Multi-Level European Union Governance

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There are a wide variety of theories attempting the define and predict the development of the European Union, though the multi-level governance and moderate constructivist approaches are the most effective at explaining how the EU functions today and how it will develop in the future. Although the EU has aspects characteristic of confederations and federations, the EU is a unique system of governance distinct from both structures. There are both horizontal and vertical dimensions to the interactions making up European governance, with different levels of government and relevant actors at the same level interacting simultaneously. Because of this, there is no hierarchical structure to European governance. The European Union is defined as a structure of multi-level governance and this structure is only expected to grow even more interconnected as the distinction between domestic and international politics diminishes in the next 30 years.

Authority over decision-making and policy implementation in the European Union is growing increasingly dispersed over subnational, national, and supranational levels. National governments can now get bypassed by interest groups, executive bureaucracies, and their own local governments (Hooghe and Marks, 2001). More channels have opened up for citizens to influence the outcome of EU level policy decisions, such as supporting the work of interest groups, voting in European elections, voting in national referenda, using the European ombudsman, and launching a citizens’ initiative (McCormick, 2017).

The European Commission proposes new legislation and the budget, though commissioners will often first consult citizens, interest groups, and experts (“October 16”, 2018). There is a symbiotic relationship between interest groups and the European Commission, where support, access, and information are exchanged (McCormick, 2017). Many of these groups are transnational actors who emphasize EU-level activities, which has become more common as Europeans gain new connections largely due to the establishment of the eurozone and the Schengen area (McCormick, 2017). The Maastricht Treaty established the Committee of Regions, where local and regional authorities have the ability to advise the European Commission, Council of Ministers, and European Parliament on legislation of interest (“November 1”, 2018).

The European Parliament in particular acts as the voice of European citizens and members are elected by European citizens for five-year terms. The Treaty of Lisbon established co-equal powers on more policy areas and co-decision powers on the EU budget for the European Parliament with the Council of Ministers (“October 16”, 2018). Although the European Commission and the European Court of Justice are responsible for ensuring and monitoring the implementation of EU policy, the institutions often rely on national representatives, experts, interest groups, the media, and private citizens to monitor progress (McCormick, 2017). The EU will likely continue to be defined as a complex system of governance in which authority is shared across multiple actors at subnational, national, and supranational levels.

Member states in the European Union have increasingly lost individual and collective control due to decision-making competencies being shared across these different levels (“November 13”, 2018). Greater emphasis has been placed on collective decision-making for more areas in the EU, which means national governments are no longer in complete control (Hooghe and Marks, 2001). This trend is expected to continue well into the future as more issues are recognized to require a coordinated or collective response for effectiveness and efficiency. Although the European Council and Council of Ministers are intergovernmental institutions within the EU which promote national interests, member states can get outvoted in key issues.

The Single European Act in 1987 introduced and reinforced a commitment to use Qualified Majority Voting, particularly in areas related to achieving a single market in Europe (“October 9”, 2018). Since 1987, QMV has been used more frequently in different areas as there has been difficulties reaching consensus for controversial issues, such as immigration and asylum policy. The Lisbon Treaty explicitly outlined the distribution of competences in policy areas between member states, listing shared competences in more areas such as social policy and exclusive competences for the EU in areas of monetary policy, customs union, common commercial policy, competition, marine resources, and international agreement when necessary and provided for in a legislative act (“November 1”, 2018). National governments are no longer in control of decision-making as they once were and policy areas are being tackled at different levels.

For EU-level decision-making, there has been a heightened need for EU institutions and national governments to take public opinion into account. The distinction between domestic and international politics is shrinking, which is changing the character of the EU as a whole. Unlike the start of European integration when decisions were made among the elites, public input now plays an important role in the decision-making process. As explained by Hooghe and Marks, there was “permissive consensus” until the Maastricht Treaty in 1991, in which the public was generally indifferent to the process of European integration and deals were cut by insulated elites (Hooghe and Marks, 2001). This was likely due to few Europeans feeling directly affected by decisions made in the European Union. However, there has been “constraining dissensus” since the Maastricht Treaty, with elites and party leaders in particular having to take public opinion into account when negotiating European issues (“November 21”, 2018).

More Europeans began to feel the effects of European integration with the Schengen agreement and efforts towards the Economic and Monetary Union, which encouraged them to become more involved in the process of European integration. The Maastricht Treaty was a turning point for how citizens paid attention to the EU due to the events surrounding its establishment. The Maastricht Treaty was initially rejected in the Danish Maastricht Treaty referendum on June of 1992 and it was only approved by a small margin in France three months later. There was also a crisis when Britain was obliged to withdraw from efforts towards a common European currency in September of that year. These events caused the assumption that initiatives on the EU could be made with minimal public input by governments to be questioned (McCormick, 2017). As EU-level issues affect Europeans more directly and become politicized, the mass publics are becoming more engaged in the policy-making process (“November 27”, 2018).

The character of European integration is expected to change as more EU-level issues become politicized. European integration can be politicized under two conditions: when there is a relationship between the issue and major conflicts in society, and when there are cues from political parties (“November 27”, 2018). Mainstream parties are more likely to be Euro-supportive and less likely to politicize EU-level issues because they often strive to avoid conflict and attain more votes. However, European integration has become increasingly politicized by oppositional parties or factions, particularly those on the populist right or radical left. The result of this politicization will likely be downward pressure on the scope and level of European integration in the future (Hooghe and Marks, 2008).

The British referendum crisis indicated this when voters in Britain voted for their country to leave the European Union in June of 2016. Political leaders in the Leave campaign played a significant role in the politicization of different aspects of the European Union in Britain. Political leaders and members of the Leave campaign exploited a lack of knowledge about the inner workings of the European Union among the general public and emphasized rising concerns connected to globalization, which in turn resulted in more support for Brexit (McCormick, 2017). The mobilization of exclusive national identities and eurosceptic political parties will provide more constraints in the process of European integration by raising the heat of debate, making certain actors like national governments less willing to compromise, and narrowing the substantive ground that can be agreed upon (“November 27”, 2018).

Despite obstacles to European integration, the process is expected to continue, albeit at a less rapid rate and smaller scope. Path dependency indicates that the deeply intertwined institutions within the unique model of multi-level European governance will likely have staying power. While public input will continue to play an important role, new constraints on reform arising from the politicization of integration can be circumvented or at least reduced through a variety of methods. One of these methods involves repressing referendums by repackaging reforms into smaller bundles. This was shown to be largely successful in the past, when roughly 80% of the failed constitutional treaty was included in the less controversial Treaty of Lisbon (“October 11”, 2018).

There may also be institutional reforms which allow greater flexibility within the EU, in which more recalcitrant members can opt out by making it easier for subsets of member states to cooperate (Hooghe and Marks, 2008). However, the resilience of the multi-level governance model resides in its core: the dispersal of authority across subnational, national, and international levels. As authority is more dispersed, more actors have a stake in the success of the European Union. The collective rules, norms, and ideas which have guided European integration up to this point will continue to shape the multi-level governance model (“November 27”, 2018).

The multi-level governance structure is expected to define the European Union well into the future. Moderate constructivists perceive European integration as an instance of collective identity among member states and emphasize how agents and structures are mutually constitutive, meaning they shape each other (Hooghe and Marks, 2008). The multi-level governance structure of the European Union helps shape the identities of Europeans, while Europeans shape the identity of the EU’s governance structure at the same time. The extent to which the identity of individuals is shaped by the EU varies, though there has been a rise in the perception of individuals as not only citizens of their nations, but also as simply “Europeans” (McCormick, 2017).

There will likely never be a homogenous European culture or a European federation due to cultural, linguistic, and historical differences; though as European integration progresses, more Europeans will be linked through shared values and norms related to European governance. The majority of citizens of EU member states support democratic ideas, the free market, and multilateralism; all of which allow the multi-level governance system to exist in the first place. In the future, the European Union will continue to be characterized by multi-level governance and shaped by identities through a complex web of actors at subnational, transnational, national, and international levels.

Cite this paper

Multi-Level European Union Governance. (2021, Jul 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/multi-level-european-union-governance/

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