The Logic of Access to European Commission Expert Groups: Assessing the Delay of the eCall Project

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1 Introduction

Over the past years, we have seen the spread and often repeated use of closed consultation committees that provide expertise to the European Commission during the first stages of a policy making process. Because most of their activities go unnoticed, they are one example often cited in discussions about the lack of transparency and legitimacy of the European policy making process. Looking into the reasons for the creation of such fora Broscheid and Coen (2002: 17) argue that as an answer to an ever growing quantity of lobbying activities, the European Commission created restricted-access fora to reduce the number of actors with which it needed to interact on particular issues. This increased efficiency and decreased the transaction costs that the Eurpean Commission had to invest for particular expert advice.

A special kind of these closed consultation committees are expert groups. (2) They can be made up of representatives from Member State governments, academia and various interests groups (Gornitzka and Sverdrup 2008: 5). Their primary aim is to provide expertise on particular matters to the European Commission but also to prepare initiatives, to mobilise support for the policy in question and to build consensus (Larsson 2003: 20). In return, the organisations engaged in the groups expect that their position and expertise is taken up in the legislative proposals drafted by the European Commission. This resource dependence perspective on the internal work process of expert groups entails that the European Commission is dependent on the input of its negotiation partners in order to draw up effective regulation (Pfeffer & Salancik 1978: 258). The same assumption regarding resource dependencies forms the basis of the "logic of access" theory (Bouwen 2002). Argued from the angle of private interests, it explores the apparent ad hoc lobbying behaviour of private interests vis-a-vis the European institutions. It identifies three different kinds of information and assumes that since each institution has a specific role in the policymaking process, each institution has a specific input demand when consulting external expertise. Consequently, the theory develops hypotheses on how business interests can most efficiently organise their input in order to gain access to the European institutions.

This paper will argue that the different kinds of interests identified and the mechanisms described by Bouwen can also be applied to the European Commission's selection process of members for expert groups. It also argues that changed information needs of the European Commission can lead to changes in negotiation partners - also during a negotiation process.

To apply Bouwen's concept, the selection and negotiation of the pan-European in-vehicle emergency call (eCall) is analysed as a case study. The advantage of this case study is that the Commission set up different panels along the negotiation process. This makes it possible to study the selection of experts at three different points during the negotiation process of a system that basically requires the same stakeholders all along the process. Thus, the main variables (stakeholders and issue) remain constant while other variables (institutional structures and interest demand by the European Commission and stakeholder's positions) may change.

In order to rule out that the institutional structures of the negotiation panels or the stakeholders' positions influence the European Commission's choice of negotiation partners, both will be analysed based on the Actor-centred Institutionalism (Scharpf 2000) in section five.

The analysis finds that whilst the institutional structures of the negotiation panels basically remain unchanged, a shift towards organised representation occurs among the main industrial stakeholders that entails a change of their positions on the emergency call system. The following part employs Pieter Bouwen's logic of access theory to explain this shift in stakeholder representation and the analysis gives some answers regarding Bouwen's question on the applicability of his theory to non-business interests. …