A historical interpretation of the process of European integration

Authored by: Antonio Varsori

Routledge Handbook of European Politics

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415626750
eBook ISBN: 9781315755830
Adobe ISBN: 9781317628361


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The historical literature on European integration appears to have finally reached a stage of maturity. The teleological or ideological viewpoints that had characterized many of the preliminary analyses in this field have been largely abandoned, and more recent studies seem to address the events related to the integration process in a more detached fashion (for a recent historiographical survey, see Loth 2008; Kaiser and Varsori 2010). In fact, although political scientists in particular have consistently sought to develop theoretical explanations for what has transpired in the European context since the late 1940s, historians continue to show a certain reluctance to deal with long-term dynamics or to attempt explanations that take into account the changes and ruptures that have occurred in the process of European construction (Loth 2009). The very term ‘construction’ seems inappropriate to the author, and it will be used in this article only for the sake of simplicity, with recognition of the fact that it entails certain serious inherent contradictions that often weaken attempts to analyse and explain the complex dynamics of the various periods of what is commonly referred to as European integration. This is not merely a matter of semantics, as the use of terms such as ‘construction’, ‘integration’, ‘founding fathers’, etc. introduces misunderstandings (both in the historiographical debate and in the political sphere) that certainly do not facilitate the comprehension of a process that has undergone such radical changes over the decades that it now vastly differs from its original character – to the extent that between the late 1940s and today a variety of forms of European integration can be observed. These forms have fluctuated on the basis of developments in the political, economic and social evolution of the ‘Old World’, as well as the transformations that have characterized international events in the global dimension. In this context, the term ‘integration’ or ‘construction’ of the European Union becomes a kind of ‘container’ in which it is possible to identify various and sometimes conflicting phenomena and processes. In order to offer observations or interpretations of this development, it is therefore important to refer to a periodization that will facilitate the identification of turning points and changes in what we will continue to call, for the sake of convenience, ‘European integration’.

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