The basic question that this special issue collection (guest edited by John Erik Fossum and Markus Jachtenfuchs) addresses is: What may we learn from thinking about the EU in federal terms? Our survey of the literature shows that there are three categories of federal-type comparisons in the realm of EU-studies. These are across-systems comparisons; within EU-comparisons (member states, issues, policies and diachronically); and what we may term implicit comparisons, i.e. studies that borrow aspects from federal systems without explicit reference to the federalism dimension. A number of these are important and path-breaking analyses. But when we hold the body of literature on EU federalism up against the body of literature on EU studies, we are struck by the former’s limited and quite scattered nature. It is readily apparent that the federal dimension in EU studies is clearly underdeveloped in comparison to other fields and subfields, as a consequence of the fact that the euro-federalism perspective lost the theoretical competition to the international relations perspective. That meant that the theoretical competition between neo-functionalism and intergovernmentalism set the terms of debate. Federalism on its part has had a limited framing effect on the field of EU studies. If we look more broadly we see that this problem is amplified by comparative federalism’s relatively underdeveloped nature.
The contributions to this collection show that there are good grounds for reinvigorating the discussion of federalism in the EU context, through relying on an explicit and self-conscious approach to how such a reinvigorated effort should proceed. The issue is not simply to establish ‘how federal’ the EU is, but also to consider whether federal theory and practice may have to be adapted to take proper account of the EU and its many distinctive features, not the least its uniquely differentiated nature. In effect, we cannot usefully address the former unless we have come up with a viable answer to the latter. The contributions to this collection approach these questions through comparison and theoretical-conceptual reflection oriented along two main lines of inquiry. The first focuses on the relationship between federalism and democracy, and includes contributions from John Erik Fossum, Arthur Benz, Nicole Bolleyer and Lori Thorlakson. The second places the emphasis on the relationship among the governments of federal systems, with emphasis on intergovernmental relations, and includes contributions from Robert Csehi, Sergio Fabbrini, and Markus Jachtenfuchs and Christiane Kasack. Michael Keating ends the collection with a bird’s eye view of federalism, and highlights federalism as a set of analytical principles. He discusses this from the interesting angle of rescaling.
Amid growing pressures of Europeanization, many scholars have cast doubt on the state prevailing as a dominant marker of territory. Identifying a process of de-territorialization of economic and social systems, however, would be at odds with what we can actually observe in the European polity, says Michael Keating. Instead, we have witnessed a re-territorialization of such systems, as functions, political articulation and competition have relocated to new levels above, below and across states. How do we make sense of such an increasingly complex polity? In his article “Europe as a multilevel federation” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Michael argues that a federalist perspective allows us to analyse and appraise the EU as an order characterised by an emerging regional level below and across states, if federalism is considered “a general principle of order, combining unity with diversity.”
The EU treaties contain various mechanisms allowing national parliaments to collectively make their voices heard in EU policy-making. But, should we expect national parliaments to gang up to strengthen their role in the EU’s multilevel polity? Drawing lessons from patterns of inter-parliamentary activism in Canada, Switzerland and the United States, Nicole Bolleyer concludes that national parliaments in EU member states are unlikely to jointly become a politically active player. In her article “Executive-legislative relations and inter-parliamentary cooperation in federal systems – lessons for the European Union” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Nicole argues that strong national parties bridging the divide between legislative and executive branches leave parliamentary majorities less willing to defend their interests independently from their executives. Her findings suggest that “the strength of national parties decreases the likelihood of national parliaments’ active collective involvement in EU-decision-making, possibly undermining what some consider as an alternative pathway to close the EU’s democratic deficit.”
Open a textbook on the EU’s political system and you will likely find the European Commission described as a powerhouse of policy innovation, particularly when it comes to areas of positive integration, such as environmental policy. Yet, in the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis, this powerhouse seems to have run out of steam. In their article “Still an entrepreneur? The changing role of the European Commission in EU environmental policy-making” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Yves Steinebach and Christoph Knill analyse the EU’s policy outputs on clean air and water protection between 1980 and 2014. Their analysis shows that the EU’s regulatory activity slumped after 2010, which they trace back to a sharp decline in environmental policy activism in the European Commission. Yves and Christoph argue that changes to the role of the Commission presidency have gone hand in hand “with reduced policy activism and initiatives in economically sensitive policy areas”.
When designing responses to swiftly contain financial shocks, elected politicians in government generally rely on expert advice from finance officials. But what if the preferences of finance experts diverge from the goals that governments have in mind? Christopher Gandrud and Micheál O’Keefe argue that the information governments receive from bureaucrats may, at times, misguide them into formulating policies with undesired consequences. In their article “Information and financial crisis policy-making” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Christopher and Micheál develop a signalling game to understand why the Irish government responded to the financial crisis with a blanket guarantee of bank liabilities in 2008, a decision, which eventually turned into one of the most expensive bailouts in history. Their analysis shows that staff at the Irish Department of Finance, the financial regulator and bank officials disagreed on policy and sent the Irish prime minister conflicting information. Devoid of a clear picture of the situation the government then chose a policy it actually did not want, illustrating that good information “may be purposefully hard to come by during crises, even in economically advanced democratic economies.”
In 2004 and 2007, the EU admitted 12 new member states in its biggest and most controversial enlargement to date – accompanied by ‘enlargement fatigue’ and warnings by commentators and policy-makers that the EU was about to overreach the limits of its integration capacity. Current nationalist-authoritarian tendencies, ongoing problems of corruption, and stern opposition against a common refugee policy in several new member states appear to vindicate the sceptics.
In our JEPP special issue on “European Union Enlargement and Integration Capacity”, we present a systematic and broad-based evaluation of the Eastern enlargement based on the collaborative FP7 research project ‘Maximizing the Integration Capacity of the European Union’ (MAXCAP). In contrast to the widespread scepticism, our results show that the EU’s integration capacity has been strong. Credible accession conditionality and pre-accession assistance have had a positive impact on democracy, governance capacity, and economic transformation in the candidate countries. After accession, EU institutions have proven resilient. Eastern enlargement has not had systematic negative effects on the legislative capacity of the EU or its legal system. It has not led to a deterioration of compliance with and implementation of EU law either; the initial differentiated integration of the new member states has returned to normal levels quickly.
This generally positive assessment stands in stark contrast with the increasing public opposition to future EU enlargements the reasons of which we also explore in our special issue. One of the less known sources of public opposition that we identify is the lack of communication and political debate about the last enlargement between EU leaders and their citizens, especially in the older member states. Public opposition, however, undermines the credibility of the EU’s accession conditionality, which is crucial if the EU is going to have a positive impact on its neighbouring countries in the future. The other deficit of EU integration capacity we point out is the absence of credible political conditionality vis-à-vis member states.
Lauded in political discussions as a tool to boost national parliaments’ involvement in EU affairs, the Early Warning System (EWS) introduced by the Lisbon Treaty has received a rather frosty reception among academics. The EWS allows national parliaments to scrutinise draft legislation by the EU, yet the canon of empirical studies suggests that the system is rarely used and falls short of expectations. But what are the criteria against which we should measure the effectiveness of the EWS? In his article “Beyond subsidiarity: the indirect effects of the Early Warning Systems on national parliamentary scrutiny in European Union affairs” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Eric Miklin argues that the EWS’s effects cannot be solely judged based on national parliaments’ use of formal powers provided by the system. Comparing post-Lisbon changes in EU scrutiny in the Austrian and Dutch lower chambers, Eric argues “that the EWS’s introduction has changed the role expectations directed towards parliaments and placed parliaments under normative pressure to live up to those expectations.” His analysis shows that post-Lisbon, both chambers have reformed internal practices on subsidiarity checks and increasingly attempted to shape their governments’ positions on EU issues.
The 2014 European Parliament election campaign was a special one. All main party groups in the European Parliament and most transnational European party groups nominated candidates for the job as Commission President. Not only that, the campaign included a series of televised debates among these candidates, culminating in the Eurovision-Debate on 15 May 2014, which was broadcasted live throughout and beyond the EU. For the first time in history, an overwhelming majority of EU citizens had the opportunity to compare the positions and personalities of the candidates running for Commission President.
But did this debate really have an effect? Did it make a difference? Join Thorsten Faas as he introduces key results from a truly European research project that analysed the effects of the Eurovision-Debate on the EU’s democratic quality, involving 47 authors and a quasi-experiment conducted in 24 countries. You can find the full paper here, we hope you enjoy reading!
In 2001, the Dutch parliament legalized same-sex marriages, making the Netherlands the first country worldwide to open marriage to same-sex couples. But what does it take for a country to become a global pioneer in advancing LGBT rights? Kelly Kollman argues that high levels of tolerance towards homosexuality in Dutch society and public support for the reform are only part of the story. Analysing the process leading up to the Dutch parliament’s vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, she shows how “the desire of Dutch activists and policy élites to burnish their international reputation as a social policy pioneer played a critical role in motivating the government to adopt this controversial policy”. Read her article “Pioneering marriage for same-sex couples in the Netherlands” published in the Journal of European Public Policy to learn how the European LGBT policy community facilitated the diffusion of same-sex unions policies and encouraged Dutch policy-makers to experiment with new forms of same-sex relationship recognition.
The Eurocrisis confronted national parliamentarians with some tough choices. MPs in creditor countries were asked to dig deep into the pockets of their constituencies to stop the fiscal freefall of other EU member states. Their colleagues in debtor countries voted on externally imposed austerity measures. Thus, expecting MPs to voice the interests of their national constituencies during one of the most severe crises of European integration seems plausible, right? Not necessarily, argues Lucy Kinski in her article “Whom to represent? National parliamentary representation during the eurozone crisis” published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Analysing plenary debates on the European Financial Stability Facility in Austria, Germany and Ireland, she finds that centre- and far-right parties indeed voiced national interests, however interestingly Eurosceptic MPs on the left criticised crisis measures in the name of European citizens. Crucially, Lucy’s findings suggest that “a Europeanization of national parliamentary representation does not necessarily mean pro-EU representation”.