In Lieu of a Conclusion
In Lieu of a Conclusion
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter reflects on the comments which the book's co‐editor, the late Vincent Wright, might have made on the arguments advanced by the contributors, had he lived to read their final drafts. Vincent relished ‘the joys of complexity’ and would have approved of the variety of ways in which the contributors recognized the complexities of the national policy‐making processes which have underpinned the European integration process.
Vincent Wright, my co‐editor, and Jack Hayward's close long‐standing friend, died in July 1999, some months prior to the submission of this manuscript to OUP. He was the ideal person to have edited a book such as this. He had collaborated with Jack for some thirty years—they first wrote together in the early 1970s. Their association in fact predated their meeting. When Vincent was appointed to a post at Newcastle, Hugh Berrington wanted to double check on this Young Turk who had been appointed. He therefore sent a copy of Vincent's thesis to Jack for a second opinion. Jack happily pronounced himself impressed. When the two finally met, over a drink after a day in the Bibliothèque Nationale in late 1960s, it was the start of a friendship and academic partnership that stood the test of time.
This is not the place for a eulogy of Vincent or for an assessment of his contribution to the study of the politics—and history—of Western Europe.1 Vincent had, however, agreed—or rather volunteered—to write the conclusion to this volume. This is not a gap I could even aspire to fill. Few could rival Vincent's ability to impose a degree of order and clarity on hideously complex issues, or to bring together clearly, logically and, above all interestingly, themes as diverse as those addressed in this volume (for good examples see Wright 1997, 1995). Moreover, although Vincent and I did discuss the first drafts of most of the chapters, his illness meant that we did not have the opportunity to talk in detail about what he intended to write in this conclusion.
However, it is appropriate to mention, if only briefly, some of the themes and issues which he had planned to address. Having worked alongside and with him for several years, I acquired a certain familiarity with his thinking on the general themes raised in this book. Perhaps the first point Vincent would have made relates to what he was fond of referring to as the ‘joys of (p.247) complexity’. Paradoxes, contradictions, ambiguities, and ambivalence abound in this volume. Perhaps fittingly, many of these concern France. The country which has arguably done more than any other to shape and to encourage European integration finds some of its more enduring traditions—state and Republic to name but the two addressed by Grémion—directly challenged by it. As Hoffmann puts it (Chapter 5), ‘France has been both the main initiator of European integration . . . and a recurrently hesitant and reluctant participant in a process that, it feared, was beyond any national control.’
The sheer complexity of the relationship between nation states and the European Union made Vincent sceptical about theoretical endeavours intended to encapsulate that interaction in simple models. Indeed, he was sceptical of ‘any doctrine or system that he saw as crowding out the complexities of ordinary people and of real life’ (Whitehead, 1999). He was, in the words of perhaps his closest collaborator in his later years, ‘a true Oakshottian . . . instinctively distrustful of orthodoxies—whether political, intellectual or academic’ (Hazareesingh 1999). Thus, in typical fashion, Vincent encouraged one of his then doctoral students to openly and vigorously challenge what appeared to be becoming an orthodoxy concerning the applicability of the network approach to the EU (Kassim 1994). Richardson's chapter in this volume represents the next phase of what has been an ongoing debate on this subject. Hine's chapter, whilst drawing to good effect on insights derived from the study of constitutional change at national level, likewise tells a cautionary tale to those who are willing too quickly or unquestioningly to accept that the EU can be analysed as ‘a state like any other’.
Forder's chapter on the shortcomings of the economic models from which the structure of EMU has been derived would have particularly delighted Vincent, a political scientist who ‘did not like economists as a breed, being rightly sceptical of their claims and their intellectual imperialism’ (Atkinson 1999). Similarly, Elie Cohen's nuanced contrast of the realities of the EMU process with the assertions and predictions of the mainstream theoretical approaches serves as a reminder of the shortcomings of such explanations. Yet Vincent would also have appreciated the fact that both these authors take economics seriously as a subject—if not as a discipline. Indeed, a central theme in both chapters is the idea that a better understanding of the economics of contemporary Europe might have led to different outcomes in the EMU process, avoiding some of the worst excesses—Cohen refers to Fitoussi's notion of ‘sado‐monetarism’—along the way.
Along with his scepticism concerning theories and their applicability to myriad different contexts, Vincent's own writings on the elusive notion of Europeanization revealed the complexity and subtlety of his thought. Certainly, on an empirical level, he acknowledged that the European level (p.248) exerted a powerful influence over domestic actors and policy choices. In a typically wide‐ranging essay on the state and major enterprises in Western Europe (Wright 1995: 342), he wrote that the ‘Union . . . has increasingly redefined many of the ground rules which determine state–industry relations’. He also suggested that the Union is engaged in ‘redefining existing political arrangements . . . altering traditional domestic policy networks . . . creating incipient Europe‐wide networks . . . triggering institutional change . . . and in reshaping the opportunity structures of both member states and firms’ (Wright 1995: 343). He would have concurred with Hoffmann's comment that there are ‘very few policy areas that can be handled without reference to or interference from European institutions and policies’, and with the findings of Berrington and Hague, who conclude with the striking assertion that: ‘the very dynamism of the European Union has shown a capacity to discompose the conventional assumptions and snug certainties of British politics. In the past, political analysts and commentators used to look searchingly within the British body politic for auguries about the future of the British polity. Perhaps they should now look eastward across the sea.’ Vincent also believed that the pressures exerted by the EU posed a challenge to the social sciences themselves by calling into question the validity of traditional theories and approaches. Peter Hall illustrates how developments connected with European integration have affected the explanatory ability of traditional approaches to political economy. Acknowledging that European integration has ‘altered both the terrain and the modalities of policy‐making’, he argues that a new approach to the subject—the ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach—is better able than any of its predecessors to explain the crucial developments in the European political economy. In particular, he makes the point that it is not enough for political economists to be in a position to understand and explain the impact the European Union has had on economic policy and policy‐making in its member states. Rather, they must also seek to explain why it is that, despite the undoubted scale and importance of this impact, it has not fostered more marked convergence between the policies and institutional structures within them.
Colin Crouch speaks more of the implications that European integration ought to have for sociology than of existing achievements, sociologists in general having been slow to respond to European‐level developments. Crouch sees the problem as stemming from sociology's uncomfortable identification of society with nation state. But he also sees considerable scope for the enrichment of sociological analysis when the subject finally comes to grips with the European theme, particularly in the area of class analysis.
The challenge of the EU applied equally to the strand of political science literature for which Vincent felt the greatest affinity: historical institutionalism (Wright 1997: 174). Indeed, in his own work on the state in Western (p.249) Europe (Müller and Wright 1994; Cassese and Wright 1996), he, much like Jobert in this volume, argued that a fundamental transformation was occurring in the most important of all western political institutions, a transformation partly, if not entirely, spawned by integration. As he put it in his own inimitable way, his research led him to the conclusion that:
there is a major process of state restructuring . . . at work, that the process is nationally differentiated, that countervailing pressures are evident (decline in one area, growth in another), that pressures upon the nation state are sometimes exploited as opportunities. That within the state apparatus there are winners and losers resulting from the reshaping process, that decentralisation and Europeanization should not be construed as zero‐sum games, that popular demand for state intervention remains high, and that the nation state, with all its problems, remains, for most citizens, the principal repository of legitimate authority. (Wright 1997: 174)
Virtually all the themes raised here are picked up in one form or another by contributors to this volume. Jobert deals explicitly with the way in which the state has been reshaped, setting out, as he puts it, and in a turn of phrase Vincent would have appreciated, to trace ‘the passage from earlier assumptions made about the withdrawal of the state to the complex processes for reordering the public domain that characterise contemporary Europe’. Mény points to the multifarious ways in which the EU affects national political structures and the incentives and attitudes of actors within nation states, whilst Cohen illustrates how, at least in France, integration provided an opportunity for élites keen to bring about a shift in the direction of French economic policy (see also Jobert, in Chapter 11). Both Crouch and Hall question, to a greater or lesser extent, the pertinence of treating states as the primary unit of analysis in their respective fields, with Hall in particular, in advocating the varieties of capitalism approach, stressing the centrality of the firm as an actor in the political economy of Western Europe.
Whilst his institutionalist leanings made him acutely aware of the importance of the EU, and cynical of the overly simplistic transaction‐cost reducing approach to it adopted by many Intergovernmentalists, Vincent was not naïve enough to believe that the undoubted, and occasionally profound and unwanted, impact of the EU on national policies and institutions implied the demise of the nation state in Western Europe. Confirmed, if complex, Jacobin that he was (Wright 1997: 174), Vincent was fond of pointing out that the ‘Union's bureaucratic system is shot through with national officials and influences’ (Wright 1996: 161; see also Kassim and Wright 1991). I well remember the startled faces of both the audience and the invited seminar speaker when he loudly proclaimed during the question‐and‐answer session following a seminar on the EU (Vincent's proclamations were often ill‐disguised as questions) that the ‘EU should construct a monument to Margaret Thatcher. She built and shaped the EU of today.’ What he was getting at was the fact that, (p.250) whilst European integration has certainly placed great pressures on many of its member states, certain of them have succeeded more effectively than others in shaping its development. ‘Integration’, therefore, cannot be treated simply as some kind of external pressure acting upon states. It is also a creation, and creature, of those states.
Here various strands of his work came together. Vincent's criticism of integration theories was not based on a denial of the fact either that—as neofunctionalists claim—integration has placed unexpected pressures on member states, or that—as intergovernmentalism asserts—member states play a crucial role in shaping the development of integration. Rather, his scepticism was largely methodological. He often complained that contemporary theories of European integration tend, almost invariably, to infer process from outcome, thereby ignoring the importance of policy‐making within both the EU and the individual member states. Vincent's work on public administration underlined the importance of this omission. During the course of his last two years, he devoted a lot of time to studying the different ways in which national administrations have reacted to the imperatives of European integration (Wright 1996; Kassim et al. 2000, 2001). Whilst his focus was essentially on administration and not policy outcomes, he was clear that the effectiveness of the former was intrinsically linked to the nature of the latter. In a short piece we co‐wrote, an attempt was made to illustrate, in a tone that was less polemical than that Vincent had employed in the seminar room at Nuffield, how Britain has influenced the direction of integration more profoundly than many in this country seem to believe, thanks in no small part to its administrative efficiency (Menon and Wright 1998).2
Thus, although complexity certainly militated against overly simplistic theorizing, Vincent did not believe that explanations for the nature of the interactions between states and EU could not be found. Rather, these were, in Vincent's view, highly contingent on context: national context, temporal context, and institutional context. When he talked about his plans for this conclusion, this ‘hesitant comparativist’ (Wright 1997) spoke of the need to underline the crucial role of national peculiarities in explaining why it is that the various member states have reacted differently to and been affected in contrasting ways by, European integration. Ed Page's Chapter 9 on the applicability to the EU of the co‐ordinate mode of production appealed to him, not only because the thrust of the argument sits easily with his own (p.251) claims about the extent to which national influences pervade the EU, but also because it combines the twin ambitions of placing specific phenomena in a wider analytical context whilst being sensitive to empirical reality.
Most importantly of all, Vincent planned to use this conclusion as a way of paying tribute to one of his oldest and dearest friends. Jack and he went back a long way. Vincent was instrumental in bringing Jack to Oxford, where I had the privilege of working with both of these simultaneously formidable and eminently personable colleagues. For a young academic engaged in research on France and the EU, there could hardly have been a more stimulating, nor a more supportive environment within which to embark on an academic career. As mentioned earlier, Jack and Vincent's friendship and intellectual collaboration date back several decades, and were continually being renewed. At the time of his death, Vincent was involved in an ambitious, cross‐national research project addressing the issue of core executive co‐ordination in Western Europe (Hayward and Wright, forthcoming; Wright and Hayward, forthcoming). Typically, and, it has to be said, annoyingly, he managed, seemingly effortlessly, to write a piece capturing the essence of the sector on which I was busily—and ineffectually—carrying out research (Wright 1996).
It was because of his friendship with and respect for Jack that Vincent worked so hard to put together and complete this book. By raising important questions, and by challenging students of West European politics to find convincing explanations for the complexities, unpredictability and sheer messiness of its findings, I hope that it would have satisfied him, and will satisfy the man whose tremendous contribution to the field it honours.
Atkinson, Tony (1999). Introductory remarks at the memorial service in honour of Vincent Wright.
Cassese, Sabino, and Wright, Vincent (eds.) (1996). La Recomposition de l'état en Europe (Paris: La Découverte).
Hayward, Jack and Wright, Vincent (ed.) (forthcoming). Governing from the Centre: Co‐ordination and the Core Executive in France (London: Macmillan).
Hazareesingh, Sudhir (1999). Remarks at the memorial service in honour of Vincent Wright.
Kassim, Hussein (1994). ‘Policy Networks, Networks and European Union Policy‐Making: A Sceptical View’, West European Politics, 17/4 (Oct.): 15–27.
Kassim, Hussein, and Wright, Vincent (1991). ‘The Role of National Administrations in the Decision‐Making Processes of the European Communities’, Revista Trimestrale Di Diritto Pubblico, 3.
—— Peters, Guy, and Wright, Vincent (eds.) (2000a). EU Policy Making (Oxford: OUP).
Menon, Anand, and Wright, Vincent (1998). ‘The Paradoxes of “Failure”: British EU Policy Making in Comparative Perspective’, Public Administration and Public Policy, 13/4: 46–66.
Müller, Wolfgang C., and Wright, Vincent (eds.) (1994). The State in Western Europe: Retreat of Redefinition? (London: Cass; special issue of West European Politics, 17/3).
Whitehead, Laurence (1999). Concluding remarks at the memorial service in honour of Vincent Wright.
Wright, Vincent (1995). ‘Conclusion: The State and Major Enterprises in Western Europe: Enduring Complexities’, in J. Hayward (ed.), Industrial Enterprise and European Integration: From National to International Champions in Western Europe (Oxford: OUP).
—— (1996). ‘The National Co‐ordination of European Policy‐Making: Negotiating the Quagmire’, in J. Richardson (ed.), European Union: Power and Policy‐Making (London: Routledge).
—— (1997). ‘The Path to Hesitant Comparison’, in H. Daalder (ed.), Comparative European Politics: The Story of a Profession (London: Pinter).
—— and Hayward, Jack (eds.) (forthcoming). Governing from the Centre: Core Executive Co‐ordination in Comparative European Perspective (London: Macmillan).
(1) Those interested can refer to the record of the memorial held in Vincent's honour at Nuffield College.
(2) It is a matter of great regret to me that we were unable to complete a far more ambitious comparative piece on the same theme before Vincent's death. Our thoughts were presented at the final conference of the ESRC's Whitehall programme in Birmingham. Much of the presentation was scrawled (illegibly) by Vincent on the train there. On our arrival, he suggested that I should present it whilst he—in a fit of uncharacteristic modesty as I thought at the time—sat in the audience. Once I had struggled through the talk, he proceeded to bombard me with questions and criticisms—principally directed at the sections he had written.