Great Britain's path to the Maastricht Treaty. A Liberal Intergovernmental Approach

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

18 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of content:

1. Introduction

2. Liberal Intergovernmentalism
2.1 Rationalist Framework
2.2 Criticism

3. The Treaty on European Union
3.1 Great Britain and the Maastricht Treaty

4. Summary

5. Appendix:

1. Introduction

‘‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. “ (‘The Bruges Speech’, Margaret Thatcher 1988)

The process of European integration is a special and perhaps unique development in the history of international politics after the end of World War two. Due to numerous steps of integration it came gradually to an ever progressive interdependence of nation- states of the European continent, economically as institutionally. National states are partly delegating sovereign competences to supranational institutions, which possess own and independent competences. But what leads to this development? Why are states willing to transfer competences to the EU ? In international politics different integration theories are used to explain the different steps of integration and at long last the ratification of treaties between states. One of these integrations steps is the Treaty of Maastricht. The implementation of the Maastricht Treaty, being signed on 7th of February 1992 and entering into force on November 1th 1993, is considered as official founding of the European Union, expanding the European Economic Community created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. But before the official signing of the treaty by first 12 nation- states a tedious unification process was necessary, which is to be examined in the present study looking at the foreign policy of Great Britain.

Regarding the political development of the European community, Great Britain has always played a special role throughout the history of the European integration process. Its foreign policy differentiates oneself from other European national states and is characterized by a certain Euro- sceptic attitude. This is not reflected only by Britain’s late entry into the European Community in 1973, but also by the largest integration step since founding the European Community, which is the Maastricht Treaty. Britain first opposed nearly every policy covered by the Treaty, but indulged on certain points during the negotiations.

Therefore, overlooking the foreign policy of Great Britain the question raises: “Why agreed Great Britain, despite its skeptical attitude towards a common Europe, on the Maastricht Treaty?” Using the integration theory of Liberal Intergovernmentalism by Andrew Moravcsik, this question will be analyzed in the present study.

First the most relevant facts about the theory will be pointed out, before examining the content of the Maastricht Treaty itself. Finally, there is to be an application of the theory to the case of the UK and the Maastricht Treaty.

2. Liberal Intergovernmentalism

The theory of Liberal Intergovernmentalism by Andrew Moravcsik (hereinafter LI) has approached the status of a ‘baseline theory’ relating to the field of regional integration. It has achieved a dominant status in international politics and other theories are often compared against it (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 68). Moravcsiks state- centered research approach coincides in many points with the traditional theory of Intergovernmentalism by Stanley Hofmann. However, in contrast to Hofmann, Moravcsik opens the black box of the nation- state observing actions both at national and international level. Governments of nation- states serve as intermediary , mediating between actors of nation- states and the international level. Hence the process of integration is understood as two- level game (cp. Bieling/ Lerch 2006: 169).

LI is a so called ‘grand theory’, featuring the aspiration to explain the extensive development of regional integration. Moravcsik assumes, that far- reaching integration steps or multilateral negotiations on international cooperation can not only be explained by one theory (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 19- 20). He claims that the broad lines of European integration since its inception have been mainly influenced by three conditions: “(…) patterns of commercial advantages, the relative bargaining power of important governments, and the incentives to enhance the credibility of interstate commitments.” (Moravcsik 1998: 3). Nevertheless he assumes, that commercial interests are most important among the three. Therefore, the process of European integration is the outcome of a number of rational decisions made by governments, who consequently follow economic interests (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 3). Firstly, we find the economic interests of important economic producers followed by macroeconomic preferences of leading administrations forming a coalition. Where these interests congeal integration is necessary (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 3).

But how exactly does LI explain European Integration by using these three factors?

Moravcsik developed a rationalist framework or so called three- stage- model of international cooperation. Using this framework, he divided international negotiations in a causal order of three steps. First of all the nation- states form national preferences, before entering international negotiations also called ‘grand bargaining’ or ‘interstate bargaining’. Finally, representing the result of the negotiations, international institutions are used by the nation states to pool sovereignty and secure agreements (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 20). Moravcsik uses different theories to explain each stage which makes the theory of LI so successful. It is multi causal but still remains simple. By focusing on few but important points at each stage, LI is able to explain the big picture (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 20). Apart from the rationalist framework, its particular strength is the accuracy of the main assumptions about policy content. Throughout the whole process of Integration states are the most important actors, reaching their goals through negotiations and not by consulting a central authority (Moravcsik 1993: 480). Nation- states are ‘masters of the treaty’ who continue to retain far- reaching decision- making power and political legitimacy (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 68). Furthermore, LI assumes that states act as rational actors calculating the benefits of different acts, choosing the one which maximizes their possible benefits. The theory characterizes collective outcomes as result of aggregated individual actions based on the persecution of these particular preferences (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 68).

The agreement on cooperation is the result of independent and rational decisions of states and negotiations between governments (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 68).

2.1 Rationalist Framework

The first stage of the rationalist framework implies the formation of national preferences. Even though many different national actors are part of the formation of preferences, LI outlines the nation- states as unitary actors. Foundation is a liberal theory of international relations, assuming that foreign policy goals of national governments have to be adjusted to the alternating pressure by national interest groups, which compete for the political orientation of national positions (cp. Moravcsik 1993: 481). “By preferences, I designate not simply a particular set of policy goals but a set of underlying national objectives independent of any particular international negotiation to expand exports, to enhance security vis-a- vis a particular threat, or to realize some ideational goal.“ (Moravcsik 1998: 20). But national preferences are neither permanent nor equal. They vary between states and over time within the nation- state itself depending on certain topics or different national institutions (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 69). In the specific case of European Integration national preferences mainly reflect economic interests and not general issues such as safety or European ideals (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 70).

The formation of national interest leads to the second step of the integration process.

In order to explain how it is possible that states representing different national interests are able to reach collective outcomes through negotiations, LI uses a bargaining theory based on rational institutionalism (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 70- 71). States avail oneself of certain strategies and national governments negotiate with each other to reach an agreement, being able to realize national preferences in a more efficient way than single- sided actions (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 20). The bargaining process is characterized by asymmetrical interdependences and the unequal distribution of information about preferences or agreements. The decisive factor is the respective bargaining power of each country, depending on the unequal distribution of goods and information about preferences . At this point states have to overcome suboptimal results to reach coordination and cooperation, achieving mutual benefits (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 71). States, that are not dependent on a specific arrangement, are now able to threaten other actors with non- cooperation in order to force them to make concessions. In contrast, states being dependent on specific arrangements have to back down and adapt to the preferences of other actors not having appealing alternatives. After all the outcome is the lowest common denominator. At this point, regarding the rationalist framework supranational organizations are still irrelevant (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 71).

International institutions play an important role only in the third and final step of the three- stage- model. To secure agreements, states pool and delegate sovereignty in international institutions in order to commit themselves to cooperation and arrangements. This is also called ‘credible commitment’ (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 3-4). Through credible commitments transaction costs are reduced and by international institutions providing information about preferences states are less uncertain about the behavior of other states. At the same time, the expense of short- term defection should be increased. Furthermore, contracts are preserved of any influence by national policies (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 72). At this stage Moravcsik mainly refers to modern regime theory: the decision of states to delegate and pool sovereignty in international institutions, functioning as regime is separated from negotiations on cooperation (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 21).

The theory of LI by Andrew Moravcsik explains the process of European integration through national preference formation, intergovernmental bargaining and finally, institutional choice. Additionally, it clarifies that states concentrate on the process of grand bargaining trying to enforce their national will. If the outcome of negotiations is acceptable for actors they are willing to delegate and pool sovereignty in international institutions.

2.2 Criticism

Even though the theory of Liberal Intergovernmentalism has approached the status of a ‘baseline theory’ relating to the field of regional integration and has achieved a dominant status in international politics, some argue that LI cannot explain the process of everyday decision making being limited to a small part of EU policy- making in which institutions only play a small role (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 68, 73). Furthermore ‘historical institutionalists’ claim, that Moravcsiks theory focuses only on “(…) conscious intergovernmental decision- making at treaty- amending moments, thereby overlooking many ‘unintended’ or ‘undesired’ consequences that occur as a result of treaty amendments.” (Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 73). It seems like other theories such as rational- choice institutionalism are more suitable to explain everyday decision- making (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 73). But on this point critics can be invalidated. It seems like LI theory applies more widely than is generally supposed and that it includes much more everyday decision- making than expected. “The reason is that many decisions within the EU are taken by de facto consensus or unanimity, even when the formal rules seem to dictate otherwise.” (Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 74). But still it is important to not forget that the theory is not universal. Being able to explain integration under most circumstances, it still cannot explain integration when its assumptions about preferences, bargaining and credible commitments are violated (cp. Schimmelfennig/ Moravcsik 2009: 76).

The theory of LI shall now be applied on the case of Great Britain and the negotiations on the Treaty of Maastricht.

3. The Treaty on European Union

The Treaty on the European Union also known as Maastricht Treaty has been one of the most important steps of European Integration. Its main contents shall be briefly discussed hereinafter.

The Treaty on the European Union that has been negotiated for a year and ended with an agreement at Maastricht in 1991, being ratified by the member- states in the following year. It came into force on 1st November 1993, defining terms and conditions and a time frame for the transformation of the European Community to an Economic and Monetary Union (cp. Moravcsik 1998: 379).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: ‘Three pillars created by Maastricht‘:


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Great Britain's path to the Maastricht Treaty. A Liberal Intergovernmental Approach
University of Bamberg
Seminar Internationale und Europäische Politik: European Integration
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great, britain, maastricht, treaty, liberal, intergovernmental, approach
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Franziska Wegener (Author), 2015, Great Britain's path to the Maastricht Treaty. A Liberal Intergovernmental Approach, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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