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European Integration Theory

European Integration Theory (3rd edn)

Antje Wiener, Tanja A. Börzel, and Thomas Risse
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date: 29 November 2023

p. 1086. Rational Choice and Historical Institutionalismlocked

p. 1086. Rational Choice and Historical Institutionalismlocked

  • Mark A. Pollack


The European Union (EU) is without question the most densely institutionalized international organization in the world, and the body of literature known under the rubric of ‘the new institutionalism’ has been applied with increasing success to the study of the Union as a polity and to European integration as a process. This chapter examines rational choice and historical institutionalism and their contributions to EU studies. Following a brief introduction, it traces the origins of rational choice and historical institutionalism, both of which explore the role of institutions in political life, albeit with different emphases. Next, it turns to the EU, exploring the ways in which scholars have drawn on institutionalist theories to understand and explain the legislative, executive, and judicial politics of the EU, as well as the development of EU institutions and policies over time. An in-depth case study applies institutionalist theory to the task of explaining the origins of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis as well as the EU’s response. Historical institutionalist theory, the author suggests, generates important insights into the suboptimal design of the original Maastricht EMU provisions, as well as the EU’s incremental response and the suboptimal outcome of the crisis. The author concludes by suggesting that institutionalist theories offer a variety of valuable insights into the design, effects, and development of EU institutions, while at the same time remaining compatible with other theoretical approaches in the EU scholar’s toolkit.

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