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.”
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.
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.