Over the past few years, EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans have gradually improved their formal compliance with the EU’s membership criteria. At the same time, democratisation in the region has stagnated at best. How can we explain patterns of decoupling between formal compliance and democratic transformation in the Western Balkans? In their article “Money, power, glory: the linkages between EU conditionality and state capture in the Western Balkans” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Solveig Richter and Natasha Wunsch identify informal, clientelist networks’ capture of political institutions as a formidable obstacle to the consolidation of democracy in the region. Solveig and Natasha argue that rather than countering state capture, EU conditionality involuntarily strengthened informal networks’ role instead. The weakening of political competition in the face of top-down conditionality and a liberalisation of markets have favoured a small ruling elite, whose interactions with EU officials have legitimized their influence in Western Balkans’ societies. Solveig and Natasha caution that “the current approach towards enlargement risks enabling and reinforcing informal networks by providing them with the resources to capture state institutions, undermine domestic mechanisms of accountability, and maintain their countries in a state of permanent hybridity.”
Several recent studies have suggested that an increasing polarization of political views within a society is detrimental to voters’ satisfaction with democracy. Polarization may sour the political discourse and impede meaningful discussions among voters. However, voters may not only hold fundamentally diverging views on a number of political issues, but also disagree on which issues are important to them. In their article “Unity in diversity? Polarization, issue diversity and satisfaction with democracy” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Julian Hoerner and Sara Hobolt argue that the negative effects of polarization on voters’ satisfaction with democracy are moderated by the number of political issues they consider as important. Drawing on Eurobarometer survey data and estimates of the polarization of party systems in 31 European countries between 2003 and 2018, Julian and Sara show that negative associations between polarization and satisfaction with democracy are diminished when the political discourse is not dominated by a single or small number of issues. Julian and Sara argue that these “findings suggest that we can be less concerned with an increase in ideological polarization if it manifests itself across a number of cross-cutting issues.”
In June 2016 more than 70 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballot in the United Kingdom’s referendum on membership in the EU, far above turnout rates usually seen for the UK’s general and European elections. Did voters who would not usually make their way to the ballot box sway the outcome of the Brexit referendum? In his article “Turning out to turn down the EU: the mobilisation of occasional voters and Brexit” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Lukas Rudolph makes use of the fact that on the day of the referendum heavy rainfall in some of the UK’s regions induced occasional voters to stay at home. Comparing referendum results for regions with higher and lower turnout rates, Lukas shows that voters who would not usually turn out were more likely to vote in favour of Brexit. Drawing on survey data, he shows that occasional voters were not generally favouring Brexit. Instead, empirical evidence suggests that Leave-campaigners were more effective in mobilising occasional voters supportive of Brexit to turn up at the ballot box on referendum day. Drawing on these findings, Lukas concludes “that turnout is critical to understand electoral outcomes and policy choice in democracies, and even more so in single-issue referendums when partisan attachments are weak.”
By Oscar Fitch-Roy, Jenny Fairbrass & David Benson
As witnessed at the recent session of the climate change Conference of the Parties in Madrid (COP25), carbon markets dominate discussion about climate change policy.
At times, it can seem difficult to talk about anything else.
But if everyone is talking about carbon markets, what are they not talking about? In our article “Ideas, coalitions and compromise: reinterpreting EU-ETS lobbying through discursive institutionalism” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, we examine an episode of reform of the EU emissions trading system in order to reveal the role of policy discourse in shaping advocacy strategies.
We argue that between 2012 and 2015, reforms to the EU-ETS in order to avert its collapse were aided by environmentalists’ efforts to mobilise businesses in favour of tighter rules. By skilfully creating new norms of collaborative working, a diverse and influential coalition of interests was assembled which appears to have contributed to bringing about the reforms.
However, the article goes on to make a case that this ‘policy entrepreneurship’ was only possible by framing the potential failure of the EU-ETS as the overriding problem faced by EU climate policy, a departure from the typical scepticism about carbon markets within the environmental movement. The article highlights that the ‘win’ of tighter EU-ETS rules came at the ‘cost’ of accepting and amplifying the ‘technology-neutral’ narrative of climate change mitigation favoured by fossil-fuel interests in which decisions are ‘left to the market’. Finally, we point out that further entrenching the idea of ‘technology-neutrality’ within the policy discourse may have implications beyond the original campaign. One of these is to weaken the position of advocates for technology-specific policies such as renewable energy targets or energy efficiency. This observation is especially pertinent given the notable failure of carbon markets to bring about the change needed to tackle the climate crisis to-date and ongoing doubts about their ability ever to do so.
In recent years, restrictions on the wearing of Islamic face veils have been implemented in several European states. Supporters of such restrictions often point out that the wearing of face veils prevents Muslim women from integrating into European societies, thus creating populations vulnerable to radicalization. Further, some perceive the Islamic face veil as a symbol associated with terrorism or even a physical threat. In their article “Do burqa bans make us safer? Veil prohibitions and terrorism in Europe” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Nilay Saiya and Stuti Manchanda offer evidence that bans on face veils do not foster national security. To the contrary Nilay and Stuti’s analysis of panel data for 28 European states between 2003 and 2017 shows that states which had restricted the wearing of Islamic face veils were more likely to experience terrorist events in response. Nilay and Stuti argue that rather than aiding cultural assimilation, limitations on religious dress engender grievances among Muslim populations and may even provoke violent backlash. Bans on face veils thus appear ill-suited to achieved their desired effect, ensuring national security. Nilay and Stuti’s findings underscore that “[i]t is important for governments to consider not only the human rights implications of restricting religious expression and women’s rights in the name of combatting terrorism, but the social, political and economic consequences as well.”
When several Central and Eastern European (CEE) states joined the EU in the mid-2000s, some observers feared that Europeanisation of national policies would remain shallow among the union’s latest members. Expecting compliance on paper only and poor implementation rates, institutional and policy changes would fail to be locked-in and remain at risk of reversal. Recent signs of resurging economic nationalism in some CEE states appear to confirm these fears. In her article “More Catholic than the Pope? Europeanisation, industrial policy and transnationalised capitalism in Eastern Europe” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Visnja Vukov challenges these assessments by zooming in on national industrial policies. Visnja shows that CEE states have embraced horizontal state aid policies favoured by the EU and record even better compliance rates with EU state aid regulations than their Western neighbours. She attributes this somewhat puzzling pattern of ‘deep’ Europeanisation of industrial policies in CEE states to EU pre-accession conditionality and EU-led efforts to support institution-building. Visnja concludes that “[t]ogether, these elements played a key role in shifting domestic developmental strategies towards FDI-oriented ones, and building capacities for EU compliant industrial policies.”
Given the large number of interest groups that vie for the attention of decision-makers in EU institutions, questions surrounding which groups tend to succeed in translating their concerns into legislative text continue to be hotly debated among observers of EU policy-making. In his article “Regulating the audit market in the European Union: who dominates, who loses?” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Armin Mertens offers a novel approach on how to empirically study the influence different interest groups exert on EU policy-making. Rather than analysing interest groups’ preference attainment across different policies, Armin splits the text of a single piece of legislation on the EU’s audit market regulation into its constituent issues and evaluates interest groups’ success in getting their issue-specific concerns across. Further, instead of assuming that business groups voice homogenous interests, he distinguishes between large firms and small and medium-sized enterprises. Armin argues that these refinements in measuring interest groups’ influence are warranted, as his empirical results present a more nuanced picture than what existing research would have us expect. Armin’s analysis shows that “a general statement about the success of speciﬁc interest groups across all issues is diﬃcult to make: interest group success in preference attainment depends heavily on issue salience and the size of issue-speciﬁc policy coalitions.”
The preliminary reference procedure allows national courts to refer questions surrounding the clarification of EU law to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In the past, the CJEU has often seized on these opportunities to advance social and economic integration in Europe through its jurisprudence. Unsurprisingly though, not all national courts appear equally eager to invest the extra effort and refer their cases to the CJEU. In their article “Who refers most? Institutional incentives and judicial participation in the preliminary ruling system” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Arthur Dyevre, Monika Glavina and Angelina Atanasova argue that in the face of a higher caseload, judges at national first-instance courts tend to afford less time per case than their colleagues higher up in national judicial hierarchies. Busier schedules would then lead us to expect lower referral rates among lower courts. To study the drivers of national courts’ referral rates to the CJEU, Arthur, Monika and Angelina extended, revised and supplemented existing data. Their evidence shows that while lower courts ‘accidentally’ pioneered the use of the preliminary reference procedure early on, higher appellate courts have established themselves as the most prominent referring courts over time. This pattern suggests that as lower courts kick-started an institutionalisation of EU law, higher courts had to divert their attention to supranational law, which then “allowed the division of labour underpinning the organisation of national judiciaries to reshape referral dynamics.”
Immigration has cemented its rank among the most salient policy issues across Europe over the past decades. In their article “Convergence, capitalist diversity, or political volatility? Immigration policy in Western Europe” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Erica Consterdine and James Hampshire employ an original immigration policy index to capture policy restrictiveness in five European countries between 1990 and 2015. Challenging accounts suggesting that forces of economic globalisation lead to policy convergence beyond governments’ control, Erica and James show that there is little evidence suggesting that immigration policies in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Spain have converged. Some of the observed variation in the restrictiveness of immigration policy can be explained by the varieties of capitalism (VoC) characterising these five countries. However, Erica and James show that differences between countries and over time are predominantly shaped by the dynamics of national politics and political parties’ competition for office. Their analysis suggests that “while VoC may set the broad parameters for immigration regimes, both the direction and timing of policy changes appear to be shaped by party competition.”
Announcements for large-scale public projects typically provide politicians with opportunities to soak up some of the limelight. However, subsequent implementation phases of these projects often prove bumpy. In his article “Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Markus Hinterleitner shows that when public projects’ costs outrun projected budgets and deadlines are unlikely to be met, politicians turn to a blame management strategy that has been widely neglected in the literature on policy implementation: the stepwise announcement of delays and cost-overruns, commonly known as ‘salami tactics’. Markus shows that the application of salami tactics has prominently featured in two large-scale public projects beset by a multitude of implementation issues, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Germany and the Swiss National Exposition Expo.02. While such tactics appear popular among reputation-sensitive politicians, as they allow the latter to portion blame into smaller, less damaging parts, Markus cautions that these strategies can have detrimental effects. He argues that by “delaying the revelation of a project’s real beneﬁt-cost ratio (BCR), salami tactics prevent adaptations and readjustments in the early stages of the implementation phase that could save public resources.”