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Anthony R. Zito

New policy instruments have come onto the policy agenda since the 1970s, but there is a real question about whether the ideas behind the design of such tools are actually all that “new” when you assess the role of the policy instrument in its particular institutional and policy context. Taking Hood’s 1983 categorization of instruments as tools that manipulate society to achieve public goals via nodality (information), authority, treasure (finance), or organization, we can find instances where innovations in these areas predate the 1970s. Nevertheless, the mention of these instruments in international organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and national institutions and debates as the means for both improving governance and protecting economic efficiency has increased in light of a number of interacting trends, including the rise of neoliberal and new management ideologies, the increasing perception of a number of wicked problems (e.g., climate change) and nested, politically sensitive problems (e.g., health and welfare policy), and a rethinking of the role of the state. A typology is offered for differentiating changes and innovation in policy instruments. Some very notable and complex policy instruments have reshaped politics and public policy in a particular policy sector; a notable example of this is emissions trading systems, which create market conditions to reduce emissions of climate change gases and other by-products. Information and financial instruments have become more prominent as tools used to achieve policy aims by the state, but equally significant is the fact that, in some cases, the societal actors themselves are organizing and supporting the management of an instrument voluntarily. However, this obscures the fact that a much more significant evolution of policy instruments has come in the area that is associated with traditional governing, namely regulation. The reality of this “command and control” instrument is that many historical situations have witnessed a more flexible relationship between the regulator and the regulated than the term suggests. Nevertheless, many OECD political systems have seen a move toward “smart” or flexible regulation. It is increasingly important that those who promote this new understanding of regulation see regulation as being supplemented and supported by and sometimes reinforcing new policy instruments. The integration of these “newer” policy instruments into the regulatory framework represents perhaps the most significant change. Nevertheless, there is some reason to question the real impact that new policy instruments have in terms of effectiveness and democratic legitimacy.


Stephanie J. Rickard

Policies as diverse as tariffs, exchange rates, and unemployment insurance vary across democratic countries. In an attempt to explain this cross-national variation, scholars have turned to the institutions that govern countries’ elections. The institutions that regulate elections, also known as an electoral system, vary significantly across democracies. Can these varied electoral institutions explain the diversity of policies observed? This question remains unanswered. Despite a growing body of research, little consensus exists as to precisely how electoral institutions affect policy. Why is it so difficult to untangle the effects of electoral institutions on economic policy? One reason for the confusion may be the imprecise manner in which electoral institutions are often measured. Better measures of electoral systems may improve our understanding of their policy effects. Improved theories that clarify the causal mechanism(s) linking electoral systems to policy outcomes will also help to clarify the relationship between electoral systems and policies. To better understand the policy effects of electoral institutions, both theoretical and empirical work must take seriously contextual factors, such as geography, which likely mediate the effects of electoral institutions. Finally, different types of empirical evidence are needed to shed new light on the policy effects of electoral institutions. It is difficult to identify the effects of electoral systems in cross-national studies because of the many other factors that vary across countries. Examining within-country variations, such as changes in district magnitude, may provide useful new insights regarding the effects of electoral institutions on policy.


Johan Adriaensen

In 1958, the European Economic Community was formed as a customs union with a common external tariff. From then on, the Common Commercial Policy—also known as the European Union’s (EU) trade policy—served as the interface between the increasingly integrated common market and its external trade partners. Like the creation of the single market, contemporary trade policy has long transcended discussions about tariffs and quotas at the border and has focused increasingly on the impediments to trade caused by regulatory divergences. Whether they concern agricultural subsidies or cultural protections, rules on public procurement or food standards, insofar as a regulation discriminates against exporters, it can potentially be part of a trade negotiation. The evolving nature of trade policy has triggered a redefinition of both the scope of the EU’s exclusive competencies as well as the procedures to govern this policy domain. The central actor in EU trade policy is the European Commission, which is the designated negotiator for external trade agreements. Whereas member states always played a crucial role in overseeing such negotiations in the Council, the European Parliament has only taken up a position of power since 2009. Beyond securing market access abroad and protecting domestic sectors at home, post-material values have come to feature more prominently in the balancing act of contemporary trade discussions. This has galvanized a far wider range of societal actors to lobby the EU institutions in order to tilt the balance in their favor. Complicating matters even further, the EU conducts a large part of its foreign policy through the Common Commercial Policy. Contrary to most other instruments of the EU’s external action, trade policy is an exclusive competency of the EU. Fostering development, promoting stability, providing humanitarian aid, and the promotion and enforcement of human rights and sustainable development commitments are but a few of the many objectives pursued via trade policy. However, there are clear limitations to the fungibility of the EU’s large market power for foreign policy objectives. It should therefore be clear that the literature on the Common Commercial Policy is extremely diverse. Situated at the nexus of international political economy, regulatory governance, and foreign policy, it has become a well-studied policy domain through a great variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses. The prominence of trade scholarship in EU studies is unlikely to change soon as developments at the international level, where the Western liberal order is under increasing pressure, but also domestically, where the contestation of several trade negotiations and the position of trade policy within the EU’s broader external action, are set to animate future debates.


Tom Delreux and Frauke Ohler

The fight against climate change has become a major area of action for the European Union (EU), both at the European and the international level. EU climate policy has gained importance since the 1990s and is today the most politicized issue on the EU’s environmental agenda. The EU is often considered a frontrunner—even a leader—in the adoption of climate policies internally and the promotion of such policies externally. Internally, the EU has developed the world’s most advanced and comprehensive regulatory frameworks, encompassing both EU-wide policies and targets to be achieved by the member states. The actual EU policy instruments fall into two categories: whereas emissions in certain industrial sectors are reduced through a carbon market and a “cap-and-trade” system (the Emissions Trading Scheme), emissions from non-ETS sectors are addressed through domestic policies by member states. These measures have led to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, but they will not suffice to achieve the EU’s long-term goals, which requires a major overhaul of some of the basic premises of the EU’s policies in sectors such as energy production and consumption, transport, agriculture, and industry. Externally, the EU has been advocating ambitious and legally binding international climate agreements. Desiring to “lead by example”, the EU has been an influential global climate player at important international climate conferences such as those held in Kyoto (1997), Marrakesh (2001), and Paris (2015), but its diplomacy failed at the Copenhagen conference (2009).