The effects of ministerial turnover in the Council of the European Union

Lauren K. Perez (University of Chicago) & John A. Scherpereel (James Madison University)

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.

Comparing attitudes towards EU regulatory co-ordination

Eva Heims (University of York)

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.”

Sooner or later: Timing the introduction of same-sex union laws

Achim Hildebrandt (University of Stuttgart), Eva-Maria Trüdinger (University of Stuttgart) & Sebastian Jäckle (University of Freiburg)

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.”

What is your focus? The European Council and the Commission’s policy priorities

Petya Alexandrova (University of Oxford)

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.

Framing policy reforms: Multi-dimensional preferences for labour market reforms

Aina Gallego (Institut de Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals & Institute of Political Economy and Governance) & Paul Marx (University of Southern Denmark)

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).”

More than rubber-stamping? On the contestation of EU law in national parliaments

Robert Zbíral (Masaryk University)

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.”

Beyond legal compliance in EU multilevel implementation

Eva Thomann (European University Institute) & Fritz Sager (University of Bern)

By Eva Thomann and Fritz Sager

EU implementation research very much emphasizes member states’ legal compliance with EU law. However, as has been stated elsewhere before, implementation is more than the mere transposition of EU directives into national law. Rather, policies change while being put into practice. As policymaking continues, policy outcomes vary widely between member states and may not correspond with the original policy objectives. This has become apparent again as the asylum or austerity crises challenge the EU’s problem-solving capacity.  In our JEPP special issue “Moving beyond legal compliance: Innovative approaches to EU multilevel implementation”, we take a closer look at the implementation stage in the EU. Rather than focusing on conformance with EU policies, we  “zoom in” on implementation performance and ask how domestic actors problem-solve when interpreting EU law.

Policy implementation is a political process in which EU directives are re-interpreted and adjusted to domestic contexts and political priorities. In a multilevel system such as the EU, implementation is subject to two opposed forces: Europeanisation on the one hand, domestication on the other. Domestication results from domestic choices of non-prescribed or non-recommended policy options. This tension results in an important variety of implementation strategies that the generic category of compliance can no longer capture. Instead, there are many nuances between member states, regions, municipalities and even individual actors in how they implement EU policies. Only recently are these nuances being studied more systematically, for example, under the heading of “customization”.

The contributions assembled in the Special Issue help us understand the diversity in how EU member states put EU directives into national political practice. They analyse the interplay of domestication and Europeanization dynamics from various understudied perspectives: customized transposition, motivations and roles of individuals implementing EU policy, interactions between national, regional and municipal governance levels, the Europeanization of enforcement, and the effectiveness of different implementation strategies.

The collection offers two main findings. First, Europeanization dynamics strongly influence the direction of domestication of EU policy. Accordingly, the broad diversity of national customization practices remains hidden when only considering (non-)compliance.  Second, not all policies are equally prone to domestication. For example, the less EU directives allow for integration into national policies, the more they are domesticated – be it by legislative drafters, be it by street-level bureaucrats. This happens, for instance, if EU requirements are incompatible with national political preferences; or if the relationship between EU and national policy is ambiguous, and implementing agents have discretion. When decentralized actors are given discretion, they also need power and capacity for a successful policy performance.

Domestication dynamics are likely to influence the acceptance of distant EU directives at the local level. However, they can also lead to distributive injustice in terms of policy provision. Such questions are of direct relevance for the legitimacy of EU policies. Our collection offers new approaches to address the trade-offs between conformance and performance. Thereby, it contributes to a future study of multilevel implementation that accounts for implementation diversity between top-down and bottom-up forces.

Federal challenges and challenges to federalism. Insights from the EU and federal states

John Erik Fossum (ARENA Centre for European Studies)
John Erik Fossum (ARENA Centre for European Studies)

By John Erik Fossum

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.

Europe as a multilevel federation

Michael Keating (University of Aberdeen)
Michael Keating (University of Aberdeen)

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.”

Able but unwilling? The prospects for inter-parliamentary activism in the EU

Nicole Bolleyer (University of Exeter)
Nicole Bolleyer (University of Exeter)

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.”