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BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor E. Zeff and Ellen B. Pirro, eds., The European Union and the Member States, 2nd edition, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006

Keeping abreast of developments in the rapidly evolving European Union is a challenging enterprise. Specialists in EU politics have been busily addressing the institutional, political, and policy implications of the recent enlargement. Assessing the implications of these developments for the domestic politics of member states, and seeking to identify and explain variations in the role of different members, and of their compliance with Union policies, has proceeded in a more intellectually distributed fashion. In the main, this dimension of European politics has been left primarily to country specialists who were forced by the growing significance of the EU context to consider the progress of the “Europeanization” of domestic politics. In this respect, the first edition of Eleanor Zeff and Ellen Pirro’s book made a significant contribution to our understanding of the EU when it was published in 2001 by assembling a group of experts in the politics of the member states and asking them to prepare a chapter focusing on the role of individual member states in the machinery of EU governance, and their performance in implementing EU policy.

There have been countless changes in the European context and in the EU itself in the intervening five years between the first and second editions of this book that make the appearance of this revised and updated version both welcome and timely. Most importantly, of course, the membership of the EU underwent its single most significant – and controversial – enlargement, increasing by 10 member states (from 15 to 25) over this period. This wave of enlargement saw the incorporation of eight former communist regimes from Eastern Europe and the two Mediterranean island states of Malta and Cyprus. Increased membership in turn prompted the most significant constitutional and institutional reconfigurations in the EU, focused on the European Convention that concluded in 2003 (although the future of the new constitution it promulgated remains uncertain at this time).

The chapters of this valuable book offer an impressive “bottom up” view of the new Europe. Following an introduction by the editors, and a helpful overview of the European policy process by John McCormick, are 18 country-specific (and occasionally groups of countries) chapters. Country studies are grouped by the time frame of the states’ accession to the Union, from the original six members through successive enlargements that culminate in the 2004 round. This facilitates comparison of the domestic dimension of EU politics among countries with roughly the same period of exposure to EU affairs.

Also facilitating and encouraging of state-to-state comparisons is the format of each country (or country group) chapter, which are organized around six core questions. Each chapter begins with a consideration of the background of the state’s accession, asks how and in what areas the EU has influenced the member state, how and in what areas the state has influenced the EU, how the state has performed in compliance with EU directives and policies, where the state stands with respect to the current impasse concerning the EU’s constitution, and in conclusion, a look ahead at the states’ prospects within the Union.

What emerges from these chapters is a coherent and accessible overview of the striking diversity of the European dimension of political life across the member states. Of course, many of the differences we see today in the Union stem from the underlying chronology of growth (with new members being less influenced, and less influential, than longer-standing ones). However, even within each cohort of countries there are significant differences that can be variously attributed to such factors as the demographic size and economic and political power of the country, the cultural background of its people, the level of political centralization or decentralization, and the level of professionalism and organizational capacity of the public sector and judicial system. Also revealing are the comparisons between the 1980s and the latest expansions, in which states with low wage labor markets, relatively short-lived experience with liberal democracy, and economies that were dominated by the agricultural sector, were admitted.

Readersof this book will therefore be left with not only a renewed appreciation of the political and other forces that operate at the European level, but also with a fine-grained understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise in the process of integration as they appear locally, at the level of the member states. The valuable insights make this volume highly profitable reading for specialists in the domestic politics of the member states as well as of EU political dynamics. I enthusiastically recommend this book to both audiences.

Munroe Eagles

University at Buffalo – The SUNY

POSTED April 16, 2007