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Political Dynamics in the European Union

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Presentation on theme: "Political Dynamics in the European Union"— Presentation transcript:

1 Political Dynamics in the European Union

2 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 institutions

3 Examining the changing nature of EU political dynamics
The dynamics will be examined here under four headings: The roles and influence of the EU’s institutions Inter-state relations The role of ideology Provision of leadership

4 The roles and influence of the EU institutions Key Questions
As we proceed, students are encouraged to be thinking about the roles and influence of the EU’s 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?

5 The roles and influence of the EU institutions 1: The Commission
Functions Initiator and proposer (especially in pillar one). Executive functions: a few are direct (notably competition), but most involve overseeing national agencies. Guardian of the legal framework. Mediating and brokerage functions.

6 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 ‘agent’. 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.

7 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

8 1: The Commission – the ‘supranationalist’ case
Case studies by those who take a ‘supranational’ perspective show that the Commission’s 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

9 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.

10 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 EU’s ‘governmental’ policy decisions: - Commission proposals for legislation - CFSP common positions or actions - Noting progress reports - Requests to the Commission for information Prepares ground for European Councils.

11 2: The Council of Ministers – Operational Problems
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

12 2: The Council of Ministers – Questions for Consideration
Has the Council declined in importance? Can it be viewed as still being primarily intergovernmental? Have recent (Seville) reforms arrested its alleged inefficiency? Is there a lack of transparency and legitimacy?

13 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.

14 3: The European Council –
Operational Problems There are many weaknesses in the European Council’s 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 rule.

15 3: The European Council – Questions for Consideration
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 polity?

16 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’ expenditure.

17 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 combinations). The multi-site problem.

18 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.)

19 4: The European Parliament – Influence: over legislation
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 session. Legislative wheels are being oiled by informal trialogues and even conciliation meetings at first and second readings.

20 4: The European Parliament – Influence: limitations
But, the EP exercises little influence over: - ‘history making’ decisions – such as enlargements, EMU, financial perspectives, or treaty reform; - external policies; - policy implementation (comitology disputes). But then, what is the influence of national parliaments in these areas?

21 4: The European Parliament – Questions for Consideration
Should the EP be given more powers? Should the EP share its powers with national parliaments? Is the EP necessarily the main channel for addressing the ‘democratic deficit’?

22 Inter-state relations 1: the nature of alliances
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 relations. 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.

23 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 EU’s budget? Where should the spending priorities be? How independent should EU foreign and defence policies be of the Atlantic Alliance?

24 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 policies. The requirement on the main proposer of policies – the Commission – to act in a non partisan manner. 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..

25 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 choose. 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.

26 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 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?

27 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

28 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

29 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 Commission?). 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 past?

30 The Constitutional Treaty’s ‘solution’
Leadership 4 The Constitutional Treaty’s ‘solution’ The Treaty’s 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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