Thomas Risse: The Europeanisation of EU member states

Thomas Risse“In general, no single EU member state investigated in this volume is more likely than others to change its institutional structure in response to Europeanization pressures.”


Thomas Risse, born in 1955, is Professor and Chair of International Politics at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Freie Universtität Berlin. From 1997 to 2001 Risse was Professor for International Relations at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence. His main interests include theories of international relations and problems of transnational governance.

The impact of Europeanisation on institutional change is not limited to aspiring members. As the EU continuously changes and evolves, with new regulations and directives passed every day, old member states have to change, too.

How this actually happens is the topic of “Transforming Europe – Europeanization and Domestic Change”, a 2001 book co-edited by Thomas Risse, Maria Green Cowles and James Caporaso.

Risse understands “Europeanisation” not as the transposition of EU rules and procedures at the national level, but as “the emergence and development at the European level of distinct structures of governance”, to which member states then have to adapt.

Conceptually, the crux of his argument is this:

“Europeanization changes nation-states by exerting adaptational pressures. Europeanization by itself is a necessary but not sufficient condition for domestic change. When there are changes at the European level, the first question one must ask is how closely these changes fit with what already exists at the domestic level. Poor fit implies strong adaptational pressure; good fit implies weak pressure. A country whose domestic institutions are perfectly compatible with Europeanization experiences no adaptational pressure. In such a case, we expect no domestic institutional change.

Where adaptational pressures exist, we do not necessarily foresee significant domestic change. National and subnational governments may simply avoid doing anything to respond, in which case there will be an implementation deficit. Whether or not a country adjusts its institutional structure to Europe will depend on the presence or absence of mediating factors.”

Risse and his colleagues identify five such mediating factors: multiple veto points, mediating formal institutions, political organisation and cultures, differential empowerment of actors, and learning.

These factors play out differently in different countries. Though Europeanisation pressures led to domestic adaptation in eight out of the ten cases examined in the book (from gender equality and telecommunications to environmental policy), Risse and his colleagues could not identify a simple explanatory pattern or model.

“In general, no single EU member state investigated in this volume is more likely than others to change its institutional structure in response to Europeanization pressures.”

While Europeanisation has brought about new and distinct structures of government, these are not modelled after any of the individual old member states. “The alleged European ‘top of the class’, Germany, faces as much adaptational pressure across a variety of issue-areas as the European ‘laggard’, Britain.” As Risse writes in the introduction,

“Strong movements in Europeanization as well as strong adaptational pressure do not necessarily translate into domestic structural change. These forces must pass through and interact with facilitating and/or obstructive factors specific to each country.”

While it is the individual case studies (see for example Alberta Sragia’s text on the transformation of Italy’s public finances before the Euro) that provide more concrete insights, Risse and his colleagues make an important conceptual contribution.

“Europeanization does not result in the homogenization of domestic structures. Member states face varying degrees of adaptational pressures to the ‘regulatory patchwork’ of EU rules and regulations. Different factors restrain or facilitate their adaption to these Europeanization pressures. Yet, the transformation of domestic structures takes place all the same, oftentimes in rather fundamental ways.”

  • Maria Green Cowles, James Caporaso, and Thomas Risse (eds),¬†Transforming Europe. Europeanization and Domestic Change, Cornell Univ. Press, 2001. Introduction (pp. 1-20) and conclusions (pp. 217-237).
11 August 2009