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95 Working Paper

Does the European Union Strengthen the State? Democracy, Executive Power and International Cooperation

2002 William Phelan


Many observers have suggested that the strengthening of executives vis-à-vis other political actors, in particular national parliaments, has been one of the principal effects of European integration (and perhaps international cooperation more generally) on national democracies, with democracy being “perverted” and parliaments becoming “rubber stamps.” Moravcsik (1994) has argued that there were four theoretical ways in which international cooperation could “strengthen the state,” by redistributing institutional power, initiative (agenda-setting), information and ideas in favor of the executive in Europe. However, consideration of domestic politics in Europe shows that elites are already – for exogenous reasons – dominant in institutions, initiative and information. In Europe, therefore, the “strong” executive is not a product of European integration, and the reverse may even be true: that the dominance of the executive in national political systems has been a prerequisite for the success of European integration – that European openness has been built on national political closure. More generally, assessments of the impact of international cooperation on democracy should measure the effect of international cooperation at the margin on the existing characteristics of particular national democratic systems.