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Political Dynamics in the European Union


The growing importance of non Community' policy areas and of new modes of governance. ... How liberal (non interventionist) should EU economic policies be? ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Political Dynamics in the European Union

Political Dynamics in the European Union
Factors driving political dynamics
The political dynamics of the EU are in constant
evolution. Factors driving the evolution
include Treaty changes Enlargements Unfolding
policy responsibilities Pressures from the
institutions Evolving attitudes towards the
Examining the changing nature of EU political
  • The dynamics will be examined here under four
  • The roles and influence of the EUs institutions
  • Inter-state relations
  • The role of ideology
  • Provision of leadership

The roles and influence of the EU
institutionsKey Questions
  • As we proceed, students are encouraged to be
    thinking about the roles and influence of the
    EUs main institutions. Key questions include
  • Has there been a decline in the pioneering role
    of the Commission and an increase in its
    managerial roles?
  • Have the agenda-setting and decision-making roles
    of the European Council increased, and if so why?
  • Has the perceived increase in the decision-making
    role of the European Parliament been exaggerated?

The roles and influence of the EU institutions1
The Commission
  • Functions
  • Initiator and proposer (especially in pillar
  • Executive functions a few are direct (notably
    competition), but most involve overseeing
    national agencies.
  • Guardian of the legal framework.
  • Mediating and brokerage functions.

1 The Commission the academic debate
  • There is an extensive academic debate regarding
    the extent to which the Commission undertakes
    its leadership and other roles in an independent
    manner. Broadly speaking, there are two polar
    views, with variations stretched out in between
  • The intergovernmentalist view (Moravcsik,
    Magnette) the Commission is essentially an
  • The supranationalist view (Beach, Schmidt,
    Sandholtz and Stone Sweet, Pollack) the agent
    is not controlled completely by its principal
    the focus should be on decision-making and not
    just on decision taking.

1 The Commission the supranationalist case
  • Those who argue the Commission exercises
    considerable independent influence point to
  • - its many power resources
  • - its many functions.
  • They suggest practice shows it be a central
    player not only in routine decision-making but
    also in respect of such major EU initiatives as
  • Enlargement
  • The SEM programme
  • The Lisbon Process

1 The Commission the supranationalist case
  • Case studies by those who take a supranational
    perspective show that the Commissions potential
    for influential and independent action is
    normally greatest when
  • - it has strong and clear powers
  • - QMV applies in the Council
  • - control mechanisms are weak
  • - there is uncertainty of information amongst
    the member states
  • - there is the possibility of exploiting
    differences between member states

1 The Commission Evidence of and reasons for
its alleged decline
  • - The pioneering days are arguably over.
  • - The increasing influence of other
    institutions, notably the European Council and
    the European Parliament.
  • - Loss of status the 1999 crisis, internal
    divisions, the 2004 EP hearings.
  • - Concerns that as the College has become
    larger then so has it become less cohesive and
    less efficient.
  • - It has suffered some defeats and failures
    in recent years.
  • - The growing importance of non Community
    policy areas and of new modes of governance.

2 The Council of Ministers Functions
  • Used to be the legislature of the EU now
    shares this function with the EP.
  • Takes most of the EUs governmental policy
  • - Commission proposals for legislation
  • - CFSP common positions or actions
  • - Noting progress reports
  • - Requests to the Commission for
  • Prepares ground for European Councils.

  • 2 The Council of Ministers Operational
  • The central difficulty arises, of course, from
    the diversity of the needs and preferences of
    Council participants.
  • The diversity means there are particular
    difficulties when unanimity still applies a
    state expresses a strong national interest.
  • But QMV is now used in about 40 of the cases
    where it is available.
  • Meetings are now so large as to sometimes make
    real negotiations almost impossible.
  • The rotating presidency

2 The Council of Ministers Questions for
  • Has the Council declined in importance?
  • Can it be viewed as still being primarily
  • Have recent (Seville) reforms arrested its
    alleged inefficiency?
  • Is there a lack of transparency and legitimacy?

3 The European Council Functions
  • Most major (history making) decisions are
    made at summits.
  • Some contentious matters are referred up.
  • Helps to provide strategic direction.
  • A forum for exchanging ideas at the highest
    political level.

  • 3 The European Council
  • Operational Problems
  • There are many weaknesses in the European
    Councils decision-making capacity
  • As with the Council, the diversity of interests
    and preferences, but these are often elevated
    at summits
  • Agendas often are too weighty
  • Infrequency and short duration of meetings
  • Unanimity remains the prevailing decision-making

3 The European Council Questions for
  • Is it a decision-maker, or an approver of
    decisions made elsewhere?
  • Has it strengthened the intergovernmental
    nature of the EU?
  • Is the media circus aspect of summits helpful
    to the formation of a European identity and

4 The European Parliament Functions
  • Legislator
  • It co-legislates with the Council on most
    legislative proposals.
  • Scrutiniser of the executive
  • It operates in various ways, ranging from the
    power to approve and dismiss the College to
    establishing investigatory committees.
  • Budgetary authority
  • It is the co-budgetary authority, but its powers
    are circumscribed by
  • - it is largely excluded from deliberations
    on the multi-annual financial perspectives
  • - it can do little about obligatory

  • 4 The European Parliament
  • Operational Difficulties
  • It is by far the largest legislature in the
    democratic world, with 732 members.
  • The lack of a government is fundamental to
    the ways in which the EU is organised and
    conducts its business.
  • Language is a real problem there are now 20
    official EU languages (380 possible
  • The multi-site problem.

4 The European Parliament Influence where it
has increased
  • EU influence has clearly grown over the
    years especially in regard to
  • the Commission
  • the content of legislation. (The former
    Commission-Council tandem has been replaced by an
    institutional triangle, which operates via both
    formal and informal channels.)

4 The European Parliament Influence over
  • Most non administrative legislation is now
    subject to co-decision (it was scheduled to
    become the ordinary legislative procedure under
    the Constitutional Treaty).
  • Co-decision can be cumbersome, which has
    encouraged the institutions to agree much
    legislation at first and second readings only
    about 15 goes to a conciliation committee and
    in these committees over 80 of second reading EP
    amendments are either accepted or are adopted in
    a form that is acceptable to the EP.
  • Only two legislative proposals were rejected by
    the EP in the 1999-2004 session.
  • Legislative wheels are being oiled by informal
    trialogues and even conciliation meetings at
    first and second readings.

4 The European Parliament Influence
  • But, the EP exercises little influence over
  • - history making decisions such as
    enlargements, EMU, financial perspectives, or
    treaty reform
  • - external policies
  • - policy implementation (comitology
  • But then, what is the influence of national
    parliaments in these areas?

4 The European Parliament Questions for
  • Should the EP be given more powers?
  • Should the EP share its powers with national
  • Is the EP necessarily the main channel for
    addressing the democratic deficit?

Inter-state relations 1 the nature of
  • Cleavages in the EU have been mostly
    cross-cutting rather than cumulating. This has
    resulted in a changing and flexible internal
    alliance system, which has been important in
    promoting (relatively) harmonious inter-state
  • This pattern of cleavages and alliances with
    states coming together in different combinations
    on different issues is broadly continuing in
    the enlarged EU.
  • The new member states are not acting as a bloc,
    except partly on budgetary and spending matters.

Inter-state relations
  • 2 key issues that divide states in the EU
  • There are several divisive issues, some of which
    are touch on different visions of the nature of
    the EU project. These issues include
  • How should decisions in the EU be made?
  • How liberal (non interventionist) should EU
    economic policies be?
  • What should be the size of the EUs budget?
  • Where should the spending priorities be?
  • How independent should EU foreign and defence
    policies be of the Atlantic Alliance?

The importance of ideology 1
  • The established view is that ideology is not as
    important at the EU level as it is at the
    national level in shaping EU policy-making,
    because of
  • The supposedly technical nature of many EU
  • The requirement on the main proposer of policies
    the Commission to act in a non partisan
  • The emphasis on consensus that so characterises
    EU policy processes.
  • The dispersal of power between institutions
    means there is not a majority/minority cleavage
    between left and right..

The importance of ideology 2
  • But, there is a contrary view
  • Many policies are clearly highly political,
    and in any event what is technical for one may
    be highly politicised for another.
  • The Commission usually has alternatives
    available when initiating policies it must
  • Studies reveal a growing importance of ideology
    (as measured by political group membership) in
    determining voting in the EP.
  • There have been periods when a near
    ideological majority has existed across the
    policy-making institutions.

The importance of ideology 3
  • One of these periods of a near majority existing
    across the Council, the Commission, and the EP
    opened in late 2004. What are the policy
    implications of this?
  • - greater emphasis on liberalisation of key
    sectors, such as financial services?
  • - greater prospects of real action to achieve
    the Lisbon goals?
  • - less focus in the post-2006 financial
    perspective on social re-distribution measures?

Leadership 1
  • In states, there normally is a (reasonably)
    clear focus of political leadership provided by
    a combination of constitutional stipulations and
    electoral outcomes.
  • In the EU, there is no such clear focus
    leadership is dispersed and is contested. There
    is no government and no party political system
    grouped into majority and minority camps.
  • The main potential sources of leadership are the
    Commission, the European Council, the Council
    Presidency, and groups of member states. All of
    these potential leadership sources have potential
    power resources, including
  • - treaty powers
  • political status
  • information and expertise
  • political skills

Leadership 2
  • These competing sources of leadership have
    resulted in leadership within the EU shifting
  • - Between types of leadership
  • To frame public discourse
  • To set policy agendas
  • To make policy proposals
  • To drive decision-making
  • - Over time
  • - Between issue areas

Leadership 3
  • But, though leadership is dispersed, the
    argument that the EU lacks leadership or
    driving-force would appear to be undermined by
    the clear leadership that has been offered on
    many important issues since the mid-1980s. For
    example the SEM (Commission and UK?) EMU
    (France and Germany?) enlargement (Commission?)
    ESDP (France and UK, plus the High Representative
    for CFSP?) Lisbon Process (European Council and
  • But, does the EU of 25 plus, with its greater
    diversity and with the declining force of the
    Franco-German axis, not need stronger
    institutional leadership than has existed in the

Leadership 4
  • The Constitutional Treatys solution
  • The Treatys provisions arguably made the
    existing situation even worse. There would be
    four main institutional sources of leadership
  • - the European Council President
  • - The Presidency of the Council of Ministers
  • - The Commission President
  • - The Union Foreign Minister
  • This solution clearly demonstrated the
    reluctance of (a sufficient number) of member
    states to create strong overall supranational
    leadership in the EU.
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