Federalist and Neofunctionalist Integration Theories in Times of Crisis

A Literature Review

Literature Review, 2017
20 Pages, Grade: B


Table of Contents



Key Concepts

Literature Review




In the past few years, the European Union has seen three major crises; the Schengen crisis, the euro crisis and Brexit. Though all of these events are individual and unique unto themselves, what similarities do they have? What can European integration theories do in order to help us understand their similarities and differences?

In this review, I compare federalist and neo-functionalist literature on crisis outcomes in the EU. I seek to answer the posed questions and see which argument upholds best against Brexit, a crisis which is not yet in the post-crisis phase.


As the European Union faces new challenges, integration theorists have had the opportunity to conduct new research. It is an optimal time to present different integration theories as explanations for the cause of EU crises, but also as a proposed way to prevent them. As an intergovernmental organization, the European Union has to work in a way that pleases and accommodates many different countries. Which integration theory can best explain the outcomes of European Union (EU) crises?

As a result of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and prominent candidates in other member states using the possibility of EU withdrawal as a platform, the EU is repeatedly described as being at a crossroads. So, it is essential to understand some of the relevant literature from various integration theories in order to also understand the information the EU can use as it determines its future.

This review aims to compare the strength of argument posed by two pieces of literature, each in favor of a different integration theory. The literature should be able to provide clarity to how these crises came about, as well as plausible explanations for their aftermath. The chosen literature presents federalist and neofunctionalist theories in “a decade of crises” (Schimmelfennig, 2018). While there will be some discussion of the euro crisis and the Schengen crisis, this review will focus on the most recent EU crisis: Brexit.

All of the texts are very recent in order to account for the modern context necessary to understand these events. If the literature of one integration theory literature is better at describing and accounting for the variation in crises, then it should be applicable to literature that does not favor one integration theory over others.

This literature review is formatted as follows: first, presenting relevant historical context as to not deter from the main purpose of comparing the literature in light of modern events, using the literature to define each key concept, reviewing the literature and finally comparing the literature to draw conclusions.


First, it is essential to know how the past may provide parallels to the current debates facing the EU.

Tracing back to the 20th Century, Altiero Spinelli and Friedrich Hayek provided Europe with views on federalism. While neither of them were specifically the cause of early European integration, both did provide food for thought and lay down a framework that would inspire other integration theories - such as Jean Monnet’s neo-functionalism (Reho, 2017). Reho’s The past and future of European federalism: Spinelli vs. Hayek analyzes and compares the two federalist perspectives, keeping in mind the state of the EU in 2017 while he explains the different viewpoints in their current time. Like many other researchers on the subject, Reho asserts, in a rephrased manner, that the European Union is at a crossroads and how they proceed can make or break it. He describes federalism as “one of the most abused political concepts in European integration,” so this article is likely to provide clarification for the possibilities of federalism in the European Union. He proposes that Spinelli’s federalism “influenced the past of European integration” and Hayek’s “may be able to shape the future” (Reho, 2017).

Hayekian federalism only acknowledges what Reho describes as “negative [economic] integration” where economic activities are unregulated. Hayek focused on “continental openness, rather than a central European government” (Reho, 2017). Conversely, Spinelli provided a much more socialist outlook for an integrated Europe. He and Hayek provided two very extreme sides of federalism’s possibilities - Spinelli seeking intervention to its full extent and Hayek seeking to keep intervention at a minimum. In reference to the aforementioned misuse of federalism in European integration, Reho essentially says that Spinelli ignores some of the key aspects of a federalist perspective in spite of (Spinelli) trying to defend them (Reho, 2017). It appears that, due to his dismissal of Spinelli’s current relevance, Reho has a bias in favor of Hayek’s views on federalism which continues to shape the article. He does present both Hayek and Spinelli in equal time, but does little to refute any of Hayek’s views, especially given how much Reho counters Spinelli’s federalist theories. As far as providing the necessary background to understand how the birth of the EU affects its present arguments, Reho does a fine job in spite of his bias. He does credit neo-functionalism as the founding principle of the European Union, but also explains that Spinelli and Hayek’s federalism have a strong influence. Despite all of the differing views on federalism, Reho suggests “as much union as necessary, as little union as possible” as the motto of “authentic federalism” (Reho, 2017).

The UK’s position in Europe has always been a bit different, and perhaps the same sentiment can be extended towards the UK’s position in the European Union. As Brexit is one of the latest crises facing the EU, involving circumstances the European Union has not yet seen before, it is important to have some background on why the UK would be the only country to choose to leave the European Union thus far. Before exploring the more recent causations How British was the Brexit Vote? provides, it is essential to understand earlier viewpoints and how the Brexit decision may have been long coming, via years of built up EU skepticism (and debatably, resentment) (De Burca, 2018).

In order to do so, De Burca stresses Britain’s defined, detached politics and culture. It can be understood that Britain’s decisive independence from continental Europe is an integral part of its culture, as well (2018). As such, the nature of an intergovernmental organization such as the European Union, even with a motto “United in Diversity,” was always going to walk a fine line in regards to providing room for cultural individuality. This applies dually so for the United Kingdom, which anchors much of its culture on its (perceived) distinction from the rest of Europe. In accordance with this, it should be unsurprising that French President Charles de Gaulle was so opposed to the UK having a vote in the EEC, on the basis of the UK wanting to join for economic advantages instead of a true interest in European integration (De Burca, 2018). De Burca seems to agree with this proposal, as she states that “European trajectory has been...ever closer as a union,” and highlights that it did begin as a common market project (2018). How British was the Brexit Vote? hints that the UK’s older, post-war voters, who accounted for more of the “leave” votes than their younger counterparts, did so because they shared the sentiment of a shared economic venture (De Burca, 2018). It seems that Reho’s interpretation of Hayek’s economic-focused federalism may have been what the UK desired and could have possibly prevented the UK from leaving the EU.

Key Concepts


First, I will be using the definition provided by The past and future of European federalism: Spinelli v. Hayek in order to shape the rest of the literature review (Reho, 2017). In summary: authentic federalism is defined by Reho with the motto “as much union as necessary, as little union as possible” (2017).

Bergmann and Niemann’s 2013 Theories of European Integration and European Foreign Policy explains that federalism can mean many things in many different contexts. The authors establish that federalist integration theories provide why states should form a federation, instead of how to go about it (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Bergmann and Niemann’s work provides all integration theories in the same article, where many others choose to focus on one or two alone.


It is asserted that neo-functionalism assumes that integration is a process, which implies that integration happens organically, and over time, many supranational factors shape regional integration, and decisions are motivated primarily by self-interest (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Neo-functionalism is defined by integration via “spillover” which comes in three forms: functional, political, and cultivated (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Political spillover involves elites, unable to solve problems domestically, gradually learning to change their expectations, political activities and loyalties to “a new European centre” (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Functional spillover is when only integration can meet a certain objective (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). And finally, cultivated spillover is when supranational institutions encourage integration in order to increase their own power (Bergmann, Niemann 2013).

Liberal Intergovernmentalism

Intergovernmentalism proposes that European integration is a result of states’ interests and bargaining within the EU (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Where intergovernmentalism says that national interests appear through the state’s view of where it stands relative to other states, liberal intergovernmentalism says preferences emerge from the state’s politically domestic context (Bergmann, Niemann 2013). Intergovernmentalism defines the source of integration as states’ interests and therefore, the states with the most power in bargaining determine that further integration will benefit them (Bergmann, Niemann 2013).

Literature Review

European integration theory in the time of crisis. A Comparison of the euro and Schengen crises. by Frank Schimmelfennig, as implied in the title, compares two recent crises faced by the EU (2018). He makes a strong case for the similarity of the conditions and threats posed by the two crises, in order to show that they are comparable, but wishes to explain why the outcomes were so different. His main argument is that neofunctionalist theories provide the best explanation for the variation in the outcome of the euro crisis and the Schengen crisis.

Schimmelfennig’s methodology involves first describing three theories of European integration (intergovernmentalism, post-functionalism, and neo-functionalism), so the reader is familiar with other possible explanations for the variation in the outcome of crises (2018). This was a wise decision, as presenting the other possibilities and their weaknesses shows that Schimmelfennig did consider them before coming to his conclusions. The adaptation of another researcher’s* model helps to lessen the likelihood of bias, as Schimmelfennig has not entirely created it on his own and this application is not specifically created in favor of his hypothesis. This is evident in the fact that it was originally a model used as “a liberal-intergovernmentalist explanation of integration [during crises] as the outcome of international interdependence and intergovernmental constellation of preferences and bargaining power,” and was not originally used for a neofunctionalist explanation of integration (Schimmelfennig, 2018).


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Federalist and Neofunctionalist Integration Theories in Times of Crisis
A Literature Review
University of Mannheim
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
european integration, european politics, political science, comparative politics, schengen crisis, brexit
Quote paper
Danielle Kyle (Author), 2017, Federalist and Neofunctionalist Integration Theories in Times of Crisis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/489358


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