In this paper, I have analyzed the Euro crisis to probe into the limits of postfunctionalism. My argument does not contradict the basic assumption of postfunctionalism: European integration is becoming more politicized. Indeed, politicization has been peaking during the Euro crisis and put the EU under severe stress. But politicization has not decisively affected the integration outcomes on this most likely occasion. The process of technocratic integration during the crisis has largely followed neofunctionalist instead of postfunctionalist expectations, and governments have proven capable of limiting the impact of politicization by isolating policy-making at the European level from the constraining dissensus through Euro-compatible government formation, avoiding or taming referendums, and supranational delegation.
To be sure, Hooghe and Marks anticipated that political leaders would respond to the challenge and that politicization would stimulate institutional reform, including the suppression of controversial referendums and ‘shifting decisions to non-majoritarian regulatory agencies’ (2008, p. 22). If, however, governments are able to respond as effectively as under the conditions of extreme politicization at the height of the euro crisis – and if integration dynamics still follow the neofunctionalist model when the constraining dissensus should be paramount – there is reason to question the explanatory relevance of postfunctionalism as a theory of integration. Put differently, whereas explanations of European integration need to take into account mass-level domestic politics in the member states, the constraining dissensus appears to shape integration outcomes to a lesser extent than it shapes the integration strategies of elites and the integration process that leads to the outcomes. In this way, member state governments were able to turn a potential obstacle to integration into an opportunity.
The big caveat is that the Euro crisis may either reappear or that it may have set in motion processes that will continue to have an impact once the crisis over. Even though the financial crisis of the Eurozone has calmed, debt, recession, and mass unemployment in the highly indebted countries remain. This may lead to a further decline in support for the EU – and the euro as well. People may turn in greater numbers to Euro-sceptic parties so that government formation without such parties will become more difficult. Moreover, governments may have been willing to protect EU-level policy and institutional reform under the immediate impact of the crisis – often accepting severe losses in electoral support. They may be less willing to do so once the biggest threat has passed.