European Union Negotiations: Processes, Networks and Institutions

By Ole Elgström; Christer Jönsson | Go to book overview

3

Consolidating 'unobjectionable' norms

Negotiating norm spread in the European Union

Ole Elgström


Introduction

Certain norms reach an 'unobjectionable' status. Such predominant norms are considered impossible to oppose openly; at least by most people in a certain geographical context and during a certain time period. Policies that are based on these norms are, by implication, impervious to normatively based criticism. Instead, critics have to rely on indirect attack. In present-day European political debate, democracy and human rights promotion, environmental preservation, free competition, gender mainstreaming and increasing transparency are examples of 'unobjectionable' norms.

At the same time, we all know that these laudable goals are not always transformed into community legislation, let alone implemented in concrete policy decisions. There is a lively debate on 'the democratic deficit' of the European Union, including criticism of excessive bureaucratic secrecy. Women still have lower average wages than their male colleagues, despite EU legislation. Thirty years of EU environmental action programmes notwithstanding, change at the discursive level 'has not affected the Community practices to any great extent' (Kronsell 1997:49). There is within the EU machinery itself a resistance to change that complicates the achievement even of overtly consensual policy objectives. The puzzle is: how is it that norms that no one openly objects to are often not translated into concrete policies?

The aim of this chapter is to elucidate the processes by which norms are spread, or are prevented from spreading, within the EU policy-making machinery. I argue that norm resistance exists even in cases of 'unobjectionable' norms. The unwillingness to adopt a new norm leads to norm negotiations between proponents (norm entrepreneurs) and opponents. As the objectors cannot openly reject the norm as such, they either use exclusionary arguments ('the principle is not relevant in this issue area') or try to negotiate exceptions, transition periods or fuzzy definitions (to hinder efficient implementation). In these efforts, they can rely on the use of competing, process-oriented norms like time or cost effectiveness.

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