Over recent decades, the nature of the nation state has changed. Globalisation, free markets, supranational organisations, privatisations and regional devolutions have all played their part in ‘hollowing-out’ the state and shifting political scientists’ attention away from government to governance.
As we have noted, this is a process that has occurred considerably in the European context. We cannot really talk of a European government (and it remains to be seen if we ever will), but as we have noted in this module, governance across the EU space is something that is increasingly carried out by actors at differing political levels.
The EU is a multi-level polity and this fact is demonstrated in particular by the European Union’s regional policy and EU law. Regional policy creates a governance link directly between the EU and the regions, and through the various funds we discussed earlier, the EU finances projects and enacts governance in areas that in the past would have been the sole preserve of member state governments.
The EU legal system also crosses actor levels through the now well established principle of the supremacy of EU law. In certain policy areas, individuals at a sub-national level can take each other or their state to (a national court) based on law passed at a supranational level. Often, they can also appeal the decisions of national courts at a supranational level.
All of these factors have a profound effect on the EU polity and give rise to many questions regarding the very nature of the EU and of its relationship with its member states.
Continuing this train of thought, in the next section we will focus on theories of EU integration, where we shall address some of the weightiest and most thought provoking issues that have challenged and continue to test scholars of the European Union.