• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Work with all your cloud files (Drive, Dropbox, and Slack and Gmail attachments) and documents (Google Docs, Sheets, and Notion) in one place. Try Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) for free. Now available on the web, Mac, Windows, and as a Chrome extension!


Liberal Intergovernmentalism

Page history last edited by Jasmine Ganeshalingam 10 years, 5 months ago





A reaction to neofunctionalist approach to European integration, intergovernmentalism was a counter-argument presented by Stanley Hoffman. This theory of European integration relies heavily on realist ideas about the state and its roles, as well as their government in international relations. Hoffman criticised neofunctionalism as he believed that integration had to be viewed in a global context, and that regional integration was a smaller part of global system (Bache, George 2006: 12). He believed a major failure in the neofunctionalist approach was the prediction of unavoidable further integration based on an internal dynamic which supposed that international background situation would stay the same. This assumption was seen as especially inaccurate with the changes to the economic climate in the start of the 1970’s. He also argued that even though ‘national interests’ could be a reason to integrate with some parts of government, this process will never include higher politics such as national security. Lastly it was this desire to preserve the national interest that led to governments taking part in the integration, and so it was the national governments that controlled the degree and speed of integration, rejecting the neofunctionalist idea that states were overwhelmed by demands from interest groups (Bache, George 2006: 13).



Key Thinkers


 Stanley Hoffman first presented his theory of intergovernmentalism in The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics, critiquing the neofunctionalist ideas and presenting his own. This was later built upon by Andrew Moravcsik with his theory of Liberal Intergovernmentalism, which involved a more fundamental critique of neofunctionalism and involved those that neofunctionalists acknowledged themselves. (Bache, George 2006: 12 - 15)





 To Hoffmann, it is clear that there are actors other then national governments who are influential in the process of integration. In national politics, interest groups could affect government decisions, but he pointed out that they were not the only bodies to do so, as the party in office or officials from within the government would also assert pressure. He acknowledged however, that national governments were the key people who made the decisions, and that they could be seen to be especially powerful for two reasons. Firstly, as they had gained the legal sovereignty of their country, and linked to this, that had legitimacy in the form of being the only elected officials in the integration process. This opinion explains how it was the pursuit of national interest that led to supranational bodies gaining power.

This theory leaves nations with a much greater independence, and so integration happened on a level that was intergovernmental, only preceding to the degree the governments wished. He did however take note of the importance of the location of the state in the world structure, in much the same way realists do, and recognised this as another limitation on these governments. (Bache, George 2006: 12 - 13)

Moravcsik built on the ideas of Hoffmann, and agreed with many of the key principles, such as the assumption that nations could be seen as rational and departing from realists approach to the state. He believed that the position governments entered into within international negotiations could be understood based on two factors. One was the economic interests within nation’s interior, and the second was to understand how conflicting interests were resolved within the council of ministers. This was separated into two sections; agreement on a policy response and agreement on the institutional arrangements. Moravcsik’s example involved monetary union (Moravcsik 1999: 21-22), and he explained how without knowing the aims of the European Central Bank, it would not be feasible to understand negotiations regarding its constitution.  This structure wasused on 5 case studies; the Treaty of Rome (1955 – 58), the Common Agricultural Policy (1958 – 83), the European Monetary System (1969 – 83), the Single European Act (1984 – 88) and the Treaty on European Union (1988 – 91). Movaravcsik arrived at the conclusion that national interests were concurrent to economic interests, ignoring any political bias and that any choices in favour of Europe came from the national governments, not supranational governments. He also realised that the negotiations would imitate the power of the states taking part, and that states allowing supranational bodies to make decisions were attempting to ensure that all members would abide by these decisions. This rejected the confidence in the effectiveness of these organisations and also federalist ideology. (Bache, George 2006: 13 - 15)





According to Movaravcsik and Schimmelfennig; “Liberal Intergovernmentalism has acquired the status of a ‘baseline theory’ in the study of regional integration: an essential first cut explanation against which other theories and often compared” (Movaravcsik, Schimmelfennig 2009: 67). The main reason that these two writers believe this is due to Intergovernmentalisms success at explaining state behaviours, and the theory’s ability to work with and build on other theories on both integration and behaviour. However they go on to explain that due to its grounding in general social science theory, it has helped ensure the modernisation of integration theory. They also claim that Liberal Intergovernmentalism is a “’grand theory’ that seeks to explain the broad evolution of a regional integration. LI [Liberal Intergovernmentalism] is a theoretical synthesis or framework, not a narrow theory of a single political activity”. This enables it to be very versatile, and simple to use, and the “apparent accuracy of the substantive assumptions and empirical predictions” show it to be successful. (Movaravcsik, Schimmelfennig 2009: 67 – 68)





 Like all theory’s, Liberal Intergovernmentalism has critics whose main assertion is that politics and economics cannot be divorced, and that economic interest do not, in fact guide integration opposing Movavcsik’s theory. An example of this can be seen in the 1950 Shuman Declaration which explained that the European Coal and Steel Community would make war between European nationals impossible, hardly an agreement made only for free trade and other economic reasons. Movarvcsiks choice of case studies in his initial explanation of his theory has also been criticised, as only intergovernmental negotiations are considered which ignores the smaller decisions that make up the bulk of the EU’s role. These could provide a very different result, as supranational bodies could retain more importance, and items being discussed would not be as easy to assign national preference to. (Bache, George 2006: 15)





  • Bache, I., George, S. (2006) Politics in the European Union, 2nd ed., United States: Oxford University Press


  • Moravcsik, A., Schimmelfennig, F. (2009) Liberal Intergovernmentalism. In: Diez, T., Wiener, A., (2009) European Integration Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press pp. 67 - 87

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.