Scholars of various disciplines, be it political science, international relations, or European integration, generally agree that at least since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, ending the 80 Years’ War, what we call the state has become a founding block of understanding international relations. Let us now first look at what a state and its more recent derivative, namely the nation-state, is before we turn to whether and how it changed as a result of post-World War II European integration. According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the rights and duties of the state, the state has the following four features– a defined territory, a permanent population, an effective government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
As any other theoretical concept, of course, also the notion of state has been developed further with the most far reaching change being that it increasingly became understood as a nation-state. In its most simple form, the nation-state may be understood as the one nation within a single state principle. In other words, it is a political association within which citizenship and nationality overlap. Over time, the nation-state came to be understood as possessing the following features. First, indivisible sovereignty, which can be understood as both domestic and international, meaning that the government exercises exclusive authority within a given polity which at the same time prevents other actors by intervening in other states’ internal affairs. Two, fixed boundaries.
Three, coherent identity, which refers to the sense of nationhood built upon ideas of shared culture, values, common languages, et cetera. Four, established government. Five, cohesive democracy, which traditionally refers to government by the people, of the people, and for the people, as coined by Abraham Lincoln. This refers to political participation, citizen representation, and effective government, respectively. Particularly in the European context, the nation-state became associated with causing much damage and harm in the first half of the 20th century, which saw both the First and the Second World War.
It can thus come as no surprise that with World War II over in 1945, the European elites began debating the question of whether the nation-state in its pre-World War II form should be revived. This came at a time when the European continent began to split into East and West, where its eastern part slowly but steadily came under the control of communist Soviet Union. Thus, the devastated Western European countries had to tackle two questions simultaneously. First, how to manage their political and economic revival without giving rise to further tensions that could escalate into another conflict. And second, how to successfully oppose Soviet pressures. It is the solution devised for the first question that ultimately also became the answer to the second.
Right after World War II, Western European political leaders put forward the idea of a pan-European Federation that would prevent the rebuilding of strong and potentially conflictual nation-states. However, as time passed by, such a solution proved too far-fetched for most of European countries, with six of them, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany agreeing to a compromise solution that would see a gradual emergence of international institutions that would exercise powers previously confined to nation-states. This gradual approach to European integration, later dubbed neofunctionalism by Ernst Haas, first saw the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 followed by the foundation of the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community, both in 1957.
These three organizations later merged to become what we today call the European Union. The most interesting aspect of this European integration process was that from the very beginning, it concerned integration above and beyond the nation-states. In essence, constituting a break with the long history of strengthening the nation-state. This break is also reflected in the European Union’s institutional structure, which can be described as a carefully crafted compromise between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, terms to which we shall return later in this week.