Tim Büthe
Current and recent research and papers
on European integration and the EU

An important line of my research deals with the European Union (EU) and the process of European integration.  A key theoretical concern of this work has been to develop a more actor-centric historical institutionalist theory of European integration, building on--and going beyond--the early work of Ernst Haas and other scholars in the theoretical tradition often labeled as "neofunctionalism."  My objective in this work is to spell out the micro-foundations of a historical institutionalist account of European integration and work out the causal mechanisms that have remained underspecified in much of the earlier literature.  This yields an explanation of institutional change in the EU, which moves beyond the statist/inter-governmentalist approach without being functionalist.

Empirically, I am especially interested in EU competition policy and the process by which the EU acquired real, supranational powers of antitrust enforcement, merger review, and (less exclusively and effectively) control over competition-distorting government subsidies to European companies.  Other empirical work has focused on the process of EU enlargement, including public perceptions of European integration.  This work focuses on the experience with (the pursuit of) EU membership by Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Austria.

I also follow current developments in European/EU politics closely and have discussed for instance the implications of the French and Dutch rejection of the EU "Constitution" for the Duke News Service and National Public Radio's Public Affairs Hour (KPCW, Park City, Utah, 6/6/2005).  See also my Fall 2005 review of John Gillingham's European Integration, 1950-2003 in the Journal of Cold War Studies.


Institutional Change & EU Competition Policy

55 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."  Manuscript (revise & re-submit 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.



European Union Enlargement: Turkey in Comparative Perspective

In two recent papers, I examine the prospects of Turkish EU membership—as well as its likely consequences—in comparative perspective.  The Turkish case is interesting because it appears to be an outlier that may yield insights into the nature and limits of European enlargement:  Turkey has had an Association Agreement with the EU since 1964 and applied for full membership in April 1987, little more than three years after its return to democracy in November 1983.  After initially declaring the Turkish application premature and unwelcome, the EU changed its position in the 1990s.  It confirmed Turkey's "eligibility" for membership in 1997, noted "significant progress" toward meeting the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, declared Turkey "a candidate State destined to join the Union" in 1999, and started accession negotiation in October 2005.  Even now, however, Turkish membership remains controversial and uncertain.  Why?  The first paper addresses this question broadly.  The second focuses on one of the most prominent political concerns about Turkey and asks hypotheticaly whether EU membership would strengthen Turkey's democracy.  Both papers analyze the Turkey in comparison with the Mediterranean countries that became member states in the 1980s.

"The Promise of Turkish EU Membership: A Comparative Analysis." (with Özgür Gencer)  Unpublished manuscript, Duke University/UC Berkeley, June 2009.

Turkey started its accession negotiations with the EU in 2005.  After four years, the outcome remains uncertain as the prospect of Turkish EU membership continues to cause controversy among EU governments as well as the general public.  Documents and statements from the EU Commission, Council, and other sources assert that Turkey is "different" from all previous applicants.  Often these differences are cited as reasons for opposing Turkish EU membership.  This paper analyzes the alleged differences, from geography, population size, and economic backwardness to religious or cultural differences and the imperfections of Turkey's democracy.  We consider each of these concerns comparatively, focusing primarily on Spain and secondarily on Greece and Portugal as the most comparable prior candidates for accession.  We find not only that virtually every argument put forth against Turkish accession has been made against one or more of the current Southern European EU members in the past, but also that Turkey is today, on most dimensions, very similar to those countries when they were candidates.  The alleged differences, therefore, do not provide a credible basis for denying Turkey EU membership.  At the same time, Turkey, like Spain, Portugal, and Greece before it, would benefit from full EU membership in areas such as democratic consolidation and minority rights.  And the EU, too, would gain from Turkish membership.

"Would EU Membership Strengthen Democracy in Turkey?  Lessons from the Spanish Experience." (with Seema Parkash)  Unpublished manuscript, Duke University, August 2009.

Concerns about the stability of Turkey's democracy are among the most prominent concerns about Turkey's application for EU membership.  Yet, democracy is not just simply a prerequisite for EU membership.  Numerous scholars have credited the EC/EU with strengthening democracy in countries that became members within a few years of a transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime.  Indeed pro-democracy groups in Turkey have supported EU membership in part because they hope and expect it to contribute to the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.  But are such hopes warranted?  Would EU membership strengthen Turkish democracy?  How exactly might EU membership have such an effect?  These questions are theoretically interesting as well as important for public policy since the effect of EU membership on democracy has important implications for how the EU should handle Turkey's application for membership.  We seek to answer these questions through an analysis of the effect of EC/EU membership on democracy in Spain, which is in many respects the most comparable country to have become an EU member state in recent decades.


Public Opinion and EU Enlargement

My recent work on EU enlargement builds on earlier work, in which I focused primarily on public opinion.  How do citizens of current and potential future EU member states view the European Union and the process of European integration?  Is the EU, in the eyes of citizen-voters just a free trade zone, a means for economic policy coordination, or a political institution?  And can we understand public perceptions of the EU in terms of the broader theories of European integration?  I have explored these questions in a series of papers, focusing empirically on the public debate and referendum over EU membership in Austria in 1994.

European Union & National Electorates:  The Austrian Public Debate and Referendum on Joining the European Union.  Program for the Study of Germany and Europe Working Paper No.5.8.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for European Studies, June 1995.

This paper presents my initial exploration of public perceptions of EU membership theoretically and empirically, based on a content analysis of the public debate over whether or not to join the EU, in the run-up to the Austrian referendum of 1994 and a statistical analysis of district-level referendum results.  The empirical analysis is documented here in far greater detail than in the later papers that draw on the Austrian referendum data.

"The Domestic Politics of European Integration:  Public Opinion, Referenda, and EU Membership."  (with Mark Copelovitch and William Phelan)  Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, New Orleans, March 2002. <download paper text> <download figures>

Integrating insights from realist intergovernmentalism, liberal intergovernmentalism, neofunctionalism, comparative and international political economy, this paper develops a general deductive model of public perceptions of EU membership that grounds the study of this issue more firmly in the general theoretical literatures on European integration and public opinion.  We specify this general model inductively for the Austrian referendum on EU membership in 1994, based on a qualitative analysis of the public debate preceding the referendum.  We then test the model quantitatively using several statistical techniques to analyze the referendum results: OLS regression of data from Austria's 121 political administrative districts to estimate effects for low-level aggregates of EU citizens-to-be and Gary King's maximum likelihood-based ecological inference technique to estimate individual-level effects.  Consistent with the general model, we find that highly political considerations—especially the potential for transnational coalition building through EU institutions—were important determinants of the variation in support for EU membership within the country, along with aggregate and individual-level economic considerations.  This paper goes beyond the 1995 working paper by offering a theoretical discussion that is more self-consciously grounded in the larger theoretical debates over European integration and by adding, thanks to cooperation with Mark Copelovitch and Will Phelan, an ecological inference analysis to the statistical section.




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