Diffusing the EU Model? The European Union’s Influence on Global Regionalism

Prof. Dr. Tobias Lenz
2015 - 2017
Daimler and Benz Foundation



Research Questions
How and under what conditions does the institutional model of the European Union (EU) influence the design of other regional organisations?

Contribution to International Research
The first theoretical contribution is to the debate on the impact of EU foreign policy and the EU’s wider influence in world politics. With the exception of a few single or comparative case studies, there has been little systematic analysis of the influence of the EU on the emergence and evolution of regional organisations, especially outside the enlargement context and its direct neighbourhood. This research project generates new data – both large-N and small-N – with which to evaluate the influence of the EU institutional model on regional institutional design elsewhere. It thereby seeks to advance our understanding of the ways in which and the conditions under which the EU affects the design of other regional organisations.

The second theoretical contribution is to the debate in Comparative Regionalism and International Relations on the drivers of regional integration. While existing theories of regionalism primarily locate them inside the respective regions, this project focuses on one specific external driver, i.e. influence emanating from the EU. It thereby promises to enhance our understanding of the ways in which and the conditions under which such external drivers are likely to matter, and how they interact with internal conditions.

The project also has major policy relevance. Promoting regional integration is one of the EU’s main foreign policy objectives, to which substantial resources have been dedicated over the past decades. Yet we know little as to whether this objective has been achieved, and which of the EU’s policy instruments has been most relevant in this respect. The project also seeks to generate policy-relevant insights into the conditions under which different EU strategies are more or less likely to succeed.

Finally, it promises insights into whether the EU’s attractiveness as a model has undergone change over time, with repercussions for predictions on whether the current Euro-crisis affects the EU’s wider attractiveness in the world.

Research Design and Methods
The main objective of the research project is to assess the EU’s influence on regional institutional design empirically based on a mixed methods design. It combines a large-N quantitative analysis of the conditions under which EU isomorphic diffusion matters cross-sectionally and over time with in-depth case studies on the causal pathways by which it affects the design of selected regional institutions.

For the quantitative analysis, the project draws on existing data on regional institutional design that the author was involved in collecting as part of his post-doc (see CV for details). Marks et al. (forthcoming) develops an index of supranationalism that captures variation in the institutional design of 35 regional organisations, including all major regional organisations in existence today, between 1950 and 2010. The delegation element of this index can be used, with minor modifications, as the dependent variable of the research project. Marks et al. (forthcoming) also provide data on many of the relevant control variables that can be used. New data collection, therefore, is largely confined to the independent variables posited by the four hypotheses. The salience of EU discourse can be estimated by drawing on the Google Ngram – a tool that is increasingly being used to measure change in global discourses (Michel et al. 2011). The collection of data on trade and investment interdependence, budget data and EU contributions as well as on EU contacts with other regional organisations has been successfully piloted for three organisations during my PhD work based mainly on existing datasets and publicly available documentation. Completing the dataset for the full 35 organisations thus appears to be feasible within the time frame of this project. The resulting dataset will be analysed using a variety of cross sectional pooled time series statistical techniques.

The case studies seek to detail the variety of causal pathways by which the EU institutional model affects the design process in other regional organisations. The main aim of the qualitative analysis is two-fold: first, to demonstrate how these pathways operate in regard to different regional institutions and second, to show how the diffusion of the EU institutional model is dependent on facilitating organisational characteristics in some pathways, i.e. to illustrate the ‘insides’ of the statistical interaction terms. The analysis will focus on three regional institutions that serve different purposes: the creation and empowerment of a regional parliament to secure organisational legitimacy, the creation of a supranational court to secure compliance with commitments, and the creation of a commission with an exclusive right to agenda-setting in order to protect the collective interest against capture by individual member states. For each of these three institutions, I plan to conduct a paired comparison that focuses respectively on a pathway whose influence is unmediated and one whose influence depends on facilitating conditions. Organisational pairs are primarily chosen on the basis of their representativeness in the larger sample – they ought to constitute typical cases. Methodologically, this analysis is based on process tracing, relying mainly on interviews with policy-makers and other relevant actors as well as on relevant primary documents.

Research Team

Research Programme