration. It was said that it focuses too closely on the on internal dynamics of integration. Intergovernmentalists argue that neo-functionalism ignores the wider concept of the integration and should take into account its international context as well. Wiener & Diez (2004, p. 51) argued that neo-functionalism does not provide a general theory of regional integration in all settings and of their origins. It has a model that member countries are democratic and developed. Thus this model is not applicable to explain integration in other regions. According to Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, neo-functionalism also ignores the potentially divergence of political development at the domestic level, he argues that there are groups within the state who do not share the same political values of elites in other member states and they can get power into their hands (2006, p. 99). Neo-functionalism was also criticized for being very limited; Hansen stated that the concept of the “spillover” is only applicable to Europe and not the rest of the world and especially there is a difficulty applying to less developed countries.





  • Cini, M. and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, N. (eds.) (2004), European Union Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, M. (ed.) (2006), Debates on European Integration. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.


  • Rosamond, B. (2000), Theories of European Integration. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.


  • Wallace, H., Pollack, M. and Young, A. R. (eds.) (2005), Policy-Making in the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Wiener, A. and Diez, T. (eds.) (2004), European Integration Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



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