The Importance of Being Nice: An Institutionalist Analysis of French Preferences on the Future of Europe


This article offers an institutionalist explanation of French preferences on the future of Europe from the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 through to the Constitutional Treaty of 2004. It argues that the single most important determinant of French preferences was the unfolding institutional logic of the constitution-drafting exercise itself. More specifically, the French government's preferences reflected its acceptance of the European Union's new method of debate at the Convention, the contingency of a revived alliance with Germany in that debate, and the legacy of a half century of European integration. The resulting institutional logic of French preference formation prevailed over ambitions of national power, considerations of decision-making efficiency, and political leaders’ visions of Europe. Domestic politics played a relatively unimportant role because the French constitution frees the president from the necessity of domestic coalition-building. A central lesson of this analysis is that state preferences cannot be understood in isolation from the international and domestic institutional environment in which they are formed.

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1I thank the French officials who agreed to be interviewed on an unattributable basis as part of the research for this project. Thanks also to the participants in the workshops at Birkbeck, University of London and Christ Church, University of Oxford, as well as Dionyssis Dimitrakopoulos, Hussein Kassim, Bernard Manin, David Michel, Craig Parsons, and two anonymous referees for helpful discussion and comments.

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Jabko, N. The Importance of Being Nice: An Institutionalist Analysis of French Preferences on the Future of Europe. Comp Eur Polit 2, 282–301 (2004).

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  • France
  • Convention
  • Constitutional Treaty
  • preference formation
  • institutionalism
  • institution-building