Mike Rossi


Actual Position

Courses » The European Union

Content: The European Union

Table of Contents


This course is designed to offer students a general overview of the mechanisms, policies, and ongoing debates surrounding the European Union (EU), the dominant political, economic and, some would argue, social organization throughout the European continent. An international organization that began as a regional economic cooperative known as the European Coal and Steel Community in1951, it has evolved over the last six decades to address a number of growing economic and political concerns first in Western Europe and later in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe following the end of the Cold War. As such, the “widening” and “deepening” of the European Union has been regarded by many social scientists as one of the fundamental components in facilitating a peaceful transition democracy and market capitalism by post-communist states. Ongoing negotiations with the last remaining states in Southeastern Europe towards eventual EU membership means the European Union, and European unity by nature, remains an inevitable, if still incomplete, process.

But this does not mean that the EU is widely popular, nor does it imply that national sovereignty will ultimately be replaced by a supranational organization creating some form of United States of Europe. Furthermore, the ongoing economic crises over the past three years have hit a number of EU member states particularly hard. With countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy facing deep economic recession, more stable countries like Germany and France increasingly burdened with the responsibility of “bailing out” other members in order to avoid systemic collapse of the eurozone, and “EU fatigue” experienced by citizens of Croatia and Serbia, two aspiring members, not to mention the debates surrounding membership extension to Turkey, the EU has numerous challenges to face in the years ahead, including the stability of the eurozone and even the survival of the euro as a common currency.

This course will not simply be an historical survey of the institutional mechanisms of the EU. While it is an example of one of the more successful international organizations, studies of the European Union in this class will include a number of approaches:

  1. An international organization comprised of sovereign states
  2. A culmination of developed state welfare policies from the 1940s to the 1960s
  3. An international governing body that provides both passive and active leverage to member states and aspiring member states in order to stabilize democratic governance and economic modernization
  4. An expanding body that has come under increased scrutiny of being too bureaucratized and elite-driven, resulting in a so-called “democratic deficit” between ordinary people and EU governing bodies, as well as between national governments meeting EU-based criteria over, and in some cases in conflict with, the preferences of their citizens.

Target Group

There are no formal requisites to the course, but it is recommended students take this class after having completed a semester either in International Organization or European Politics. It can be both a mid-level and upper-level course, but junior-level students seems to be the ideal target. The course is especially geared for those interested in studying modern European politics since 1945 and in studying the delegation of power and authority from the state to the international level.

Because the latest version of the syllabus is also designed to reflect the current economic crises in Europe, this class also functions as an unofficial sequel to the European Politics course, focusing heavily on the last few years of conflict between democratically elected governments and a largely non-elected international bureaucracy in determining the fate of hundreds of millions of people. Thus the class doubles as an examination of contemporary European socio-political issues.

Course Structure

The class was significantly reorganized from its original design. Rather than simply focusing on the various institutions and functions of the EU, which can get notoriously boring, I decided to treat the European Union in the same general way I understood the "International Organization" class to be: a study of a particular organization and a study of the relationship with its member states, its member states' populations, and the surrounding international neighborhood. Like the International Organization class, I base this class on the theoretical study of the relationship between sovereign states, and the powers delegated by them to an entity that has greater capabilities than the sum of its parts (or in this case members) yet it still beholden to the leadership, policies, and authority of those parts.

The class begins with an overview of the current situations the EU and its members are facing, and then asks how the various problems and crises came about. We then look at the historical developments of what originally started as the European Coal and Steel Community and chart its growth and expansion through the Treaty of Rome, the addition of new members, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Maastrict. and finally the Treaty of Lisbon. We also spend about a week and a half examining the various "branches" of the EU, its leadership and organization, the process of passing resolutions and agreements, its judicial powers and competencies, and the controversies associated with lopsided advantage and influence some member states have over others.

The second half of class looks at two large issues: the widening and deepening of EU influence and authority into Eastern Europe following the collapse of communist regimes, and the growing sense that the EU as a whole suffers from a so-called "democratic deficit" , particularly in light of the economic problems since 2008. The class essentially ends where it began, and reexamines the questions asked in the beginning of the semester but with information gathered along the way, and leaves open the debate about whether the EU will eventually evolve into a federal superstate, remain the vocation of individual state interests, or even collapse on its own bureaucratic weight.

Work Material

The starting point for the class is the introductory chapter in Andrew Moravcsik's book on European integration, with the question of why states rationally and willingly give up elements of sovereignty and authority to a larger institution, and continue to augment that institution over time with greater responsibilities and directives, as the overall theoretical question for the class. This opens up debate for various arguments supporting a true desire to create a suprastate, strategies for shifting burdens of responsibility on other political bodies (and this avoiding accountability themselves), to individual state strategies of domination, control, influence, and authority. It is from Moravcsik that the rest of the class study stems from.

I really believe there is no one-stop source for information on the European Union. Existing textbooks are either unbearably dry and micro-specific, or largely unwritten for undergraduate studies. Additionally, my normal tendency of eschewing any textbook for a series of scholarly readings in upper-level courses also left the first class somewhat lacking in organization and referential information. Most of these readings only used the EU as an example for more conceptual and theoretical discussions, leaving it up to me to fill in more gaps than I wanted.

In the International Organization class I taught the following Fall, which also saw slight revisions of the syllabus, I introduced a new chapter in Roy Ginsberg's new textbook on the EU for the section taught on it and asked those students who intended to enroll in the EU class the following Spring what they thought of it. The positive response and time I gave myself to review the book gave me the justification to introduce it in the updated Spring 2012 syllabus. The book is still somewhat dense and requires additional outside readings, but it serves its primary purpose of providing a clear and no-nonsense of the EU as a product of European history and a legacy of pre-established transnational cooperation and interdependency.

The large amounts of contemporary newspaper articles also give students an easy and accessible understanding of contemporary "big picture" assessments of the EU. Not surprisingly, they found these the most interesting and informative. The take-home final exam was also comprised of more than a dozen article not previously read that students were to select a designated number and read in order to respond to an overarching essay question.

Additional readings of book chapters or scholarly articles rounded out the class in specific studies concerning the EU and European development.

Author Primary Bibliographic Data
Gilbert, Mark Surpassing Realism: The Politics of European Integration since 1945. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003 [Gil03]
Ginsberg, Roy H.
Demystifying the European Union: The Enduring Logic of Regional Integration. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2010
Hix, Simon The Political System of the European Union. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010 [Hix10]
Moravcsik, Andrew The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastrict. Cornell University Press, 1998 [Mor98]
Vachudova, Milada Anna Europe Undivided: Democracy, Leverage, and IntegrationAfter Communism.Oxford University Press, 2005 [Vac05]
Warleigh, Alex Democracy in the European Union: Theory, Practice and Reform. London: Sage Publications, 2003 [War03]
Zweifel, Thomas D. Democratic Deficit? Institutions and Regulation in the European Union, Switzerland, and the United States in Comparative Perspective. Lanham, MD:Lexington Books, 2002 [Zwe02]


©Michael Rossi – http://michael-rossi.demokratio.info