How, then, does one get there?
An institutionalist response to Herr Fischer�s vision of
a European Federation
Johan P. Olsen*
ARENA and University of Oslo
European Federation - vision or utopia?
Ordinary language makes a distinction between the
utopian dreamer and the visionary political leader. The
utopian offers an ideal system of governance and
community. Yet, he presents no clear ideas about how and
under what conditions the polity can be moved towards the
ideal. Or, if he does, the ideas, together with the
prescribed institutional arrangement, are generally
viewed as impractical or impossible fantasies. The
visionary leader has a better understanding of the
relationship between human action, institutions and the
flow of history. The prescribed political order can be
imagined to work in practice, and there is enough
understanding and control of institutional dynamics to
move the polity in a consistent and desired direction.
The scholarly literature, however, suggests that the
distinction is less clear than assumed in everyday
language. There is no general theory of institutional
dynamics that explains how and when institutions of
governance change and what implications follow from
institutional change. Neither is there agreement on the
role of deliberate intervention and governance in
processes of comprehensive institutional change.
Scholarly assessments of the possibility of
transformative leadership through institutional change
seem to depend on both the time frame and the theoretical
In the following, these ideas are
developed in the context of Joschka Fischer's scheme for
a new European political order, as expressed in his
Humboldt University speech. 
Here, the existing order based on intergovernmental
cooperation and a union of states (Confederacy,
Staatenverbund) is to be replaced by a European
Federation. Key characteristics of the Federation will be
a constitutional treaty centered around basic human and
civil rights; shared sovereignty and a clear definition
of competences between the European and the nation-state
level of governance; a division of powers among the
European institutions, including full parliamentarization
and a European Parliament with two chambers, a European
Government and possibly a directly elected president
"with far-reaching executive powers".
The scheme was presenting an end-state, the finalit�
and "the last brick in the building of European
integration". Comprehensive institutional reform was
seen as necessary in order to maintain the Union's
capacity to act effectively in the face of the coming
enlargement and increasing heterogeneity. The reform was
also supposed to improve transparency and democratic
control and achieve a better balance between economic and
political integration and power. The perceived
alternatives were further integration, or stagnation and
even erosion of the EU.
The aim of the paper is not to discuss the
suggested scheme in great detail, or to make a normative
assessment of the desirability of a European federation.
Instead, the focus is on understanding what kind of
processes might produce radical institutional
transformation, of the kind suggested by Fischer. The
basic questions are well known: What are the processes
through which political orders are established,
maintained, changed and abandoned? In what ways, and
under what conditions, is it possible to initiate and
carry out deliberate comprehensive changes in the
political order? In particular, when is it possible to
create a discontinuity in the political organization of
societies characterized by considerable political,
socio-economic and cultural diversity, or in
international political orders?
The paper contrasts three theoretical perspectives on
institutional dynamics, giving political leadership quite
different roles. The first portrays leaders as
impotent pawns - the victims of the functional
imperatives of environmental change or internal processes
beyond their control. The second portrays leaders
as omnipotent political engineers, solving problems and
resolving conflicts on the basis of stable preferences
and powers. The third, an institutional
perspective, portrays leaders as institutional gardeners.
They are neither impotent or omnipotent and, if patient,
they may give some direction to institutional
An institutional perspective
emphasizes the role of institutions, their origins,
history, internal structures and dynamics, in the
understanding of human action. Institutions are rules and
practices embedded in structures of meaning and
resources. Change in a political order involve not only
reorganization and reallocation of resources, but also
reconceptualization and change in expectations,
preferences, aspirations, mentalities and identities.  Yet, institutions
are seen as relatively robust against environmental
changes and deliberate reforms. 
The rest of the paper is divided into five parts. First,
Fischer's view of the change process is briefly
presented. Second, the three theoretical
perspectives, describing political reformers as pawns,
engineers and gardeners, are developed in some more
detail. Third, these perspectives are then used to
discuss Fischer's plan as utopian or visionary. Fourth,
some non-heroic options for transformative political
leadership are suggested, and fifth, the uncertain
borders between utopian dreams and visionary leadership
The reorganization of power in Europe: Business as usual
will not do
To implement a federation, Europe has
to "move forward courageously". Business as
usual will not do. Full political integration cannot
be achieved through the Monnet method of integration, an
incremental process with no blueprint of the final state.
This method worked well with few member states and a
focus on economic integration. It is of "limited use
for the political integration and democratization of
Europe". According to Fischer, the method is in a
crisis that cannot be solved according to the method's
own logic. 
Fischer is well aware that his plan for reorganizing
power in Europe is contested. Implementing the reforms
involves huge challenges, procedural as well as
substantive, and some will view the plan as utterly
unworkable. Fischer is also aware that he is up against
strong institutional traditions. The European political
order has for a long time been constituted on the
principles of state sovereignty and national
self-determination. Europe, as he says, is a continent
"full of different peoples, cultures, languages and
histories". The region is torn between competing
visions of possible political communities and forms of
governance. There is deep divergence of opinion over the
proper role of the European Union vis-a-vis the nation
state and the proper role of politics vis-a-vis the
economy and society. Currently, many call the integration
project into question, finding it irrelevant or
So, the balancing of unity and diversity is
problematic. Moving towards a Federation may drive
European states apart rather than closer together. There
may be a loss of European identity and internal
coherence. Yet, the EU acquis should not be
jeopardized, the Union not divided and the bonds holding
the EU together should not be damaged. "It would be
historically absurd and utterly stupid if Europe, at the
very time when it is at long last reunited, were to be
divided once again".
Fischer's answer is a stepwise political development. First,
cooperation would be enhanced between those willing and
able to cooperate more closely, as in the Economic and
Monetary Union and Schengen. Second, a centre of
gravity would be established, around a European framework
treaty - the core of the Federation's
"constitution". On this basis, the Federation
would develop its own institutions and establish a
government through which the EU could speak with one
voice on as many issues as possible. Furthermore, there
would be a strong parliament and a directly elected
president. An avant-garde of member states would from the
start comprise all the elements of the future federation.
Third, there would be a completion of the
political integration into a European Federation.
The unanswered questions, in Fischer's view, are:
Within the next decade, will a majority of the member
states take the leap into full integration and agree on a
European constitution? If that does not happen, will an
avant-garde emerge? When will this happen? Who will be
involved? Will the core emerge within or outside the
framework provided by the treaties?
The completion of European integration
will depend upon the alliance between France and Germany,
in Fischer's view. No country will be forced into a level
of integration it does not want. Yet, the reluctant
countries will not be allowed to prevent others from
further integration outside the treaties. The hope is
that the avant-garde will work as "a magnet of
integration open to all", like the EC and the EU
have done historically. To make the federal scheme
workable, the states, with their national institutions,
traditions and identities, have to be involved in the
change process. The nation-states also "will retain
a much larger role than the L�nder have in
Germany". Furthermore, sub-national units, such as
the German L�nder, will not accept that their
competencies are weakened as a result of further
political integration in Europe. 
Political pawns, engineers and gardeners
The dynamics of European integration
reactivate unresolved questions worked on by
practitioners and theoreticians for centuries. What are
the "driving forces" forming and changing
political orders? What is the role of human intention,
reflection and choice in the development of political
institutions and good government? In institutional
matters, do we know how to reform? How, and under what
conditions, can political actors rise above, and get
beyond, existing institutional structures? 
Students of institutional dynamics have given very
different answers to these questions. In particular, they
have disagreed about political agency, the relative
importance of environmental imperatives and intrinsic
dynamics beyond the comprehension and control of
political actors; and historical processes of gradually
evolving systems of meaning and incremental change.
Therefore, different perspectives will suggest different
answers to what kind of processes are likely to produce
radical change in the European polity, of the kind
suggested by Fischer.
Pawns, organic development and imperative
processes. Political actors are sometimes
portrayed as largely impotent pawns. They are captives of
imperative (technological, economic, demographic etc.)
processes in their environments, or of intrinsic
institutional dynamics beyond their comprehension and
control. They may codify, through formal reorganization,
change that has already happened, but they are unable to
delibrately structure future institutional developments.
The key processes of change are external competitive
selection or internal organic processes of institutional
birth, growth, stagnation and death. In the first case,
only comparatively efficient institutions and political
orders survive. The others lose support and disappear. In
the second case, all institutions have their heydays.
Then they wither and die, whatever reform plans political
leaders present (Kimberly and Miles 1980, Olsen 1992).
Engineers, design and institutional choice.
In contrast, the concept of governance is about how
differently, over any given period of time, our social
and political life, can be purposefully shaped (Dunn
1990: 161). An institutional reform policy is about
explicitly changing social and political life through new
institutional arrangements. A constitutional reform
policy is about changing the basic institutions and
principles of governance in order to change the identity
and character of the polity.
Portraying political leaders as institutional
engineers and institutions as malleable is consistent
with a democratic ethos of governance. Democracies are
supposed to be able to design and choose institutions in
order to improve the welfare of citizens. The key
questions involved in explaining institutional dynamics,
then, are: Who are the significant actors? What do they
want an institutional arrangement to accomplish? What do
they believe different arrangements will accomplish? What
resources can they mobilize?
Under special circumstances, "We the people"
can form a constitutional convention and deliberately
rearrange the whole political order (Ackerman 1991).
Under normal conditions, political intention, will and
power secure rational adaptation of institutions not
working well. Institutional dynamics become a question of
bargaining and building winning coalitions among
competing interests. In a short-term perspective,
however, constitutive institutions and rules limit the
legitimate space of institutional design - what can be
changed, how fast, and in what ways. Heterogeneous
societies in particular demand strongly qualified
majorities to change the power of different branches and
levels of government or the relative power of public
authorities and citizens (Weaver and Rockman 1993: 464).
The pawn- and engineering perspectives lead to
different assessments of reform plans. Consider, for
instance, the constitution-writing aspect. In a period of
flux, uncertainty and ambiguity, an engineering approach
suggests that the time is ripe for deliberate
intervention, to give more structure to current
developments. The pawn perspective suggests the opposite.
A period of flux, uncertainty and ambiguity is definitely
not the right moment for codification and constitution
writing. Both perspectives, however, suppose that the
comparative efficiency of forms of governance and
organization is the key factor determining their chances
To understand the dynamics of European
integration, however, we have to go beyond institutional
change as a simple reflection of differences in the
comparative functional efficiency of alternative forms.
That is, we have to question the idea that political
institutions normally adapt fairly quickly to changes in
external conditions and human purposes through processes
of competitive selection and rational adaptation. 
Gardeners, incremental reforms
and meanders. Studies of comprehensive
institutional reform in large-scale, complex and dynamic
systems with unresolved conflict suggest that
reorganization of the polity with a single scheme is
unlikely to be politically digestable. Change is not well
understood and controlled, and actual reforms are usually
incremental rather than comprehensive. Governance is less
a matter of engineering than of gardening.  Existing
institutional configurations usually are the result of
long historical processes, involving conflicts,
victories, defeats and compromises, as well as processes
of interpretation, learning and habituation.  It is difficult to
subject institutional evolution to tight control, and
history becomes a meander (March 1994).
In this perspective, reforms are
influenced by environments and political actors. Yet,
institutions do not adapt instantaneously or efficiently
to minor changes in will, power, or circumstances.
Institutions cannot be changed into any arbitrary form
and comprehensive reform requires strong organizational
capabilities to stabilize attention, mobilize resources
and cope with resistance (March and Olsen 1983, 1989).
Change does not start with clear problem definitions and
objectives leading to tailor-made institutional designs,
as suggested by instrumental-functional approaches. Often
change takes the form of deliberation and "sounding
out" processes, involving the use of ambiguity,
"soft laws" and tacit agreements (Blichner and
Sangolt 1994, Sverdrup 1999). 
The idea of functional competitive selection is
consistent with the traditional functional-utilitarian
justification of the European Union. The raison d'etre of
the Union is its presumed superiority in problem-solving
and conflict resolution, compared to other forms, and in
particular the functional utility of the nation-state.
Likewise, increasing international interdependence and
globalization is seen to require further European
In the current situation, however, there is no
guarantee that characteristics of the objective
environment, through processes of competition and
selection, by functional necessity will dictate specific
forms of organization and governance. Moreover, it is not
at all obvious that such processes will drive out
existing institutional arrangements and replace them with
Fischer's vision of a European federation. Instead, a
common economic-technological deterministic perspective
sees political leadership as irrelevant and portrays
attempts at European integration towards a state-like
polity as "ironic" and "tragic". This
is because such efforts work against the overwhelming
forces of a global borderless economy of competitive
markets (Ohmae 1995:38).
More trust has been invested in the
idea that the European Union already has intrinsic
dynamics of integration. For instance, The Treaty of Rome
(1957) asserted a determination "to lay the
foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of
Europe". The Maastricht Treaty (1992) was presented
as "a new stage in the process of creating an ever
closer union among the peoples of Europe". Now, the
Preamble of the Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of
the European Union claims that "the peoples of
Europe have established an ever closer union between
them". Existing internal dynamics are seen
inevitably to lead to a closer union, even without any
deliberate political act. 
Fischer, however, is not a utopian in the sense
that he expects an external or internal "hidden
hand" to produce a European Federation. Quite the
opposite; he sees internal dynamics of the EU, as well as
global changes, as demanding political leadership. The
steps toward a constituent treaty, a precondition for
full integration, "require a deliberate political
act to reestablish Europe". Institutional reforms
are supposed to help the EU both to cope with enlargement
and increasing internal complexity, and to make Europe's
voice better heard throughout the world.
Neither is Fischer a utopian in the sense that he
expects his reform plans to be accepted by all
significant actors. Traditionally, institutional reforms
in the EU have been presented as Pareto improvements,
that is, changes where some gain and no one loses. This
image has become problematic as European integration has
become more politicized. And as could be expected, the
Fischer plan has been received with scepticism or
hostility by many actors.
For instance, it has been argued
that from an East European point of view, the Fischer
plan and enlargement cannot be combined, because it will
doom the Eastern members to be second class members,
permanently excluded from the core (Zielonka 2000). For a
British opponent, the reform plan looks like "a
Franco-German plot to destabilise the Union". The
French and the Germans are seen as wanting a directorate
of larger member States, at the expense of the
Treaty-based inter-institutional system.  Creating a
secretariat for an avant-garde outside the EU
institutions gets little support from Commission
President Romano Prodi. 
The Commission is also faced with the dilemma whether to
work for further integration with a pioneer group led by
some major powers, or to protect the coherence of the EU
and the position of the smaller member states.
Several small states have been
concerned that the reforms will change the power balance
in favor of the larger countries. The issue is hardly
whether some actors will have more power than others.
They already do. Independent of the current legal forms
in the EU, a basic reality from the European
balance-of-power era is still alive. Cooperation within
the EU has been based on a tacit understanding that some
countries are more equal than others.  The issue is
rather how much the power balance will change and whether
it is possible to find a legitimate pathway towards a
Finally, the plan has not received
overwhelming support even in Germany. Fischer presented
his speech as his personal views. While realizing that it
would not really be possible to do so, he explicitly
tried to remove his hat and mantle as the German foreign
minister. However, Chancellor Gerhard Schr�der has
characterized the idea of a European president as "a
perfect illusion", presented by "one of the
leaders of the Green Party seeking an identity".  European
Commissioner G�nther Verheugen - a German national - has
argued (in the S�ddeutsche Zeitung) against the idea of
a core and warned against the EU becoming a superstate
like the USA.
What, then, are the possibilities for institutional
engineering? The ideas of federalism and a dynamic core
are hardly new in the European context, but so far they
have received modest support. During the Amsterdam
process and the current IGC it has been difficult to get
agreement on comprehensive institutional reforms. Is the
Fischer plan, in the face of the hostility, scepticism or
apathy doomed to be utopian?
A power struggle over reforms, given the traditional
consensus norms in the EU and the current preferences,
world-views and powers of the various actors, is likely
to threaten the EU itself, or to change the Union in
fundamental ways. This is so even if Fischer's view is
triumphant in the end. Most likely the plan will remain a
Utopia and a source of disappointment and frustration -
unless there are significant changes in key concepts and
vocabularies, preferences and world-views.
Such changes are, however, not impossible to achieve
for patient institutional gardeners. Political leaders
are neither omnipotent, nor impotent. From an
institutional perspective, democratic institutions and
identities cannot be engineered and re-engineered
overnight. There are limitations of transformative
leadership through institutional design, and in order to
avoid the utopian trap, reformers have to go beyond
ordinary processes of coercion, exchange, bargaining,
negotiation and coalition building. Seen as a
contribution to a future debate - a broad, democratic
constitutional debate on the preferred political order,
something that has been missing so far in the EU -
Fischer's speech may come closer to a vision than a
Options for institutional gardeners
Fischer argues that "common laws can be a highly
integrative force". The current IGC also, consistent
with the legal tradition of the EU, focuses on
formal-legal aspects such as the composition of the
Commission, the weighing of votes in the Council and the
extension of majority voting. In contrast, from an
institutional perspective, comprehensive change in a
political order involves not only affecting human conduct
and formal-legal institutions, but also affecting
peoples' inner state of mind, their moral and
intellectual qualities, their identities and sense of
belonging (Mill 1861; 1962:32).
An institutional/gardening perspective doubts that
democratic reformers can be successful independent of
properties of the population. That is, it doubts whether
it is possible to develop democratic institutions without
democrats, or a European Federation without Europeans, so
that the legitimacy of institutional arrangements is
based solely on a continuous proof of their functional
efficiency (Olsen 1997: 222). Political gardening
requires knowledge about the mechanisms through which
different institutions and processes of opinion- and will
formation may influence the mentality and identity of
individuals and collectivities. On the one hand,
such changes can be the result of a political community
making decisions and debating the challenges and
opportunities they face, and the principles, rules and
procedures by which they want to live. On the other
hand, changes can be traced back to processes of
socialization in educational institutions, both
universities and mass schooling (Soysal and Strang 1989,
March and Olsen 2000).
In this perspective, political leadership includes
affecting how Europeans come to think about what
constitutes unity or disunity, as well as the reasons for
establishing and changing political borders, common
purposes and projects, institutions and forms of
governance. The EU also has numerous arenas for
interaction, argumentation, problem solving and conflict
resolution and gaining experience through interaction may
create habits of working together, friendship, group
loyalties and knowledge about others. These may create
convergence, mutual confidence and positive trust
spirals. However, they may also create awareness of
differences and produce conflicts and confrontations
(March and Olsen 1998). Political gardeners can use such
arenas for pushing the system in a consistent direction.
They may stabilize attention, develop a shared
vocabulary, shared interpretations of experience,
criteria of assessment and aspiration levels, and they
may improve institutional adaptability.
Stabilize attention. Fischer has focused
attention on major institutional reform, but he also
emphasizes the importance of different time scales. His
own time horizon is "far beyond the comming decade
and the intergovernmental conference". In this time
perspective, there are many possible future distractions.
Comprehensive change in institutions and identities may
take decades or generations, and because large scale
reforms are weakly institutionalized, they usually
attract a variety of issues, often loosely coupled to the
As argued by March and Olsen in a study of
comprehensive administrative reforms in the United
States: "Although it is hard to predict what
specific crisis, scandal, or war will divert presidents
from the reorganization arena, it is easy to predict that
something will" (March and Olsen 1983: 286). The
result is that reformers are frequently distracted and
disappointed. However, persistence may pay off. Sometimes
short-run failures turn into long-run successes, as old
plans are reactivated under new and more favourable
circumstances (March and Olsen 1983: 287).
A possible first lesson,
therefore, is that the realization of a large-scale
reform vision requires an ability to stabilize and
institutionalize attention and resources around
comprehensive reforms, so that incremental steps can be
tied together into a long-term consistent plan. 
Develop a shared vocabulary. Fischer is
well aware that some words have to be used with caution.
For instance, the term "federation" irritates
many Britons. He does not want to irritate anyone, yet,
he has not been able to come up with another word.
Simultaneously, he feels a need to avoid the
misunderstanding that he is really suggesting a
"re-nationalization". Likewise, he wants to
avoid scaring anyone: "Let's not misunderstand each
other: closer cooperation does not automatically lead to
These expectations have turned out to be realistic.
The reform proposal has come to mean different things to
different actors. Consider, for instance, the idea of
"a federation of nation states" with a sharing
of sovereignty, and clear demarcation of powers, between
levels of governance. In Britain federalism is, in
spite of Fischer's caution, associated with a hierarchy
between levels of government (H. Wallace 2000b). For
others "division of sovereignty" means that
Fischer "distances himself from the concept of a
European superstate transcending and replacing the
national democracies" (B�rzel and Risse 2000:1).
More generally, "federalism",
cooperation", "Europe", etc., are words
without a shared meaning across EU member states, a fact
that makes fruitful deliberation less likely.
A possible second lesson, therefore, is that
implementation of a reform vision will depend as much on
leadership through reconceptualization, as through
reorganization. Success will be facilitated by the
development of a shared vocabulary and concepts, or at
least a repertoire of such vocabularies and concepts, so
that actors can "translate" between different
interpretations of key concepts.
Develop shared interpretations of experience.
In fairly stable periods, institutions provide languages,
concepts and repertoires of legitimate accounts. They
help participants to make sense of an ambiguous,
uncertain and changing world and present rules of
appropriate or exemplary behavior (March and Olsen 1989,
1995, Powell and DiMaggio 1991: 15). In periods of
transformation, the organizing power of institutionalized
concepts, schemas and scripts is weakened. There are
competing institutions and interpretations. Questions are
raised why the code of conduct, as well as the forms of
organization and governance, are different in one
country, or in one context, from another (Elias 1982).
Major reform projects provide an opportunity for
developing shared interpretations, affirming legitimate
values and institutions, and changing the climate of
opinion. A public discourse about the adequacy or
inadequacy of existing institutional arrangements can be
a process of civic education through which European
citizens develop an understanding of what constitutes a
good society and system of governance, i.e., the
legitimate constitutional principles of authority, power
and accountability and the normative-ethical basis and
value commitments and beliefs of the polity (March and
Olsen 1983, Olsen 1992: 259).
A possible third lesson, in this perspective,
is that an important aspect of political leadership, and
way to avoid the utopian trap, is to provide adequate
accounts of the past and visions for the future. Of
course, agreement is by no means guaranteed. Struggles
over belief-systems and causal models may be as fierce as
conflicts over normative criteria.
Develop shared criteria of assessment.
The prospects of avoiding the utopian trap will also
depend on what reformers aspire to achieve through
constitutional reforms. A political institution can be
assessed instrumentally on the basis of its contribution
to substantive (policy) results. Or a structural
arrangement can be evaluated deontologically, i.e., on
the basis of specific properties of the institution
itself. The test then is not an issue of precise
calculation of the effectiveness and efficiency of
alternative designs for policy outcomes in specific
situations. Instead, it is whether the institution is
seen as the appropriate means to cope with certain
classes of tasks and situations within a culture (Olsen
1997). The issue is whether institutional practices and
rules are consistent with basic principles of reason and
morality in a culture -- possibly involving general
conceptions of good/evil, just/unjust, right/wrong,
legal/illegal, true/false -- so that it becomes a duty
for citizens to follow its rules and prescriptions. For
instance, support for representative institutions is a
commitment to a long-term institutional arrangement, not
to a specific outcome (Pitkin 1972:234). Likewise, the
rule of law, the prohibition of retroactive laws and
recruitment based on merit exemplify legitimizing
principles not linked to the immediate substantive
outcome of specific decisions. Such principles and
institutions structure and discipline policy making
processes. They encourage some types of behavior and
inhibit others. Yet, they do not determine precise policy
Fischer's proposal has elements of a
deontological approach, for instance, through its
emphasis on democracy and transparency. It aims at
developing basic principles for a workable system more
than achieving an immediate policy outcome In comparison,
the British tradition has been described as instrumental.
Political institutions, and reform plans, are primarily
assessed as instruments for achieving policy outcomes.
There is a preference for substance to determine form,
and a standard question is, will this reform lead to
better policy outcomes? In the EU context this leads to a
preference for pragmatic, case-by-case cooperation, and
to local experimentation rather than a single blueprint
(H. Wallace 2000b). 
A possible fourth lesson is that visionary
leaders should clarify whether reforms aim at changing
the basic principles and rules for the organization of
political power, and thus providing a framework for
policy processes, or at achieving specific policy
outcomes. The latter approach is probably more likely to
Clarify aspirations. Political leaders
also have different aspirations when it comes to what
kind of relationships should tie people in Europe
together, and therefore what kind of polity the EU should
become. Aspirations have also changed over time. The
revolt against the Maastricht Treaty created a perceived
need for "heightening the sense of belonging to the
Union and enhancing its legitimacy" (Commission
1995: 7). Furthermore, debates over the Rights Charter
and the Austrian crisis have reactivated a debate over
the cultural identity of the EU.
The general issue is how flexible are political
identities, and through what processes are they created,
maintained and changed? Within the EU, there is an
awareness that building trust and cohesion among European
peoples and governments will take time (Commission 1992:
8). In the short run, identities are unlikely to change
in the absence of dramatic external shocks creating one
of the "great mentality-shaping controversies"
(Habermas 1988: 12). In the face of cultural
heterogeneity, it is also questionable whether a shared
program of civic education is possible in the short run.
What should be the content and who should be in charge of
developing the program? What institutions are needed in
order to develop a feeling of a democratic, European
identity? Given that identities change only slowly, the
leadership challenge is to influence perceptions of the
desirability and capability of multiple identities, and
the perceived compatability among competing identities,
A possible fifth lesson is that visionary
leaders need to clarify the assumptions made about the
role of shared identities and a sense of belonging - what
they assume binds people in Europe together and what
keeps them apart. Likewise, they need to clarify their
assumptions about how fast, and through what mechanisms,
identities may change. Europe constituted as a market
community of exchange and a functional-utilitarian unit,
may not alone provide an adequate foundation for
further integration. Europe constituted as a cultural
community based on shared values, is likely to be beyond
the reach in the near future. Plans for further
integration based on Europe as a legal community of
shared rights and duties, and a political community based
on shared institutions of governance, are less likely to
be utopian dreams (Olsen 1998).
Improve institutional adaptability.
Visionary leaders in the EU have to "take the law
seriously" (Joerges 1996), yet, they have to avoid
becoming overly legalistic and formalistic. The problem
of non-effective constitutions and institutions is well
known. Constitutions can be written and re-written and
organizational charts can be drawn and re-drawn. Still,
such changes may have a modest impact on the "living
institutions" of a society (Olsen 1996, Laffan
1999). Formal treaties and constitutional provisions
alone cannot explain the Union's dynamics (Dehousse and
Majone 1994: 92). Change has often been incremental and
part of the daily practice of governance and
adjudication, later codified in treaty form by
intergovernmental conferences (Jachtenfuchs and
Kohler-Koch 1996, Kohler-Koch and Eising 1999).
The distribution of formal-legal authority is only a
limited part of the distribution of power resources.
Visionary leaders, therefore, have to make realistic
assessments concerning what modifications of practices
can be achieved through changes in formal-legal
institutional arrangements. They have to consider both to
what degree and under what circumstances institutions can
be deliberately restructured; and what the likely effects
of changing formal organizational charts and rules are in
a world where many other resources than formal-legal
authority count (Olsen 1996: 238).
Likewise, avoiding the utopian trap
may depend on the leaders' understanding of what makes
some institutions able to continously learn and adapt,
while inertia in other institutions creates large gaps
between existing structures and underlying realities.
Experiential learning has been suggested as the basis of
governing the future polity (Deutsch 1981: 338). Success
may, however, depend on insight into the many ways in
which such processes are less than perfect,  and how the
imperfections of mundane processes of learning and
incremental adaptations allow for comprehensive
institutional reform. In general, the more inefficient
ordinary processes of adaptation are, the more likely
that an institution or a regime may collapse like a house
of cards and be replaced by a new one (Olsen 1992: 256,
A possible sixth lesson for visionary leaders,
then, is that they have to take an interest in the
dynamics of "living" institutions and not only
formal-legal arrangements. A precondition for willed
radical reforms may be a better understanding of why
ordinary processes of learning and adaptation sometimes
succeed and sometimes fail.
Governing through institutional change
European cooperation has already produced a dense
institutional order - a quasi-federal polity and a system
of governance based on constitution-like treaties (Stone
Sweet and Sandholtz 1998:1, B�rzel and Risse 2000). Yet,
many recent integration initiatives have been initiated
outside the EU institutions, and the European polity is
still in flux. The EU is an unsettled political order, in
terms of geographical reach, functional scope and
institutional balance. The Union simultaneously faces
questions such as: who is going to belong to the
political community and where should its external borders
be drawn? What should be the shared agenda, purposes and
projects? How are collective issues to be dealt with, and
in terms of which common institutions and principles? How
are such choices to be justified and legitimized?
Reorganizing political power in Europe involves a
delicate re-balancing between levels of governance and
institutions. The EU has gone through a variety of stages
(Schuppert 1995), but the preconditions for a European
federation are not well understood. The long-term history
of government may also indicate that there is no such
thing as an end-state, but rather a succession of forms
of government (Finer 1997). Fischer's speech can be seen
as an attempt to provide leadership and a vision of a new
political order in Europe in a period of uncertainty and
ambiguity. He proposes further political integration, but
he is also setting a limit for integration, short of a
United States of Europe. Will, then, a majority of the
member states take the leap into full integration? Will
an avant-garde emerge? Will the core emerge within or
outside the framework provided by the treaties? Will
there be destructive conflicts over further integration?
The main argument of this paper is that what looks
utopian for political pawns and engineers, may be a
little less so for patient political gardeners. In
particular, patient gardeners may turn utopias into
visions, and give a consistent and desired direction to
European developments, if they understand well the
dynamics of political institutions and identities. That
is, the institutions' abilities to adapt spontaneously to
major changes in their environments, the environments'
abilities to eliminate non-adaptive institutions, and the
latitude of purposeful institutional reform.
One key aspect of understanding comprehensive
institutional change is to develop a better comprehension
of how existing institutional characteristics and
histories affect institutional change. This includes
developing better insight into the institutional
preconditions for creating legitimacy and deserved
support through public debates about political
institutions and the organization of governance.
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+47 22 85 76 78, fax: +47 22 85 78 32
. Speech by
Joschka Fischer at the Humboldt University in Berlin, 12
The German title was: "Vom Staatenverbund zur
F�deration - Gedanken �ber die Finalit�t der
europ�ischen Integration". When quotationmarks are
used without any other references, the text refers to the
speech. Thanks to Jeff Checkel and Martha Snodgrass for
help and advice.
. Fischer does
not present his ideas on the desired changes in financial
arrangements, and that aspect is therefore left out in my
respons, too. Of course, this does not imply that the
financial and reallocation aspects are not highly
significant for the institutional future of Europe.
. March and
Olsen 1983,1989,1995,1998, Olsen 1992,1996,1997,1998,
Brunsson and Olsen 1993, March 1999.
. As emphasized
by Wallace, the EU uses a variety of methods of policy
making (H. Wallace 2000a).
Europe No 7726 Saturday 27 May 2000: "German
L�nder repeat to Prodi that ratification of revised
treaty will be difficult if their powers are not
. Hamilton, Jay
and Madison 1787; 1964:1, Mill 1861; 1962:1, March and
Olsen 1989,1995,1998, Olsen 1997,Brunsson and Olsen 1993,
Sartori 1997: xi.
. March and
Olsen 1989, North 1990. Brennan and Buchanan also
criticise the hidden hand assumption in economic theory:
..."great damage has been and is being done by
modern economists who argue, indirectly, that basic
institutional change will somehow spontaneously evolve in
the direction of structural efficacy" (Brennan and
Buchanan 1985: 149).
1981: 24. See also March and Olsen 1983: 287, 1989,1995,
Olsen 1996 Benz and Goetz 1996, Knill 1999.
. This is
certainly true for state- and nation building processes
in Europe (Eisenstadt and Rokkan 1973, Rokkan 1975,1999),
and also for the development within the EU (Pierson 1996:
out, in contrast to Habermasian force-free deliberation,
involves the systematic use of ambiguity. It is important
for each participant to avoid taking an early stand.
While the participants will try to reveal the trend in
their beliefs and preferences, and attempt to move the
final outcome toward a desired end result, they will
avoid very accurate indications of beliefs and
preferences. They will always retain some degree of
counterargument and contradiction in their statements.
The process is time consuming. The outcome is the result
of more and more participants accepting a certain
alternative as the best solution, while other
alternatives "fade away" (Olsen 1972: 273). The
behavior is purposeful, but it is reflecting what in a
culture is defined as appropriate behavior and process,
not strategic calculation.
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,
Brussels, 28 July 2000, Charte 4422/00
Liberal Democrate Andrew Duff, Agence Europe No
7723, Wednesday 24 May 2000.
Europe No 7759 Saturday 15 July 2000 p.5.
instance, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker
has argued that "larger European states have always
preserved their special influence (...). Nothing will
change that (...). The voice of the French President in
the European Council counts more than my own. He knows
it, I know it and accept it and there is no need to
formalise this in the treaty" (Speech at the Swedish
Institute for International Affairs, June 7 2000, Agence
Europe No 7735, 10 June 2000).
with Le Figaro (Agence Europe, No 7761 Wednesday
19 July 2000 p.6).
argument is relevant in the EU-context because, on the
one hand, outcomes are rarely entirely anticipated by
those who strike strategic bargains (W. Wallace 2000). On
the other hand, the short-term preoccupation of
institutional designers have led them to make decisions
that have undermined their long-term control (Pierson
differences should not be exaggerated. During the
Thatcher-period reforms were to a considerable extent
driven by principles and ideology, without clear evidence
about exact policy impacts (Hood 1996).
. Levitt and
March 1988, March 1991,1994,1999, Levinthal and March
[Date of publication in the ARENA
Working Paper series: 15.10.2000]