This new special issue of the Journal of European Public Policy introduces a new concept to the discussion about the ongoing transformation of policies in the modern welfare state: post-exceptionalism in public policy. The point of departure is the observation that Western democratic welfare states have often developed sectoral governance arrangements where governments negotiated policy with sectoral elites, based on shared ideas and exclusive institutional arrangements. Food and agriculture policy is widely considered an extreme case of the ensuing compartmentalized and ‘exceptionalist’ policy-making, where sector-specific policy ideas and institutions provide privileged access for sectoral interest groups and generate policies that benefit their members. In the last two decades, policy exceptionalism has been under pressure from internationalization of policy making, increasing interlinkage of policy areas and trends towards self-regulation, liberalization and performance-based policies. This special issue explains and applies the concept of ‘post-exceptionalism’ to characterize an incomplete transformation of exceptionalist policies with the result that old and new ideas, institutions, interests and policy instruments coexist in various combinations. Food and agriculture policy serves as an example to illustrate an incomplete transformation towards a more open, contested and networked politics that still betrays an enduring exceptionalist policy heritage. The articles of this themed issue demonstrate the analytical utility of the concept of post-exceptionalism to understand the co-existence of transformation and path dependency in contemporary public policy. The collection consists of articles that analyse recent developments in agricultural policy making in the European Union and the United States, environmental policy integration in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the politics of food in Germany and the United Kingdom, transnational organic standard setting, the role of productionism in global food security debates and the resilience of paradigm mixes in the international food trade regime. These contributions show that in agri-food policy, to varying degrees, changes have taken place in at least two of the four dimensions of policy exceptionalism (ideas, institutions, actors and policy). They also indicate that such partial transformation of policy means that in some situations post-exceptionalism can be a stable constellation while in others it may be a fragile and contested arrangement which can potentially move towards a ‘normalization’ of the policy sector or reverse to a more classical exceptionalist mode. The concept of post-exceptionalism provides a broader and more nuanced perspective on policy transition processes than typically found in studies of policy change. It promises to be useful to understand changes not just in agriculture and food policy, but in other domains of the transforming welfare state as well.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis and in the wake of the UK’s nearing exit from the EU, the future trajectory of European integration has seen its fair share of debate. Amid a myriad of differing views, it appears that Commission officials share the sentiment that any mid- and long-term strategy not only requires political support across European capitals but needs to resonate with society in the EU at large. Despite their crucial role in fostering societal ownership of the Commission’s initiatives, we know surprisingly little about how civil society organizations receive and respond to the latter’s visions for European integration. In his article “Exploring the emotional appeal of green and social Europe myths among pan-European Union organizations” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Kennet Lynggaard explores how pan-European Union non-governmental organizations perceive and reproduce political myths advanced in the European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy. Drawing on an analysis of documents published by key “green” and “social” pan-EU NGOs, Kennet shows that civil society organizations are receptive to political myths advanced in the Commission’s Europe 2020 initiative and observes that most are “strategically using political myths to justify their policy positions.”
External trade policy is among national and European technocrats’ most carefully guarded portfolios, routinely resisting every attempt to transfer powers in concluding international trade agreements to the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty, however, opened a door to the European Parliament on external trade, granting it legislative powers over the EU’s trade policy and the right to veto international trade agreements. In her article “The impact of norms on political decision-making: how to account for the European Parliament’s empowerment in EU external trade policy” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Guri Rosén seizes on this puzzle and shows how the debate surrounding the empowerment of the European Parliament in external trade “became embedded in the general discussion about its legislative role in a more democratic EU.” Guri argues that during negotiations on the Lisbon Treaty, uncertainty and disagreement regarding the principles guiding reform placed a higher demand on actors to explain their positions. This environment favoured proponents of empowering the European Parliament in trade policy, and allowed the European Commission and the European Parliament to convince Member State governments “that extending the EP’s trade powers was reasonable because there were no valid arguments for exempting trade from the general rule of linking QMV and codecision.”
The balancing of budgets and spending cuts have been focal points of fiscal policies across Europe over the past years. Blurring the lines of traditional partisan divides, austerity measures have often been passed with the votes of left-wing parties. In his article “Social democratic austerity: the conditional role of agenda dynamics and issue ownership” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Jonas Kraft explores this puzzle, and explains why social democratic governments appear to abandon their key constituencies. Jonas argues that left-wing governments are traditionally plagued by a poor fiscal reputation. As concerns about balanced budgets top the political agenda, social democrats are drawn to favour austerity to covet electoral support from swing voters. His analysis of fiscal policy-making in 21 OECD countries between 1980 and 2006 offers support for this argument, yet also reveals that it is an electoral strategy seemingly doomed to fail. As left and right wing parties’ fiscal reputation has remained relatively stable, swing voters appear unimpressed by social democratic governments’ enthusiasm for austerity while core left-wing voters may turn to more radical left-wing alternatives, suggesting that “increasing attention to austerity is likely a lose–lose situation for the Left.”
Who would have thought a knack of learning new names would be among the portfolio of essential skills ministers must bring to the table when fulfilling their duties at the Council of the European Union? With ministers serving at the mercy of their heads of governments, recent research suggests that ministerial turnover in the Council by far outweighs turnover rates in national legislatures. In their article “Vertical intra-institutional effects of ministerial turnover in the Council of the European Union” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Lauren K. Perez and John A. Scherpereel investigate how ministerial reshuffles affect the influence national bureaucrats in working groups and permanent representatives in senior committees can exercise in the Council. Their evidence suggests that ministerial turnover is indeed “an important and significant predictor of whether decisions are made at the ministerial or committee level.” Beyond providing an interesting insight into vertical intra-institutional dynamics in the Council, Lauren and John’s contribution has important implications for the debate on the EU’s democratic deficit: If high ministerial turnover shifts influence on decision-making in the Council over to bureaucrats who are not subject to the same public scrutiny as the ministers they are serving, democratic accountability only becomes more difficult.
Considering their limited administrative capacity, EU regulatory agencies entrusted with fostering co-ordination of regulatory practices across the EU are presented with an overwhelming task – a task that appears manageable only with the support and goodwill of national regulators. Against this backdrop, Eva Heims writes that “it remains a critical puzzle for students of public administration and EU governance to understand why some national regulators are willing to engage with the work of EU bodies and to co-ordinate their practices with sister authorities, whilst others are not.” In her article “Regulatory co-ordination in the EU: a cross-sector comparison” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, she compares attitudes among British and German maritime safety and food control authorities towards EU regulatory co-ordination. Her analysis reveals that while British and German maritime safety authorities are apprehensive of closer ties with the International Maritime Organization, fearing inroads into their traditional turfs, food safety authorities in both countries embrace EU regulatory co-ordination to stay atop of complex systems of domestic local authorities. Eva’s contribution shows that “it it is useful to take into account the positions which national authorities hold in constellations of bureaucratic actors beyond the EU context in order to understand their attitudes to EU co-ordination.”
The club of Western democracies legally recognizing same-sex unions, either through a registered partnership or marriage, has consistently expanded its ranks since 1989, when Denmark first introduced registered partnerships for same-sex couples. Questions surrounding the factors that drive the timing of the introduction of same-sex union laws have since sparked a lively academic debate. In their article “Sooner or later: the influence of public opinion and religiosity on the enactment of laws recognizing same-sex unions” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Achim Hildebrandt, Eva-Maria Trüdinger and Sebastian Jäckle add to this debate by zooming in on the effects of three cultural factors – attitudes to homosexuality, intolerance of gays and lesbians and religiosity. Their analysis suggest culture plays a key role in the timing of legalising same-sex union, indicating that “the less tolerant people are of gays and lesbians and the greater a country’s percentage of regular attendees of religious services, the later a same-sex union law is introduced.” Yet, their findings also highlight the importance of digging a little deeper and recognizing different facets of culture, as “toleration of gays and lesbians in everyday life and religious service attendance have a greater influence on policy dynamics than more abstract beliefs such as moral approval of homosexuality or religious faith.”
Serving as the EU’s dual executive, the European Council and the Commission occupy key roles in shaping the EU’s policy agenda. But do all issues garner the same attention from these institutions? Petya Alexandrova notes that the European Council and the Commission appear to specialize in different policy domains. In her article “Institutional issue proclivity in the EU: the European Council vs the Commission” published in the Journal of European Public Policy she finds evidence that the European Council has specialized in soft law issue areas, including social policy, foreign affairs and macroeconomics, whereas the Commission is predominantly active in areas subject to exclusive and shared EU competences. The Commission’s domain, however, appears to be temporally vulnerable to inroads by the European Council, particularly when it comes to energy and business. Petya’s analysis suggests that “crises with wide-ranging and long-term consequences affecting all member states at the same time, like the global economic and financial crisis, appear to act as a driver for European Council preoccupation with particular topics.” Such crises may trigger the European Council to devote increased attention on issues typically within the Commission’s domain.
The public debt crisis and economic recession that have beset the EU’s Southern member states over the past few years hit policy makers with a double whammy. Rising unemployment has fuelled calls for more investment into social protection systems, yet stricken public finances are tying the hands of those seeking to reform labour market policies. How can policy makers elicit public support for their plans, when funding for reforms in one policy area means cutting elsewhere? It’s time to have a closer look at voters’ multi-dimensional preferences say Aina Gallego and Paul Marx in their article “Multi-dimensional preferences for labour market reforms: a conjoint experiment” published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Aina and Paul analyse public support for labour market policy reform in Spain, using a conjoint experiment that allows them to simultaneously vary five characteristics of a policy. Their analysis suggests that voters are sensitive to spending trade-offs between different issue areas, allowing policy makers to manipulate support for policy reforms by carefully framing the proposed plans: “Depending on the trade-off, citizens can be mobilized against a programme (cuts in health and education) or in favour of it (cuts in defence, higher debt, higher income tax).”
In the process of European integration national parliaments have undoubtedly lost some of their legislative clout. Working against this trend, national MPs have clawed some of their influence back through exercising ex ante scrutiny of EU legislation. However, since many national parliaments play a central role in the transposition of EU legislation their scrutiny may not be confined to the stages prior to the adoption of new policies in Brussels. Are national parliaments then more than rubber-stamp institutions when it comes to implementing EU policies? The answer is “sometimes”, notes Robert Zbíral in his article “Comparing the intensity of scrutiny for ‘domestic’ and implementing bills: does transposition of EU law reduce political contestation in national parliaments?” published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Using data from the Czech Chamber of Deputies and the Slovak National Council, Robert shows that MPs are generally less motivated to scrutinize EU law transposition bills than purely domestic legislation. Yet, his data uncovers a break in this pattern once power relations between government and the opposition are taken into account. Robert notes that “a weak position of government lowers the distinction between EU and member state bills, as even the former become part of political battles between executive and opposition.”