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Why do EU Member States Offer a 'Constitutional' Obedience to EU Obligations? Encompassing Domestic Institutions and Costly International Obligations

William Phelan


The member states of the European Union obey the obligations of the European treaties in a manner resembling states or provinces under a federal constitution. Existing explanations for this extraordinary obedience to international law should be rejected because they assume, incorrectly, that national legislatures cannot unilaterally legislate contrary to European Community law, or contain unexplained assumptions that relevant public goods will be reliably provided. This paper proposes a new explanation: the EU member states obey the European ‘constitution’ because domestic political institutions in the EU member states are ‘encompassing’: centralised and orientated towards large constituencies that benefit from the provision of public goods. The paper therefore offers a new answer to a long standing puzzle about the European Union as well as applying concepts from collective action theory to explaining the effectiveness of a prominent international regime.

Last updated 28 August 2014 by IIIS (Email).