European Union: Power and Policy-Making

By Jeremy J. Richardson | Go to book overview
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The national co-ordination of Europeanpolicy-making

Negotiating the quagmire

Vincent Wright
Co-ordinating EU policy-making confronts national governments with numerous and particularly difficult and distinctive problems. The purpose of this chapter is to first examine the nature of the problems: then the apparatus which has been established at both the national and EU level to deal with co-ordinating; finally the effectiveness of that apparatus. The argument of the chapter may be summarised brutally: that member states are acutely aware of co-ordination problems; that different mechanisms have been established to deal with them; that the effectiveness of those mechanisms differs widely both across the member states and according to the level (EU or national) and issue involved; that effectiveness cannot be divorced from the ambitions of, and the constraints upon, the member states; that policy effectiveness does not necessarily flow from co-ordination effectiveness, and weaknesses of co-ordination may even be highly functional.
Co-ordinating any form of policy-making at national level is already problem-ridden. At EU level those problems become acute. The first problem lies in the very concept of co-ordination. The public policy literature distinguishes between anticipatory, active and reactive, between formal and informal, between vertical and horizontal, between negative and positive and between policy and procedural (ensuring the respect for due process) forms of co-ordination, whilst recognising that the distinctions are singularly blurred in practice, and generally failing to provide a framework which links the various forms. In fact, nation states are involved in an entire repertoire of co-ordinating activities, with the mix varying according to the member state. More importantly, it is not always clear what is being sought by co-ordination. At a minimum, it may imply an attempt to avoid particular mishaps or fiascos, or a wish 'not to impede, frustrate or negate one another's activities' (Metcalfe 1987). At the other end of the spectrum, co-ordination involves overall steering and, as such, is persistent, generalised and purposeful. However, most co-ordination activities fall between these two extremes. Selznick, in a classic work (Selznick 1957), identifies four functions of institutional leadership, which provide a useful clue about the goals of co-ordination. These functions are:
1 The definition of an institutional mission and role (the 'creative task of setting goals').
2 The institutional embodiment of purpose (the capacity 'to build policy into an organisation's social structure').


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European Union: Power and Policy-Making


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