Completed and Ongoing Research on EU Competition Policy

60 years ago in Messina, Italy, six West European countries started several months of negotiations, at the end of which they barely agreed to a general customs union under the name European Economic Community.  Since then, the European Union (as it is now known) has become one of the most important institutions in the international political economy and world politics.  Not only does it provide a structure within which national governments and transnational interests interact, but in some issue areas, the EC/EU has become an important actor in its own right, with genuinely supranational powers.  What explains this phenomenal institutional change?  I analyze EU institutional change in the realm of competition policy--specifically in antitrust enforcement, merger review, and the regulation of "state aids" (government subsidies/assistance to firms)--where the EU has been transformed from an ineffective, marginal actor to one of the most crucial players in the international political economy.

"Institutional Change in the European Union: Two Narratives of the Evolution of European Commission Merger Control Authority, 1955-2004."  Conditionally accepted at International Organization)

Antitrust enforcement and the related authority to review and control mergers are essential for making a market economy work.  Merger review is also among the most prominent powers of the European Commission in the Common Market of the EU.  How did this supranational actor come to acquire such power?  I develop an actor-centric historical institutionalist theory of institutional change, which integrates elements of rational choice and social constructivism.  I argue that it provides a superior explanation of the institutional development of the European Commission's authority to review and regulate mergers from the 1950s negotiations that cumulated in the Treaty of Rome through the most recent institutional changes in 2003/04.  I contrast the account of the evolution of merger control authority that follows from my actor-centric historical institutionalist theory with the impoverished and partly incorrect empirical account suggested by an inter-governmentalist understanding of the evolution of EU merger control.

"The Evolution of Supranational Antitrust Enforcement and Control of Government Subsidies in the EU."  Unpublished manuscript, Duke University/UC Berkeley, 2009.

This paper builds on "Institutional Change in the European Union," in which I have argued that an actor-centric historical institutionalist theory of institutional change provides a compelling explanation for the evolution of merger control authority in the EU.  Such a theory recognizes that institutional change may arise out of intergovernmental bargaining.  The critical insight, however, is that institutional change can occur even when the member states oppose it, provided that sub-national actors, using the political opportunity structures of the supranational institutions, act jointly with supranational actors, each pursuing their own, selfish interests.  This paper presents something of an "out-of-sample" test of the theory developed in my work on merger review, that is, a test of the ability of the theoretical model to help us understand or explain observations beyond those for which it was developed, though within its scope conditions.  Specifically, I use it to analyze the evolution of EU antitrust enforcement, where the Commission attained supranational authority much earlier than in the realm of merger review, and control over state aid (subsidies), which the Commission has attained later and less exclusively.

"The Politics of Merger Control: Understanding the Divergent EU Merger Review Decisions in GE-Honeywell and Boeing-McDonaldDouglas."  (co-authored with Gabriel Swank)  Unpublished manuscript.

We analyze the European Commission's decisions in two of the most prominent recent EU reviews of mergers between multinational corporations.  We show that, despite a high level of politicization, consistent application of the legal-political doctrine of the EU's Directorate General Competition, rather than the preferences of member state governments, explain the seeming puzzle that the merger between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas was approved (despite affecting the commercial interests of Boeing's principal competitor and European "champion" Airbus), while the General Electric (GE)-Honeywell merger was rejected (although no prominent European firms had a clear stake in it). DG Comp's insistence on doctrine and procedure directly follows from the its longer-term political interests, as identified by the actor-centric historical institutionalist theory developed in my previous work.

 

I developed key ideas for the above papers initially as a re-statement of neofunctionalism (a terminology from which I have moved away in more recent work).  This approach is reflected in a working paper by the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, where I started to develop some of the original ideas while I was a Conant postdoctoral fellow in 2002/03, and a chapter for the State of the European Union volume on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome:

The Politics of Antitrust and Merger Review in the European Union: Institutional Change and Decisions from Messina to 2004.  (with Gabriel Swank)  CES Working Paper No.142.  Cambridge, MA: Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, November 2006.

Merger control is among the most prominent powers of the European Commission in the Common Market of the EU.  How did this supranational actor come to acquire such power in this realm?  And what explains the variation in DG Competition's decisions in some of the trans-atlantically most controversial merger review cases in recent years?  In this paper, we develop a modified neofunctionalist theory and argue that it provides a superior explanation of (1) the institutional development of the European Commission's competence in antitrust and merger review matters from the 1950s negotiations over the Treaty of Rome through the changes of 2004 and (2) DG Competition's decisions in some of the most prominent cases, where a high level of politicization makes a neofunctionalist explanation least likely.
An earlier version of this paper was awarded the prize for best paper presented at the 2005 Biennial Conference of the European Union Studies Association.

"The Politics of Competition in the European Union: The First 50 Years."  In Making History: European Integration and Institutional Change at Fifty (The State of the European Union, vol. 8), edited by Sophie Meunier and Kathleen R. McNamara.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2007: 175-194.

This chapter broadens the historical institutionalist analysis of the paper on merger review to the entire portfolio of EU competition policy.  I briefly introduce my re-statement of neofunctionalism, understood as a historical institutionalist theory of institutional change, focusing on the hypothesized causal mechanisms that emphasize sub- and trans-national actors pushing for greater integration in pursuit of their own, selfish interests.  I then sketch the institutional evolution of EU competition authority in antitrust enforcement, merger review/control, and state aids (subsidies) from the provisions in the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Rome through the most recent developments.  I show that a slightly modified neofunctionalism can explain institutional change over time--better and more fully than alternative theoretical approaches--and it can explain the variation across the issue areas of competition policy.

 

 

 

 

 

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