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5.2 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

The Path to European Integration: A Historical Institutionalist Perspective

1995 Paul Pierson


Many European and American observers of the EC have criticized "intergovemmentalist" ac­ counts for exaggerating the extent of member state control over the process of European integra­ tion. This essay seeks to ground these criticisms in a "historical institutionalist" account that stresses the need to study European integration as a political process which unfolds over time. Such a perspective highlights the limits of member-state control over long-term institutional de­ velopment, due to preoccupation with shorHerm concerns, the ubiquity of unintended conse­ quences, and processes that "lock in" past decusions and make reassertions of member-state control difficult. Brief examination of the evolution of social policy in the EC suggests the limita­ tions of treating the EC as an international regime facilitating collective action among essentially sovereign states. It is ore useful to view integration as a "path-dependent" process that has pro­ duced a fragmented but still discernible "multitiered" European polity.