Essays on the political economy of European integration

Montanari, Marco (2007) Essays on the political economy of European integration, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Economia, 19 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/485.
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Recently, a rising interest in political and economic integration/disintegration issues has been developed in the political economy field. This growing strand of literature partly draws on traditional issues of fiscal federalism and optimum public good provision and focuses on a trade-off between the benefits of centralization, arising from economies of scale or externalities, and the costs of harmonizing policies as a consequence of the increased heterogeneity of individual preferences in an international union or in a country composed of at least two regions. This thesis stems from this strand of literature and aims to shed some light on two highly relevant aspects of the political economy of European integration. The first concerns the role of public opinion in the integration process; more precisely, how economic benefits and costs of integration shape citizens' support for European Union (EU) membership. The second is the allocation of policy competences among different levels of government: European, national and regional. Chapter 1 introduces the topics developed in this thesis by reviewing the main recent theoretical developments in the political economy analysis of integration processes. It is structured as follows. First, it briefly surveys a few relevant articles on economic theories of integration and disintegration processes (Alesina and Spolaore 1997, Bolton and Roland 1997, Alesina et al. 2000, Casella and Feinstein 2002) and discusses their relevance for the study of the impact of economic benefits and costs on public opinion attitude towards the EU. Subsequently, it explores the links existing between such political economy literature and theories of fiscal federalism, especially with regard to normative considerations concerning the optimal allocation of competences in a union. Chapter 2 firstly proposes a model of citizens’ support for membership of international unions, with explicit reference to the EU; subsequently it tests the model on a panel of EU countries. What are the factors that influence public opinion support for the European Union (EU)? In international relations theory, the idea that citizens' support for the EU depends on material benefits deriving from integration, i.e. whether European integration makes individuals economically better off (utilitarian support), has been common since the 1970s, but has never been the subject of a formal treatment (Hix 2005). A small number of studies in the 1990s have investigated econometrically the link between national economic performance and mass support for European integration (Eichenberg and Dalton 1993; Anderson and Kalthenthaler 1996), but only making informal assumptions. The main aim of Chapter 2 is thus to propose and test our model with a view to providing a more complete and theoretically grounded picture of public support for the EU. Following theories of utilitarian support, we assume that citizens are in favour of membership if they receive economic benefits from it. To develop this idea, we propose a simple political economic model drawing on the recent economic literature on integration and disintegration processes. The basic element is the existence of a trade-off between the benefits of centralisation and the costs of harmonising policies in presence of heterogeneous preferences among countries. The approach we follow is that of the recent literature on the political economy of international unions and the unification or break-up of nations (Bolton and Roland 1997, Alesina and Wacziarg 1999, Alesina et al. 2001, 2005a, to mention only the relevant). The general perspective is that unification provides returns to scale in the provision of public goods, but reduces each member state’s ability to determine its most favoured bundle of public goods. In the simple model presented in Chapter 2, support for membership of the union is increasing in the union’s average income and in the loss of efficiency stemming from being outside the union, and decreasing in a country’s average income, while increasing heterogeneity of preferences among countries points to a reduced scope of the union. Afterwards we empirically test the model with data on the EU; more precisely, we perform an econometric analysis employing a panel of member countries over time. The second part of Chapter 2 thus tries to answer the following question: does public opinion support for the EU really depend on economic factors? The findings are broadly consistent with our theoretical expectations: the conditions of the national economy, differences in income among member states and heterogeneity of preferences shape citizens’ attitude towards their country’s membership of the EU. Consequently, this analysis offers some interesting policy implications for the present debate about ratification of the European Constitution and, more generally, about how the EU could act in order to gain more support from the European public. Citizens in many member states are called to express their opinion in national referenda, which may well end up in rejection of the Constitution, as recently happened in France and the Netherlands, triggering a European-wide political crisis. These events show that nowadays understanding public attitude towards the EU is not only of academic interest, but has a strong relevance for policy-making too. Chapter 3 empirically investigates the link between European integration and regional autonomy in Italy. Over the last few decades, the double tendency towards supranationalism and regional autonomy, which has characterised some European States, has taken a very interesting form in this country, because Italy, besides being one of the founding members of the EU, also implemented a process of decentralisation during the 1970s, further strengthened by a constitutional reform in 2001. Moreover, the issue of the allocation of competences among the EU, the Member States and the regions is now especially topical. The process leading to the drafting of European Constitution (even if then it has not come into force) has attracted much attention from a constitutional political economy perspective both on a normative and positive point of view (Breuss and Eller 2004, Mueller 2005). The Italian parliament has recently passed a new thorough constitutional reform, still to be approved by citizens in a referendum, which includes, among other things, the so called “devolution”, i.e. granting the regions exclusive competence in public health care, education and local police. Following and extending the methodology proposed in a recent influential article by Alesina et al. (2005b), which only concentrated on the EU activity (treaties, legislation, and European Court of Justice’s rulings), we develop a set of quantitative indicators measuring the intensity of the legislative activity of the Italian State, the EU and the Italian regions from 1973 to 2005 in a large number of policy categories. By doing so, we seek to answer the following broad questions. Are European and regional legislations substitutes for state laws? To what extent are the competences attributed by the European treaties or the Italian Constitution actually exerted in the various policy areas? Is their exertion consistent with the normative recommendations from the economic literature about their optimum allocation among different levels of government? The main results show that, first, there seems to be a certain substitutability between EU and national legislations (even if not a very strong one), but not between regional and national ones. Second, the EU concentrates its legislative activity mainly in international trade and agriculture, whilst social policy is where the regions and the State (which is also the main actor in foreign policy) are more active. Third, at least two levels of government (in some cases all of them) are significantly involved in the legislative activity in many sectors, even where the rationale for that is, at best, very questionable, indicating that they actually share a larger number of policy tasks than that suggested by the economic theory. It appears therefore that an excessive number of competences are actually shared among different levels of government. From an economic perspective, it may well be recommended that some competences be shared, but only when the balance between scale or spillover effects and heterogeneity of preferences suggests so. When, on the contrary, too many levels of government are involved in a certain policy area, the distinction between their different responsibilities easily becomes unnecessarily blurred. This may not only leads to a slower and inefficient policy-making process, but also risks to make it too complicate to understand for citizens, who, on the contrary, should be able to know who is really responsible for a certain policy when they vote in national,local or European elections or in referenda on national or European constitutional issues.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Montanari, Marco
Dottorato di ricerca
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
Political economy European integration
Data di discussione
12 Giugno 2007

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