Agents of Integration: Multinational Firms and the European Union
Much of the existing scholarship on the history of the European Union presents twentieth century European integration as a political process. While this narrative rightly acknowledges the immeasurable impact of nation states, European Union institutions and visionary federalists, it is not complete. In response to globalization in the 1970s and 1980s, large European corporations sought to compete with their American and Asian rivals by establishing a pan-European single market without barriers to cross-border business. At times responding to policy changes and at times driving them, these firms adopted a regional strategy and invested broadly across Europe, particularly in the markets of the European peripheries, which offered both cheap, skilled labor and a huge consumer market with pent-up demand, all at close proximity to firm headquarters. By establishing value chain and subsidiary networks across the region, firms from every sector of the economy - including the French investment bank Paribas, German auto manufacturers Volkswagen and BMW, British retailer Tesco and Belgian retailer Delhaize - contributed to the integration of economies and facilitated the practical achievement of a common European market. Thus, motivated by their own profit interests, multinational firms facilitated the achievement of the four freedoms integral to an economically-united Europe: the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor across a single, common market.
This dissertation analyzes the role of multinational firms as agents of European integration from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Methodologically, it engages with the practices of both economic and business history and draws evidence from archives, including those from both firms and EU institutions. It equally makes use of oral history interviews with EU commissioners and members of parliament, lobby groups, and executives from leading European multinational corporations. Its aim is to intervene in the current body of European Union scholarship and contribute to a nuanced understanding of the history of European integration by including the role of the private sector.