Still an entrepreneur? The European Commission’s role in EU environmental policy-making

Yves Steinebach (LMU Munich) & Christoph Knill (LMU Munich)
Yves Steinebach (LMU Munich) & Christoph Knill (LMU Munich)

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”.

Information and financial crisis policy-making

Christopher Gandrud (City University London) & Micheál O'Keefe (Central Bank of Ireland)
Christopher Gandrud (City University London) & Micheál O’Keefe (Central Bank of Ireland)

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.”

Assessing EU enlargement capacity: effective conditionality, resilient institutions, and skeptical publics

Antoaneta Dimitrova (Leiden University) & Frank Schimmelfennig (ETH Zurich)
Antoaneta Dimitrova (Leiden University) & Frank Schimmelfennig (ETH Zurich)

By Antoaneta Dimitrova and Frank Schimmelfennig

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.

It works! The Early Warning Systems and national parliamentary scrutiny in European Union affairs

Eric Miklin (University of Salzburg)
Eric Miklin (University of Salzburg)

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.

This time it’s different? Effects of the Eurovision Debate on young citizens and its consequence for EU democracy

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!

Pioneering marriage for same-sex couples in the Netherlands

Kelly Kollman (University of Glasgow)

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.

Whom to represent? National parliamentary representation during the eurozone crisis

Lucy Kinski (Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf)
Lucy Kinski (Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

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”.

Money over misery: restrictive gambling legislation in an era of liberalization

Carsten Jensen (Aarhus University)
Carsten Jensen (Aarhus University)

With the rapid extension of its online segment, gambling has transitioned from a fringe pastime to a key source of both commercial and public revenue. But the popularity of gambling across Europe comes at a price, as estimates put the number of gambling addicts in the EU anywhere between 2.5 and 10 million individuals. Amid a general convergence among policy-makers’ regulatory responses, Carsten Jensen points out that some national gambling policies in Europe appear to follow distinct trajectories. Based on a comparative analysis of Norway’s restrictive approach towards gambling and Denmark’s liberal regulatory regime, he concludes that policy-makers “appear to prioritize reduced gambling addiction only when the state itself is not directly benefitting from the activity”. Read Carsten’s article “Money over misery: restrictive gambling legislation in an era of liberalization” published in the Journal of European Public Policy to learn how Norwegian policy-makers only went ahead with restrictive policies after their own reform efforts in the early 1990s incidentally shut Norway out from gambling’s revenue stream.

JEPP wishes everyone a happy holiday season!

frozen-berries-red-fruits-64705For a journal covering European politics, 2016 was an eventful, if not turbulent year indeed. For us as editors, business as usual now also means to think about ways to cover some of the more momentous events and developments without too much delay, while keeping academic standards high. With the introduction of the Debate Section, we were able to test a new format of shorter articles, which engage a topic from different viewpoints, and which demand from authors as well as reviewers to work even more than their usual extra hours. JEPP’s very first Debate Section on the British Exit from the EU – Legal and Political Implications, edited by Graham Butler, Mads Dagnis Jensen and Holly Snaith received ample attention by our readers as well as in the social media.

Unmatched in this regard was Sara Hobolt’s excellent in-depth analysis of the Brexit vote: a divided nation, a divided continent, which went online in September and received over 7000 views by December 2016 – a JEPP record, which will be hard to beat unless other EU member states decide to follow suit (fingers crossed that this will not happen so soon). Other developments, which have caught the public eye in 2016, have also received ample coverage in JEPP via our Debate Section format: The gradual erosion of liberal democracy and the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, and what the EU can do about it, has been covered in a highly publicized debate edited by Dan Kelemen and Michael Blauberger.

2016 also kept us busy doing JEPP’s core tasks: publishing some of the best work in European politics and public policy. By the end of 2016, we will – for the first time – hit the 400-submission ceiling. While this means more work for us, we are also happy because this probably means that our readers (you!) seem to like the journal. As JEPP continues to grow, we have decided to move from 10 to 11 issues in 2017. And to better communicate JEPP to the world of academia and beyond, our JEPP Online Blog and Twitter account have been well received and we also hope to keep you well-informed in 2017.

While we agree that bibliometric data should be approached cautiously, we are obviously happy to see that the journal is doing very well across the board of different indicators (such as the Journal Citation Report by Thomson Reuters or Google Scholar). The best way for us to keep our standards high and publish exciting work is for you, our authors, reviewers, and readers, to continue to feed us with your great ideas, thorough analyses and commitment to excellence. Our pledge is to offer you what we hope is an efficient and fair review and publishing process, a journal that you not only like to read, but that also has a human face (as probably most editors, we also make mistakes, but we tend to learn from them as well).

In the meantime, the JEPP-team will take a short break over the holidays, and be back in action in 2017. Jeremy will be spending a typical Kiwi Christmas with Sonia, the girls, and Harvey, namely going to the Akaroa beach and having lot of BBQs, washed down with fine NZ wines. As an add-on he is having a paddle boarding lesson, aiming, at 74, to be the oldest paddle boarder in Akaroa. Berthold has agreed to write a nice Obituary in JEPP should this (foolish?) venture end in disaster!

Berthold will, as usual, spend the holiday break with Jessica and his in-laws in Florida, watching out for sharks and Trump motorcades on and off the beaches in Palm Beach County. If things get too hectic, he will have a drink or two on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman (no, JEPP does not run an offshore business).

Michael will continue with his (pleasant) Sisyphean task from last year – trying to reduce the regrowing pile of books that he can reach from his couch. To prevent things from getting too comfortable, however, he registered for a winter half-marathon after the holiday break.

Philipp will escape the big smoke of London and spend his Christmas break with friends and family in Munich. No winter half-marathon, (hopefully) no Trump motorcades, just a blanket, a hot drink and plenty of time to catch up on some of the sleep that was lost throughout the past few months.

We wish all of you a happy holiday and relaxing season. See you next year!

Berthold, Jeremy, Michael, Philipp

The EU in crisis: EU studies in crisis?

“[T]he desire to be a predictive science causes us to imagine the world
to be far more predictable than it actually is.” (Blyth 2006, p. 493)

As the EU stumbles from crisis to crisis, which the Commission President has even referred to as an “existential crisis” in his state of the union address, can we as EU scholars continue with business as usual? Or should we rethink our ways of researching, teaching and communicating the EU?

Over the past decade, the EU has faced an unprecedented succession and accumulation of crises: the banking crisis has led to financial and sovereign debt crises, which have culminated in a Eurozone crisis; a democratic crisis does not merely beset EU-level decision-making, but seems to be a deliberate strategy of some EU governments championing ‘illiberal democracy’. The so-called refugee crisis has been a catalyst for populism and demands to ‘take back’, i.e. re-nationalize, political control. The Brexit referendum was a vivid illustration of these centrifugal forces in the EU and beyond (e.g. with US president-elect Trump calling himself ‘Mr. Brexit’).

For EU scholars, these crises have become primary objects of study, but they have not thrown EU studies into crisis. To the contrary: EU scholars have interpreted the EU’s crisis responses as yet another set of phenomena that can be studied by employing assumptions, theories, and methods that characterize our field. Why let a good crisis go to waste, if it can be analysed with the existing bodies of theories of integration, institutional change, and decision-making? Previous crises, big and small, have surely brought about shifts in the EU’s institutional architecture, they have affected the contentiousness and dynamics of EU policy-making, they have allowed us to assess and refine our theories, but they have hardly led us to re-evaluate our shared premise: that the EU, despite its inefficiencies and deficits, is here to stay.

During the days following the June 23rd vote, business as usual was hardly an option for those amongst us entering a classroom, or for those being asked by concerned relatives and friends. While we can help make sense of the Brexit vote, given the sophisticated commentary from our peers, the implications of the referendum might unleash more than ‘just’ another crisis: It might very well mark a moment of reckoning for us as political scientists and EU scholars. Have we overestimated the stability of the EU’s political system and its resilience to crises? Are some of our theories biased by equating more integration with successful problem-solving and do they hence insinuate a sense of stability, which, in fact, is more porous than solid? Or have we simply taken the EU too much for granted (alongside, possibly, with other political accomplishments of the liberal, democratic post-war order)? And, depending on our answers to these questions, what follows from this diagnosis for researching, teaching and communicating the EU?

We invite proposals (of max. 500 words) for individual contributions (of up to 5,000 words) to a JEPP debate section on this topic. Please, send your proposals by 12 February 2017 to michael.blauberger@sbg.ac.at and berthold.rittberger@gsi.lmu.de and do not hesitate to get in touch with either of them should you have any further questions.