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Informal Governance in the European Union: how governments make international organisations work

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Mareike Kleine
Cornell University Press (November 2013)

The European Union is the world’s most advanced international organization, presiding over a level of legal and economic integration unmatched in global politics. To explain this achievement, many observers point to its formal rules that entail strong obligations and delegate substantial power to supranational actors such as the European Commission. This legalistic view, Mareike Kleine contends, is misleading. More often than not, governments and bureaucrats informally depart from the formal rules and thereby contradict their very purpose. Behind the EU’s front of formal rules lies a thick network of informal governance practices.

If not the EU’s rules, what accounts for the high level of economic integration among its members? How does the EU really work? In answering these questions, Kleine proposes a new way of thinking about international organizations. Informal governance affords governments the flexibility to resolve conflicts that adherence to EU rules may generate at the domestic level. By dispersing the costs that integration may impose on individual groups, it allows governments to keep domestic interests aligned in favor of European integration. The combination of formal rules and informal governance therefore sustains a level of cooperation that neither regime alone permits, and it reduces the EU’s democratic deficit by including those interests into deliberations that are most immediately affected by its decisions. In illustrating informal norms and testing how they work, Kleine provides the first systematic analysis, based on new material from national and European archives and other primary data, of the parallel development of the formal rules and informal norms that have governed the EU from the 1958 Treaty of Rome until today.

  • Dr Mareike Kleine is Lecturer in EU Politics in the European Institute at LSE.

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"Informal Governance in the European Union is a fascinating and important book that takes a fundamentally new approach to informal cooperation in international politics. Mareike Kleine theorises that informal governance norms serve as a means to provide discretion to states facing unexpected domestic political shocks. She deftly explores how these informal politics play out in the European Union, but the implications of the work extend far beyond the EU to many areas of international politics."
Mark A Pollack, Professor of Law and Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair, Temple University, author of The Engines of European Integration: delegation, agency and agenda setting in the European Union

"In the well-written and accessible Informal Governance in the European Union, Mareike Kleine presents a general theory of the emergence of informal governance and tests some of the key empirical implications of this theory in the European Union. Her theoretical argument is novel and clearly articulated, and her qualitative analyses examine a broad range of stages of the EU's legislative process."
Robert Thomson, University of Strathclyde, author of Resolving Controversy in the European Union

"Informal Governance in the European Union is a fascinating and fresh look at the politics of the European Union. Mareike Kleine moves beyond the formalistic analysis of institutional rules to investigate the politics behind the scenes, and she convincingly demonstrates that informal governance is a key ingredient that makes European integration possible."
Randall W Stone, University of Rochester


Informal Governance in the European Union