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My impetus for writing this piece stemmed from working with too many large data sets that each seemed to disregard the unique qualities of the European Union (EU) member countries. For years, we have heard about the amazing political transformations that these member countries had undergone, yet we were still treating them like “regular countries” in empirical analysis.

My argument is that, for many policies, these EU member countries cannot be considered regular countries because they do not make their own political decisions. Therefore, when you compare these countries to other countries in the same sample, you are essentially comparing apples and oranges. This is more of an oversight than anything malicious, but I find that this type of oversight can have a substantive impact on statistical results and any conclusions.

I use the example of trade policy in this piece, but any number of scholars have or will run into this issue using current data sets because most of our theories assume domestic political processes for international outcomes. As the EU continues to expand (in size and in authority) the substantive impact of these observations will only increase. Furthermore, as various forms of international and supranational governance continue to evolve, the issue of shared decision making will no doubt extend to other geographical areas. We have already seen this problem arise for trade and exchange rate politics, and this is all just the beginning.

None of this is to say that we can no longer use European countries in our analyses or that the possibility of pooled observations in International Relations is now precluded. I am only hoping to point us all in direction where the advances from one side of the literature are mirrored in others and all of our empirical designs are more firmly rooted in theory.






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Representing 100 countries, ISA has over 6,500 members worldwide and is the most respected and widely known scholarly association in this field. Endeavoring to create communities of scholars dedicated to international studies, ISA is divided into 7 geographic subdivisions of ISA (Regions), 29 thematic groups (Sections) and 4 Caucuses which provide opportunities to exchange ideas and research with local colleagues and within specific subject areas.
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