Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2011

The Asymmetry of European Integration or why the EU cannot be a "Social Market Economy"

Fritz W. Scharpf

September 2009

Kolleg-Forschergruppe "The Transformative Power of Europe"


Judge-made law has played a crucial role in the process of European integration. In the vertical dimension, it has greatly reduced the range of autonomous policy choices in the member states, and it has helped to expand the reach of European competences. At the same time, however, “Integration through Law” does have a liberalizing and deregulatory impact on the socio-economic regimes of EU member states. This effect is generally compatible with the status quo in “Liberal Market Economies”, but it tends to undermine the institutions and policy legacies of Continental and Scandinavian “Social Market Economies”. Given the high consensus requirements of European legislation, this structural asymmetry cannot be corrected through political action at the European level.