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European Council (The ) in Theoretical Perspectives: The Principals on a Fusion Path

Policy Paper by Young Researcher WP II/III Theories: Team 1 (D11b)
May 2007
Wolfgang Wessels and Verena Schäfer

Since its creation in the 1970s no other institution has formed the European Union so intensively and continuously like the European Council. This “key institution” of the European Union takes nearly all major decisions for the EU and the institutional architecture and has also an academic value as a key body for testing integration related theories. This paper invites to take up and discuss a broad variety of competing classic theories (realism and intergovernmentalism, federalism, neo-functionalism) and theoretical approaches (constructivism, sociological institutionalism and fusion theory) to characterize and explain fundamental features of the European Council. By mapping this indefinable “locus of power” in a conceptual frame this paper may also contribute to improve the understanding of the evolution of the EU system in general.


I. Introduction: The European Council as key institution in political and academic terms
II. The offer: a set of characterisations and explanations

  1. The conventional reading: The European Council as institutional incarnation of (neo-)realist and intergovernmentalist approaches
  2. The conventional alternative: a forum for orthodox federalists
  3. An unconventional view from a conventional theory: The European Council as the major agent for a neo-functionalist spill-over
  4. The European Council as the constructor of appropriate behaviour
  5. The European Council as the actor of and indicator for fusion
III. Conclusions

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