Controversy in the Garden of Concepts: Rethinking the “Politicisation” of the EU


In this article, we suggest a novel conceptual framework for understanding and analyzing EU politicisation. Recent studies on EU politicisation argue that the post-Maastricht era led to the politicisation of EU integration via an increasing citizens’ dissatisfaction. Until then, politics had played only a minor role. Contrary to this account, we argue that European integration has been from the beginning a political process, but an unusual one. To capture its uniqueness we introduce the concepts of politisation as a precondition of politicization and of politification as a depoliticised modality of politicisation. Politicisation is then not something new to EU integration but rather it is constitutive of EU integration itself. We further argue that understanding politicisation requires taking a closer look at its relationship to “politics” or “political”, as it is essential to spell out the respective understanding of this key concept – Grundbegriff in Reinhart Koselleck’s sense. The interpretation of what is considered as politicisation depends on the interpretation of what is politics/political. We argue in favour of rethinking the concept of politics and its relationship to politicisation in terms that avoid spatial and functional metaphors. To capture the power dynamics involved in European integration, we aim at an understanding of EU politicisation that is at once more historical and based on an actor-oriented perspective on the political. On this basis we discuss the main conceptual weaknesses of studies on EU politicization and conclude by developing some points of our alternative conception.

©Niilo Kauppi, Kari Palonen, Claudia Wiesner

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