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Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz attend the opening of 'Erlebnis Europa' in Berlin

Power in the EU: the synthesis

Is it possible to combine the supranational and the intergovernmental thesis? After all, we can see elements of both in today’s EU.

A new perspective on power-distribution in the EU opens up if we look at the European Union beyond the EU/member-states and thus beyond the supranational/intergovernmental binary. That is, if we define the European Union as a unique system of shared governance by many actors.

The idea of Europe as a sui generis entity suggests that power is shared among various actors in a multileveled setting. This is characterised by the following three elements:

  • power in the European Union is not centred in one institution or member state, or political grouping;
  • decisions are a result of power sharing across many levels of governance;
  • supranational institutions, national governments, subnational governmental and non-governmental actors, private actors and civil society representatives take part in the decision-making proces.
  • We see this in practice with every major decision: the Commission, the Parliament and the Council work together - and sometimes oppose each other. The Commission, for example, has set up a plan in which the member states take in refugees from Italy and Greece, since these countries are the 'ports' to Europe. Some national governments oppose this plan and refuse to take part in it. Thus, we can see that power is negotiated among these bodies. EU governance is a complex matter, where multiple actors try to balance various takes on the issue at hand. Moreover, appreciating the diversity among EU's decision-making bodies also points to the roles played by non-EU actors, such as Russia, Switzerland and Norway. If you are interested to read more, please read Gary Marks, Liesbet Hooghe, and Kermit Blank's 'European integration from the 1980s: State‐centric v. multi‐level governance'.

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