This contribution will provide a short analysis of the concept of “path dependence” and its relevance for understanding the European Union (EU). It is assumed that apart from the official (documented) objectives which are supposed to put Europe on a specific track of peace, prosperity, multilateralism, human rights, democracy etc., in reality a very ambiguous process is unfolding. In contrast to the universalistic declarations and intentions, the real process depends very much on the diverse “path dependencies” of member states. The question is whether or not member states’ patterns can balance in a single “path dependence” of the EU as such. This constellation which is becoming more complex with each enlargement makes any prediction about the future of the EU increasingly uncertain. Under these circumstances, any prediction by self-proclaimed goals or programmes is in danger of becoming waste paper. Nevertheless, one can try to identify a number of future scenarios for the EU. In this contribution the likelihood of network-state, federation, empire and protectorate as possible futures for the EU will be discussed. The concept of “path dependence” will provide the integrating thread for this discussion.
Although the European Union can look back over five decades of its history, never before has the future of the project first called European Community (EC) and now European Union (EU) been so uncertain as it is today and never before has the future of the European societies been so much linked to the fate of this undertaking.
The rejection of a “Constitution for Europe” by the French and Dutch electorate in May and June, 2005, is only the most obvious demonstration of this uncertainty. Although there seems to be no lack of information about the EU – particularly in relation to enlargement and the Convention that produced the Constitutional Treaty, numerous “think tanks,” research centres and academic institutions have started to suggest ideas for the “future of Europe” – its value for political orientation and action as well as for a better understanding of the EU as a historical phenomenon is highly questionable.
There are, of course, plausible reasons for this : 1) the complaint that not enough has been done to circulate the available information and to “explain” the EU to the common people, and 2) the one dimensional character of “visions” pointing to the future as well as materials dealing with a deeper understanding (“essence”) of the whole undertaking. Concerning the former, the call for such an ambitious project as the EU to get “closer to the people” is certainly justified and a sine qua non for its success. However, it is not only lack of “communication” which obscures the EU project. Concerning the latter, with “one dimensional” I mean the self-definition of the EU whereby everything from education to culture to politics is subordinated to economic ends. Today, anything which is not in essence neoliberal and politically correct, both with a universalistic pretension, is practically excluded from the main thread of EU discourse. This intellectual dogmatism narrows the abilities to anticipate and discuss future developments.
After more or less successfully completing the Single Market, the EU elites embarked on the project of a Political Union as the “logical” next step in the evolution of European integration. The publicly most visible event in this undertaking was the Convention to prepare a Constitution for Europe in 2002/2003. Barely was the resulting Constitutional Treaty (CT) ratified by the head of states it was already refused in referenda by two of the founding nations of the EU (France and The Netherlands) in May and June, 2005. Is anything else needed to raise more doubts about the anticipation capacity of key actors in this game ? Anybody curious to learn something about the future political shape of the EU by following the discussions and negotiations in the Convention was pointed to the rather conventional distinction between “inter-governmentalism” and “federalism”. In face of the historical task to negotiate a Constitution for such a complex political space as the European Union this conventional and narrow approach was astonishing. Similar intellectual limitations seem to rule the policy of enlargement. At the end, nothing else seems to count except “bigger” (market size) and “faster” (economic growth). The implication is an extreme reduction in the perception of historical processes and consequently a poor anticipation capacity as we are witnessing now with the Constitutional Treaty.
One way to counter the narrowing in the discourse about the EU is to permit more imagination, invite paradigmatic diversity (e.g. not only the economists’ view), support thinking in alternatives and remind actors that “history matters”. I know that this suggestion alone could cause and would deserve a plethora of discussions what I do not intend here. Simply think about how the EU has changed the academic landscape of Europe not only through financial programming but even more so by projecting certain expectations about what is intellectually desirable and what not. Under this influence Europe has changed intellectually and with it the approaches and abilities to anticipate the future. My contribution here cannot be more than a sketch of possible futures for the EU and it leads to two approaches : scenario technique and path dependence, methods which play much too small a role in the planning and discussions about the future of the European Union.
Four scenarios to anticipate the political EU
The European Union is not necessarily identical with what is propagated and commonly perceived : this is a basic assumption for what will follow. Of course, the picture which is present in the public is not uniform either. It depends on awareness, political interests, culture, social context etc. A very prominent vision is, for example, the presentation of the EU as a “service for Europe” protecting the members states against unfavourable consequences of globalisation. This picture is fostered, how could it not be, by actors and beneficiaries of EU institutions and policies as well as by large segments of the European elite. On the opposite side of the scale are visions like the EU as an emerging transnational dictatorship comparable with the Third Reich or the Soviet Union. Such visions are for example widely shared among members of the British anti-EU movement (EU = European Soviet). What have most of the publicly communicated pictures of the EU in common is that they are interest based and as such restricted views (ideologies) of reality. To escape the temptation to follow ideological views it is necessary to consider the whole bandwidth of signals we can receive from a system like the EU and trying to get order into the available data. The latter could be achieved by scenario technique.
Scenarios are illustrations of the future which can help to understand change and the conditions of change. They should be plausible and internally coherent illustrations of the future and try to avoid value judgements. To suggest a scenario requires background knowledge, some intuition and the ability to synthesize. Intuition is helpful but not sufficient. Scenarios are not a projection or a prediction of the future but can help to find out likely directions. With respect to EU there is no shortage of scenarios as far as sectoral futures are concerned. Such scenarios reach from economic growth via immigration to financial redistribution among member states. Rare are global scenarios as such which deal with the general political shape of the EU. If such scenarios exist they seldom reach the public, often not even the academic discourse about the EU.
A good example for such a neglect seem to me the five scenarios produced by a Forward Studies Unit of the European Commission in 1999 (Gilles/Michalski/Pench 1999). It is available at the homepage of the Commission but I have rarely seen it referred to or quoted. The scenarios suggested for 2010 are (1) “Triumphant Markets”, (2) “The Hundred Flowers”, (3) “Shared Responsibilities”, (4) “Creative Societies” and (5) “Turbulent Neighbourhoods”. These scenarios are derived from a very broad and differentiated data base and takes advantage of the cumulative expertise available in the Commission. Despite this strength, the imaginations about the future of the EU as a political system consisting of institutions and policies remains rather vague. Less systematic – however more thought-provoking – ideas about the future political shape of the EU can be found in scattered publications of the French think tank europe2020. For example, in a scenario from 1998 the director of europe2020, Franck Biancheri, suggest the possibility of the EU falling into the hands of “post modern great grand sons of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and Petain” by 2009 (see also “Vision 2020 : Reinventing Europe 2005-20020” by F. Biancheri, http://www.franck-biancheri.info/en/analyses.php ). Here and there one can also find ad hoc scenarios after “dramatic” developments like the French and Dutch referendum (e.g. the Economist Intelligence Unit published such scenarios on the 16th of June, 2005 ; http://www.store.eiu.com ). In contrast to these scenarios which are cursed to an almost Cinderella-like existence, there are visions of the EU which have been strongly publicized internationally and among European elites. Surprisingly, they all come from American authors and picture the EU simply as the appropriate political response to globalisation – without a question mark (Castells, 1996 ; Kagan, 2003 ; Rifkin, 2004 ; ).
These officially embraced and fostered images of EU “futures” are more or less all based on globalisation theory : The European Union as an avant-garde of globalisation, but at the same time post-historical, overlooking the fact that “globalisation” itself is a rather illusive concept (Robertson 1992 ; Albrow 1993 ; Albrow 1996 ; James 2001 ; Khor 2001). Nevertheless, nobody will deny that, for example, the “four freedoms” (mobility of capital, labour, services and citizens) characteristic to the EU identity (Somek, 2003) also serve globalisation. Still, there are more characteristics which tend to reappear in discussions. One is the perviousness of state boundaries. This the EU has accomplished at least among its member states (“Schengen”) to an extent like nowhere else on the globe. Other basic characteristics of globalisation frequently mentioned are free movement of investments (portfolio as well as Foreign Direct Investment ; Euro Area), more international trade (the EU is the world’s number one trading block), the development and assimilation of electronic media with global potentials (Sat-TV, Internet, mobile phones), the emergence of globally active trans-national companies and global brands, facing increasing migration and trans-border movement, and, last but not least, an increase in informal but also illegal trans-border activities. Finally, it is believed that the functions of the nation states are taken over by newly emerging trans-national actors. Is this the European Union (Olsen, 2003) ?
Indeed, many of the aspects mentioned for globalisation can be found with the EU. Still, the overall picture remains hazy and ambiguous, hence highly dependent on the ideological position of the observer. Former Commission President Jacques Delores has been quoted for having compared the EU with an “Unidentified Flying Object” (UFO). Having studied EU Communications, listened to politicians and experts, followed the representations of public opinion in the media, debated with friends and colleagues etc. I have come to recognize four identities (“scenarios”) this “UFO” could take on in a not so distance future (20-30 years), each covering some of the described globalization aspects, but containing additional considerations of historical processes and circumstances :
Scenario 1 – Network State : The European Union is seen as the paradigm for globalization pointing to the future when similar unions will be established on other continents. Maybe politically the globalised world will become a union of unions the argument goes. In this understanding the EU could be seen as an avant-garde project of history where Europe is again suggesting a political model for the world. In the centre of this model is the supranational network state (Castells, 1996) and its primacy of negotiation and communication in politics. Nation states continue to exist as nodes in the network structure. The sovereignty they “pooled” in supranational bodies provide a new type of power founded much more on laws, rules, negotiations and cooperation than on military might. Literally speaking more a power from “Venus” than from “Mars” (Kagan, 2003).This view can be frequently found among political scientists and some members of the Commission.
Scenario 2 – The Federation : The European Union is seen as a Federation or even quasi nation comparable with states like the USA, India or China. Phrases like “ever closer union” of European states, making Europe into the most advanced economy on the globe, fostering the European model of society, promoting cohesion by redistributing income from the richer to the poorer regions of the Union, promoting “European values”, Europe as a “global player” etc. point in this direction. The EU is seen as a state in making its own nation, i.e. “nation building” on a continental scope. The Constitution as an important leap forward in an “irreversible” process. The concept of EU citizenship, fundamental rights, the search for a European public space, the battle for more power to the European Parliament etc. could provide the elements for this new nation. A latent support for such a development exists mainly in continental Europe.
Scenario 3 – The Empire : The European Union is seen as an Empire comparable with previous multi-ethnic empires like the Habsburg and Ottoman Empire. Strong evidence for this is the difficulty EU elites have agreeing on the final external border. Also in defence, a ‘Rapid Reaction Force’ to enforce “European values” around the world is more an imperial than a national concept. Under the circumstances of the 21st century such an empire could easily materialize as a ‘corporate dictatorship’ – the global rule of big business, inheriting the US as a new agency for Westernization. The advent of information society has made the reach of this goal considerably more likely. In fact, the new information technologies are used in the EU bureaucracy already to an extent that one is inclined to call it an “empire by mouse click”. Although originally EU was only meant as a European undertaking, global ambitions are coming more and more to the surface.
Scenario 4 – The Protectorate : From a fourth perspective the European Union could simply be seen as an agency for implementing and standardizing economic liberalism in Europe, just another regulatory structure like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) or the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If this is accompanied by simultaneously promoting the Anglo-American model of society one could speak of the EU as an agency of Americanisation (“Copy America shop !”). This view would be congruent with assumptions that the term globalization is just another euphemism for the interests of the US as the new hyper power. In a radicalised version of this view, EU institutions would turn out to be agencies of US interests if not US government subsidiaries in Europe, the European Union as a US protectorate. As such their main function would be to reduce the political complexity of Europe for the global Hegemony. And indeed, the ambiguity of the EU as a phenomenon also permits such an interpretation. Arguments, like the EU has to have a president because the White House needs to know whom to call or the habit of post-communist candidate countries to speak about the EU in one breath with “Transatlantic institutions” point in this direction. Further indications are the continuing presence of US troops and bases in EU member states, but also the view many American intellectuals have of the EU as basically “powerless”.
It is obvious that each of these scenarios has some plausibility, yet which one will translate into reality remains undecided. Certainly, with each coming decade the picture will be clearer, however oscillations between the scenarios are also possible. The battle is still on. Speaking about “battle”, I did not consider the scenario that European integration will be terminated and the member states return to the mere intergovernmental mode of relations. Although, there are presently indications from opinion polls, referenda, media reports, expert opinions etc. which could be interpreted in such a direction, I do not believe that the end of the EU in one or two generations would be a realistic scenario.
From each of the scenarios specific consequences for all kinds of social, economic, cultural and political parameter can be derived. Democracy, for example, can probably be best saved in Scenario 2 (“Federation”), provided that a procedure for a satisfying political representation of the extremely complex configuration of interests in the EU can be found. On the other hand, to balance power between small and large member states (Magnette/Nicolaidis, 2003 ; Baldwin/Widgren, 2004) Scenario 1 (“Network State”) appears to be the most appropriate, because here the inter-governmental element is the strongest, although on a multilateral basis.
It goes without saying that the chance of each scenario to unfold in reality depends on the complex constellations of a variety of factors which in their impact on the development of the EU are difficult to assess whether by politicians, sociologists or political scientists. What makes predictions difficult already on the national level might multiply on supra-national level. For example, who can really say today what impact the French “non” and the Dutch “nee” to the proposed Constitutional Treaty (CT) will have on the further development of the EU. After all, a rejection was expected first of all by the English and Danish. Or take the decision to pursue deregulation of global trade and investment. Will the flooding of European markets with cheap Chinese textiles strengthen or endanger political integration or is it a neutral factor ? Will China and India really rise to a level of power where they can challenge the West militarily ? What role will the demographic imbalance with Africa play ? Is the United States, as a mature economy, on an upward swing as statistics seem to indicate or is it already in decline to a medium or even insignificant power ? – a derive from its rapidly changing cultural composition or to the increasing dependence on foreign capital. How does either of it effect the chances of the scenarios to unfold ? Question after question ?
And even if these and many other factors are carefully scrutinized with respect to their relevance for the unfolding of any certain scenario, it will be the reliability and validity of our paradigm (theoretical looking glass) which will determine how much of the historical process we recognize and how appropriate political actions will turn out. No doubt, the world view of those who shape EU policy today is strongly based on neo-classical or neo-liberal concepts and perspectives. I will not go into this, although it has tremendous consequences for the development of the EU and for what it is today. Particularly, because the application of this paradigm does not stay with the economy where it belongs but begins to dominate the understanding of non-economic societal sectors as well. One shortcoming of neo-liberal theorizing is that it does not recognize history or reduces it to a never ending universalistic process of “natural selection”. From this point the task of the EU is simply to implement “best practice” (members) and any state which accepts the respective criteria qualifies for candidate status (Kochenov, 2004). I know, this a great simplification, but my intention here is only to point to the fact, because not only the recognition of scenarios but also the policy we tend to base on them will depend on our theoretical (not to confuse with “ideological”) view.
Path-Dependence If we accept that history or “strategic biography” counts, what does that mean for our scenarios ? First of all, we will have to consider the history of Europe and the history (“strategic biography”) of each member state and candidate country. However, the history of Europe is not simply adding up the stories of its political components but a different reality where the weight of its individual components is difficult recognize. It is similar with the role of member states for the future of the EU. We know that France has a different policy than, let’s say, Finland, but what are the consequences of that. Maybe knowledge about where France and Finland come from – their distinct “strategic biography” – can give us some clues about the future of the EU as both countries are members. One “biographical” difference which should immediately raise attention is that France carries the heritage of a colonial power and Finland does not. France shares this quality with Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium and to a lesser extent with Germany and Italy. Finland on the other side never had the opportunity to dominate but shares with some other EU members the fate of a late stepping into history. If we follow the reasoning of “path dependence” (Arthur, 1994 ; Goldstone, 1998 ; Stark/Bruszt, 1998 ; Greskovits, 2002), these distinctive different historical experiences should be significant for their role in the struggle for the future shape of the EU. Proposition : For the Europeans with colonizing experience, the EU is a substitute for lost empires. However, they know that it is a different type of empire where they have to share in decision making, although with the Single Market this new Empire provides similar advantages as the former colonies (Böröcz et al., 2001). It is this historical heritage from where the forces which Scenario 2 (“Federation”) and Scenario 3 (“Empire”) need to unfold (“ever deeper Union”) could come.
But, this “colonial” camp inside the EU is not homogenous. Obvious are the rivalries between France and Britain and recently also between Germany and Italy at the occasion of a reform of the UN Security Council. However, it is Britain which has taken on the most ambiguous role in this constellation, whereas the “colonialists” on the Continent have inherited enough prerequisites to establish at least a Federation (Scenario 2) if not revive “Empire” (Scenario 3). Britain, like the Scandinavian countries, although deeply European, remains a kind of albino in this circle, because it was never affiliated with the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, it remained constantly involved in Continental affairs from the Crusades to present days. Additional historical factors which complicate the role of Britain (UK) are its incredible success as a colonial power in the 18th and 19th century and the emergence of the United States of America which made it from a former British colony to world power. This makes Britain to an extremely ambivalent member when it comes to design the future of the EU. On the one hand it wants to take economical and political advantage of this unique historical undertaking, on the other hand it has no experience for a longer period in sharing power with Continental governments. Its own Empire was lost with World War II and being the European “poodle” for the US is no attractive option in the long run – hence, the emphasis on the Single Market. At the same time Britain is aware that the Single Market as a commercial empire cannot be sustained without appropriate political structures. It is no accident that concepts like “network state” (Scenario 1) or globalisation both originated in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Additionally, from all the former European colonialists Britain is probably still the most attached to the idea of “Empire”. However, the realistic possibilities in this direction which the EU offers irritate for historical reasons. Nobody would be surprised if tomorrow Britain would suggest a “Transatlantic Union” (Scenario 4) replacing or incorporating the EU. Many British policies go in that direction. It is just that the historical window of opportunity has not arrived yet, although Britain seems to count with the New Member States (NMS) as allies for a project binding the EU to the US. And, indeed, there are a few reasons why some of the NMS (G3) could be tempted to enlist with such a project (Sabic/Bukoski, 2002 ; Segbers/Imbusch, 2000). The main reason is again historical experience – path dependence. Throughout modern history all these new members have been roughly in the zone of influence of Germany (“Deutsches Reich”, Habsburg Austria) and Russia. In these relations their political extinction was frequently at stake and the enemy of the enemy was consequently a friend. After World War II, from today’s perspective, Soviet Russia was the enemy and the US was the main enemy of Soviet Russia. Hence, it should be no surprise that now the US is considered a friend, at least within the post-communist elites, whereas the powers of the EU (Germany, France) were seen as more suspicious due to their previous “Realpolitik” towards the Communist rulers. But the main reason for the Transatlatic (and British) preferences of this group of member states might still be the historically founded anxiety of Germany (now seen as sticking together with France). On the other hand, the population of the post-communist NMS has a much greater cultural and economic affinity with their immediate (Germany, Austria, Italy etc.) and near (France, Belgium, The Netherlands etc.) Western neighbours than with the Anglo-Saxon world, despite a considerable emigration across the Atlantic in the past. Today Germany is by and large the most important investor and trading partner for these countries and at the same time also the most promising labour market. With respect to the latter : Although the access to the German labour market is officially restricted for citizens from the NMS for seven years, there are according to estimations more of them already working in Germany than in the UK with its liberal labour regime. Adding to this their great economic interdependence with Core-Europe, they might not stay on the Transatlantic ticket in the long run. One should also not forget that in several of the NMS, especially in former Habsburg lands, a reassessment of history is taking place which leads to a more balanced view of the rule of this dynasty. In contrast to Britain, due to its own historical path for the “Return to Europe Group” (G3) Scenario 4 (“Protectorate”) should rather be an escape scenario in case of threats from stronger neighbours, first choice should be Scenario 1 (“Network State”) but also support for a “Federation” (Scenario 2) is under certain circumstances likely.
Finally, there are two more EU groupings which – due to their specific historical experience – are relevant for the question which scenario has more chance to become reality. One group comprises the Scandinavian members (G3), the other (G4) those Mediterranean members which in their history were rather victims than promoters of colonization (Greece, Cyprus and Malta). Although, the Scandinavians (Sweden, Finland and Denmark) appear sometimes close to the UK in their EU policies, they form a separate strategic group mainly due to their special model of capitalism which distinctly separates them from the UK (as well as from the US). Besides that, they seem to have a strong desire for national independence which makes it unlikely that they would contribute to Scenario 4 (“Protectorate”). That Finland and Sweden define themselves still as non-aligned if not “neutral” is an indicator for this strong sense for independence. However, this independent-mindedness is also a factor which makes them resist a stronger integration of the EU (Scenario 2, Scenario 3). Because of this I would call the Scandinavian group the “Independent”. The Mediterraneans, although like the Scandinavians geographically at the periphery of the EU, do not have the same degree of freedom to act. Although they are similarly independence minded, they do not have the economic capacity to bolster such visions. For most of modern history they were objects of stronger neighbours (Greece, Cyprus) or/and remote colonial powers (Malta/Cyprus). It is a rough assessment, but I would assume that they could live with any of the scenarios, hence I call them the “Indifferent” (G4).
Table 1 Affinity of Path Dependence with Global EU Scenarios (+++ high, ++ medium, + low, indifferent)
|Scenario 1 “Network State”||Scenario 2 “Federation”||Scenario 3 “Empire”||Scenario 4 “Protectorate”|
|G1 : “Colonial Heritage”||(UK, ++)||++||+++||(UK, +++)|
|G2 : “Return to Europe”||+++||++||+|
|G3 : “Independent”||+++||+|
|G2 : “Indifferent”|
G1 = United Kingdom, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria ; G2 = Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia ; G3 = Sweden, Finland, Denmark, (Ireland) ; G4 = Greece, Cyprus, Malta
After having related path dependence and scenarios one could try to estimate how strongly each group of countries (G1 – G4) is likely to contribute to making individual scenarios real “futures” (Tab.1). In Table 1 it is also assumed that one and the same “path” can be significant for several scenarios, although with different degrees of “desirability” from the perspective of the “path”. It also goes without saying, that despite a principle communality which makes a country belong to a group, considerable intra-group variations do exist. Nevertheless, it is a theoretical frame which can help to discuss EU under new perspectives. For example the French “non” to the Constitutional Treaty could not be interpreted as a rejection of the EU project, but as the expression of an anxiety that the CT might not enough honour the historical path of French society. I consider this approach also useful for a deeper understanding of the process of enlargement. It is essentially the historical path of a country and not abstract “strategic interests” which define a national position in this matter. In other words, any enlargement which negates the path dependence of member states is risky. Of course, path dependence also raises doubts that EU policies could really abolish economic inequality between member states in the long run.
Summary and Conclusion This contribution began with a concern about what is generally anticipated as the future of the European Union. The conventional discussion also dominating in the media seems to be content with such rather simple opposing models like federal versus free trade Europe, inter-governmental versus supranational Europe, core versus enlarged Europe or variable geometry versus a single policy. Additionally, besides the limited perspectives the discussions operate mainly within economic categories. Historical heritage and particularities (“path dependence”) are in most cases neglected. To avoid such narrowing of the view more experimenting with “scenarios” and the recognition that “history matters” (“path dependence”) is suggested. Taking account of this criticism, four scenarios trying to speculate on the future of the European Union are put up for discussion : Network State, Federation, Empire and Protectorate. The idea, based on actual events (e.g. referenda, failed IGC) that the EU could dissolve in the short or medium run is dismissed. All through modern times Europe has been in a continuous process of integration and disintegration. Whereas ever more smaller units like nation states emerged, other powerful forces were trying to “unite” Europe. Without paying attention to this “long waves” (see e.g. Wallerstein, 1979) the future of the EU can not be anticipated. Hence, it is suggested to take into account the “strategic biography” of member states when assessing policies and overall development of the EU. In this course four strategic groupings of member states have been identified. In the relation to the EU each group draws from specific historical experience which enables us to put them into four rough categories : Colonial Heritage, Return to Europe, Independent and Indifferent. These categories are provisional but they appear helpful in recognising the role member states can play in the struggle for the future of the EU. “Path dependence” means that member states cannot or will not want to change the role in which their history is engraved. On this background member states will show different “affinities” with each of the four scenarios. We assume that more than economic calculation or universal principles (e.g. human rights ; supporting UN, WTO) the result of these historical affinities will shape the future of the EU and will decide which of the scenarios has more chance to become realty.
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Josef Langer, Institutsvorstand, Institut fuer Soziologie, Alpen-Adria Universitaet Klagenfurt