Theorising European Integration: revisiting neo-functionalism and testing its suitability for explaining the development of EC competition policy?

Lee McGowan


When Ernst B. Haas presented neofunctionalism (NF) as the first theory of European integration in the late 1950s in his analysis of the European Coal and Steel Community his approach seemed both highly innovative and plausible. However, doubts were cast on its suitability following the apparent slow-down in integration in the 1960s and 1970s. Although neofunctionalism enjoyed a renaissance in the wake of the single market in the 1980s it is generally regarded in retrospect, that Haas’s approach, although intriguing, was overambitious. Critics maintained that not only could neofunctionalism not fully account for member state preferences, but was in essence a theory of elite integration. Are these correct assumptions? Although no serious commentator on EU affairs endorses the 1950’s definition of NF in its entirety it should not be dismissed so casually. Something was happening and radical and revolutionary advances were being in terms of supranational governance in specific policy fields as later generation of researchers advocated in the late 1990s. This article explores the evolution of competition policy against the backdrop of the neofunctionalist literature. Its purpose is twofold. It seeks to advance a stronger awareness of competition policy among regional integration theorists and secondly, to encourage more competition policy researchers to delve deeper into theories of European integration.


governance, integration theory, neo-functionalism, supranationalism, competition policy, European Commission, political science

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