It stands to reason that European integration is an important trigger of change for hitherto nation-state-based politics. This change affects institutions, actors, and processes as well as justificatory claims for democratic politics. The nation-state still retains an important position as a locus for the exchange of votes and offices, but policy decisions are to an increasing extent taken in fora beyond the territorially established frame of politics involving a wide array of state and non-state actors. More specifically, this implies
- the delegation of powers for the (further) integration of policy fields;
- the institutional development at the supranational and national level;
- the electoral process and patterns of representation in European Union politics;
- the imprint this political organization leaves on the international stage;
- the validity and explanatory power of the central concepts of political science for the study of European Union politics.
One of the most important questions in European integration research is why member states are willing to pool authority, to deepen integration by subjecting new policy fields to the logics of the single market, and to further limit their room of political discretion. The asymmetric logic of integration, i.e. the variability across policy fields, does not lend itself to one simple answer. We rather have to study the different degrees of integration and explain the difference of integration methods, instruments and objectives. Depending on the research question, a methodological pluralism is applied.
Decades of research about the nature of the beast have revealed detailed insights into its working, its peculiarities and specificities. While the changing nature via widening and deepening still requires meticulous studying this has also led to a certain navel-gazing and the neglect of analysing the footprints this beast leaves on the international stage. Incrementally absorbing competencies in the formerly second pillar, the Union is today asserting its position as an international actor. Research in this area is concerned with how the EU is trying to increase its relative power position in the international system by means of either traditional power projection or by the export of rules. This understanding is rooted in the fact that after almost 60 years of integration the major transformations have been firmly established and that it is time to concentrate on the analysis of its effects also beyond the EU’s borders.
Largely unnoticed, the almost sixty years of integration have also rendered some of political science’s central concepts problematic. Concepts like sovereignty and authority, representation and accountability, coined mainly during the rise of the nation-state in the 19th century, have to be reassessed. The relationship between vote and office as one mainly based on territorial characteristics, so that democratic governments can be made responsive to the interests and opinions of the people at large and not simply to particular sectors of society, is increasingly challenged by the widening gap between actual policy-making and symbolic politics, by the rise of soft-law instruments clouding responsibilities, by increasingly powerful transnational players and decision-making arenas, and by the marginalization of parliamentary politics.