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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.