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Networking in Brussels

In Brussels, the dominant models for analyzing policy-making are the ideas of policy communities and policy networks, both species of an actor-oriented approach to social scientific analysis. The actor oriented approach entails paying attention to various actors, the relationship between actors, the ways in which they understand, they ways in which they act and interact, and the ways in which policy statements/actions are the outcome of long, complicated, untidy processes of interaction.

The ideal of a policy community entails a selected group of policy-makers (roughly, in a modern European state, a group of a few thousand) with discussion of policy largely internal to this group. The idea of a policy network entails the relationship between domestic and EU. The policy communities begin with a national focus, however, the EU involves a series of national elites whose work intermingles – the idea of networks can grasp this wider intermingling of people. The networks are fluid and rather open, many people join in and patterns of interactions are not as fixed and familiar as they are within former national elites.

In addition there are communities of experts known as epistemic networks that have technical training and play a wider role within the wider policy network. They are payers, not providers of neutral expertise. Finally, there are advocacy coalitions and policy streams. The entire process is not neat; it is loose, fluid and messy. This gives a general picture of the ways in which ideas are fed into Brussels policy community/network (Preston, 2004: 138-139). EU consists of member states as well as national government representatives, both of whom retain a privileged position.

Each consists of a myriad of players who projects their preferences in the Brussels arena. Representatives from all parts of the EU meet in a formal sense at the Council. At any given time there are usually around twenty official meeting rooms to use in the Council building, apart from the month of August when the Brussels system goes on holiday. Formal meetings are supplemented by bilateral meetings on the margins o Council meetings, informal chats over espressos, and by media briefings.

Thus the formal system of policy making is augmented by considerable backroom dealings, arbitrage and informal politics (Bomberg, Peterson, Stubb, 2008: 84-85). National representatives in Brussels seek to exploit their politics, academic, sectoral, and personal networks to the full. With more member states, a widening agenda, and advanced communications technology, there has been a discernable increase in horizontal interaction between the member states at all levels – prime ministerial, ministerial, senior official, and desk officer.

Specialists forge and maintain links with their counterparts in other member states on a continuous basis. Deliberations are no longer left primarily to meetings at working-group level in Brussels. Sophisticated networking is part and parcel of Brussels game. Officials who have long experience of it build up extensive personal contacts and friendships in the system (Bomberg, Peterson, Stubb, 2008: 85). b. EU Policy network EU Policy network

According to network theory, as Peterson points out, “the term ‘network’ is frequently used to describe clusters of different actors who are linked together in political, social and economic life. Networks may be loosely structured but are still capable of spreading information or engaging in collective action. ” In everyday policy-making these regional and local actors seek to achieve their interests by forming advocacy coalitions which often cut across the boundaries of institutionalized arenas .

As QU widened its ambit, expanding its policy-making into the field of environment, its possible role at the center of an international policy network began to emerge. The concept of policy network is a variant of the systems analysis becoming fashionable for the study of the public policy. Applied to EU, it is argued that network theory enables the unit of the nation state to be transcended without an automatic transition to federalism; in other words, the statal model can be broken.

The commonest application of network theory is to discrete policy areas, particularly, perhaps, the area of environment where policy cannot be confined to a single agency but spreads across national boundaries. One way to focus policy-making in such a situation is to establish a network, grouped around one or more single subject agencies: thus environmental agencies are found at international, transnational, national and even sub-national levels. To date, however, the European Union has not followed the pattern of modern nation states, notably the USA in this direction (Harlow, 2002:180).

The Open-Method of Coordination It is now conventional wisdom that the EU policy style is less clearly a regulatory style, reflecting the increased resistance to further Europeanization and the alleged weakened position of the Commission as the motor of integration. The annual outputs of the directives had declined and there was said to be less old-style regulation and hence there was a shift towards new policy instruments that emphasize cooperation, voluntary action, demonstration projects, good practice, benchmarking, and so forth.

The Open-Method of Communication was hence seen as a process reform designed to meet the criticisms of the old-style top-down and dirigiste legislation (Richardson, 2006:7). The Open-method of Communication is the term coined at the Lisbon meeting of the Council of Ministers in March 2000 to encompass a range of mechanisms through which the Council could coordinate policy developments in different domains without recourse to traditional legislative mechanisms of the Community (Geradin, Munoz, and Petit, 2005:74). The open method of coordination entails:

? Setting common goals and guidelines for all member states, together with specific timetables and targets to achieve those goals. ? Translating the common objectives and guidelines into national policies through national action plans and strategies. ? Establishing indicators and benchmarks as a means of comparing best practices. ? Pursuing periodic monitoring, evaluation, and peer review. (Marshall, Butzbach, 2002:463) The approach was conceived as a complement to more traditional instruments of EU social policy: European legislation, European social funds, and social dialog.

The method advocates a fully decentralized approach, in that national, regional, and local authorities translate EU guidelines into concrete policies (Marshall, Butzbach, 2002:463). The main features of the open method of communication were developed (initially with no Treaty basis) in the field of employment policy, as a follow-up to the Essen European Council of 1994. The Amsterdam Treaty’s employment chapter later formalized this method. The open method of coordination was later extended to new fields, including pension reform, social inclusion, and education.

To date, its success is hard to judge, as the lack of reliable data on its practical effects in the member states is only slowly being rectified. In any case, the net effect of this strategy will always be difficult to measure since there is no counter-factual basis of comparison available. However, this new EU-level approach is gaining importance as an alternative to regulation. It is based on European guidelines, national action plans, and national reports using common indicators and uses EU-level evaluations that feed into the new policy guidelines (Cini, 2007:281).

An early analysis noting three distinctive elements of the mechanism: common assessment of the situation (through sharing of information); agreement on appropriate policy response; mutual adjustment by member state governments of their policy structures with peer pressure from other governments. The leading case of deployment is in the field of Economic and Monetary Union where there is perhaps rather more effort on attempts to coordinate the fiscal policies of the members of the Eurozone than there is on the openness of dimensions, implying as it does experimentation and learning from the experiences of others.

In other policy fields there is a greater openness, for example in respect of social policy. An interesting feature of the OMC is the extent to which it reduces the Commission’s responsibility and capacity for executive action (Geradin, Munoz, and Petit, 2005:74). The open method is characterized by voluntary agreements on the challenges facing the EU, shared analysis and consensus on objectives, guidelines and timetables for reaching targets, and learning through systematic monitoring, benchmarking, peer reviews, scoreboards, identification of best practices and shaming.

Some analysts such as Heritier have questioned the importance and novelty of the open method. According to them the mechanisms is used in a limited number of policy areas and primarily in areas where its competence is contested. Usually there are elements of bargaining over targets and indicators, taking place in the shadow of government, hierarchy and legislation. Heritier further observes that there is a selective involvement of private actors that does not allow all those affected to have a voice in shaping policies.

Furthermore, the Commission used this mode of governing earlier when it moved to new policy areas where its competence has been problematic, often as a first step towards legislation (Olsen, 2007:125). Nevertheless while the impact of OMC varies greatly between policy areas, scholars usually point out that, unlike top-down supranational legislation, it is flexible, and respects subsidiarity and national autonomy. The down-side of this flexibility and non-binding nature of outputs is that EU has few if any means to make national governments follow its recommendations.

OMC has strengthened the leadership role of the Council, and the European Council, intruding this on the commission’s right of monopoly. Yet on the other hand, the Commission has a central role to play through its role as the institutions setting objectives and issuing guidelines and recommendations to national governments. The EP is effectively sidelined, as it merely kept informed or consulted of OMC processes. At the national level OMC seems to be the preserve of civil; servants that possess expertise on issues (O’Brennan, Raunio, 2007: 279).

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