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The term Intergovernmentalism can mean different things:

A decision-making method

It is usually said that intergovernmentalism refers to the decision-making methods in international organisations, where power is possessed by the member state and decisions are often but not always made by unanimity. Independent appointees of the governments or elected representatives have solely advisory or implementational functions. Intergovernmentalism is used by most international organizations today.

In the context of the European Union, intergovernmentalism means that members of national governments take EU legislative and executive decisions amongst themselves, either by majority vote or by unanimity. These are immediately binding, which implies they do not pass through national parliaments, amendments on the EU treaties being an exception.

An anomaly exists in the Bundesrat of Germanymarker, the upper house in the German federal system, where seats are held by the governments of the Länder. This way intergovernmentalism does not conflict with federalism.

The opposite method of decision-making in political communities is supranationalism.

A theory of regional integration

The theory is not applied on European integration which rejects the idea of neofunctionalism. The theory, initially proposed by Stanley Hoffmann suggests that national governments control the level and speed of European integration. Any increase in power at supranational level, he argues, results from a direct decision by governments. He believed that integration, driven by national governments, was often based on the domestic political and economic issues of the day. The theory rejects the concept of the spill-over effect that neofunctionalism proposes. He also rejects the idea that supranational organisations are on an equal level (in terms of political influence) as national governments.

Intergovernmentalism (a definition)

An approach to integration that treats states, and national Governments in particular, as the primary actors in the integration process. Various intergovernmentalist approaches have been developed in the literature and these claim to be able to explain both periods of radical change in the European Union (because of the converging governmental preferences) and periods of inertia (due to the diverging national interests). Intergovernmentalism is distinguishable from realism and neorealism because of its recognition of both the significance of institutionalisation in international politics and the impact of processes of domestic politics upon governmental preferences.

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