This paper endeavours to give an overview of some of the existing research on Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs) and the role they have played in negotiating the founding treaties of the European Communities (EC) in the 1950s and their later reforms, including the creation of the European Union (EU) in 1992. It outlines the most important approaches to the study of IGCs and treaty-making, viz. liberal intergovernmentalism and various neo-institutionalist approaches. It argues that liberal intergovernmentalism remains an important approach, but it underestimates the role of domestic politics and need for leadership to overcome collective action problems. This role of leadership can be played by Community institutions (Commission and Council Secretariat) as well as the Presidency or individual member states. Liberal intergovernmentalism also fails to explain the continuous empowerment of the European Parliament, which can best be explained by sociological institutionalism. The role of referenda in some cases suggests that treaty reforms must be studied as 2-level games.
This paper deals with the study of EU treaty-making and treaty-reform, including Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs) and the role they have played in the continuous reform process which has been a part of the history of European integration. We shall discuss the nature of IGCs and how they have been studied by various scholars. Where is the study of IGCs now and how might it move forward?
The focus will be on IGCs. IGCs are not the only way to agree on reforms of the EU, whether it be reform of its basic institutional structure or changes in the scope of common policies. Some changes in the scope of common policies have taken place through normal decision-making mechanisms, involving the Commission, the Council and increasingly also the European Parliament, e.g. on the basis of art. 235 of the original EEC Treaty (Art. 308 EC of the Consolidated Treaty produced after the Amsterdam Treaty). The development of a common environmental policy from the early 1970s is an example. The founding treaties did not explicitly mention the environment. Only in the Single European Act in the 1980s did the environment get a section in the treaties. Also some institutional reforms have taken place without the use of IGCs, like the decision in the 1970s to have the European Parliament elected directly (see for instance Herman and Hagger, 1980). Some of the decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have also had profound effects on the institutional structure and policy scope of the EU.
In many treaty reforms linkages were created between scope of policy-making and institutional capacity, the main exceptions being the Merger Treaty in 1965 and the Treaty of Nice in 2001 both of which nearly exclusively dealt with institutional changes.