The literature on multi-level governance (MLG) and the field of the administrative sciences and public administration (PA) can be fruitfully integrated in order to generate knowledge about “the administrative dimension of MLG.” MLG may be defined by Piattoni as “the simultaneous activation of governmental and non-governmental actors at various jurisdictional levels” and perspectives derived from MLG may be applied to a wide set of issues spanning from political mobilization (politics), to policymaking (policy), to state restructuring (polity). It is along each of these sets of issues that it is possible to delineate the contribution that the field of PA can provide to the development of MLG. To MLG as political mobilization, the PA literature brings insights about participatory approaches and collaborative governance. To MLG as policy in multi-level settings, the PA literature brings insights about the functioning of multi-level administration and the role of a multi-level bureaucracy in policymaking processes occurring in compound political systems; the PA literature also contributes insights on public accountability in systems where decision responsibility is blurred, and issues of legitimacy arise. To MLG as polity restructuring, the PA literature offers insights on the administrative dimension of polity restructuring processes, as well as on the dynamics of systemic change and the change management of public governance arrangements. The study of MLG may benefit from drawing from a range of conceptual tools and models developed in the field of PA. Complementarily, PA as an interdisciplinary field of scholarship may benefit from the perspective of MLG, which provides it with a platform to expand the application of concepts like those of collaborative governance; bureaucratic influence on policymaking; public accountability in multi-actor, multi-level settings; or systemic-level change management. In this sense, the generation of knowledge about the administrative dimension of MLG is an addition to both MLG studies and to the field of PA.
Arjan H. Schakel and Emanuele Massetti
European integration and regionalization have been parallel processes over the past five decades, leading to a multilevel governance system where decision-making powers are allocated across European, national, and regional governments. The upshot of both processes is that regional governments have gained representation within European Union (EU) institutions and they have gained the ability to affect EU policy through domestic institutions. Regional governments are involved in the EU policymaking process at the EU level through two institutions: via their representatives in the Committee of the Regions and via the participation of their ministers in the Council of Ministers. Similarly, regional governments are institutionally involved with EU affairs within the member states through three institutional channels: formulation and implementation of EU Cohesion Policy, intergovernmental meetings between national and regional governments to coordinate EU affairs, and subsidiarity monitoring of EU legislation by regional parliaments. The analysis shows that the EU’s multilevel governance system is highly asymmetric. Regional involvement in EU affairs through EU and domestic institutions is mainly restricted to powerful regions which can be predominantly found in the populous, federal, and regionalized member states from Western Europe. In addition, the analysis reveals that regional impact on EU policy is far more apparent within the member states than at the EU level. Furthermore, regional governments prefer to impact EU affairs through or in collaboration with their member state governments rather than bypassing them.
The term “governance” refers to interactive forms of political steering, characterized by the coordination of a wide spectrum of actors in pursuit of common goals (e.g., Rhodes, 1996; Pierre & Peters, 2000, 2005; Kooiman, 2003; Torfing, Peters, Pierre, & Sörensen, 2013; Ansell & Torfing 2016). Governance processes involve multiple actors and institutions into cooperative relationships and network structures. The corresponding steering mechanisms may range from hierarchical rule to mere persuasion. The governance perspective appeared particularly suited to analyze political steering in the European Union (EU). The Union is not sovereign; it therefore developed steering mechanisms that do not (or only partly) rely on formal competences and hierarchical rule. The evolving system of European governance constituted the EU as a multilevel polity, held together by interlocking relationships of policy coordination and cooperation (Marks et al., 1996; Hooghe & Marks, 2001; Piattoni, 2010). Scholarly reflection on EU governance evolved comparatively late during the 1990s (Hix, 1998); it proliferated after the turn of the century, when the European Union introduced the so-called Open Method of Coordination (OMC) (Kohler-Koch & Rittberger, 2006). Later, the perspective widened to the whole spectrum of governance modes and its innovative forms (e.g., Sabel & Zeitlin, 2008, 2010a; Tömmel & Verdun, 2009a, Héritier & Rhodes, 2011). Yet salient issues remained under-researched, particularly the power dimension of EU governance (Torfing et al., 2013, pp. 48–70).
Global governance is a story of human agency confronting the existential challenge of the seismic shift in the international system that is called globalization. Neither phenomenon is yet understood sufficiently in academic theory, but if any social scientific practice is best situated to research it to the requisite depth, it is the discipline of foreign policy analysis. The theory and practice of foreign policy making and implementation are bound to undergo a transformation as radical as the international system. This historic process is dissolving the structure of agency that was set by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The result has been for state and nonstate actors to compensate with a motley assemblage of structural improvisations, which have been complicating international relations, adding multiple levels of agency above and below the classical nation-state. Where this development will ultimately lead is unknown.
Joachim K. Rennstich
Multilevel governance (MLG) as a research approach has mostly been applied to explain governance issues surrounding the European Union or international organizations. As a general research framework in the area of international relations (IR) theory, however, MLG has widely been underutilized, despite the many advantages that the approach offers in the empirical investigation of an increasingly complex international or global system. There are key concepts, assumptions, and definitions of MLG that focus separately on levels and governance as key elements of the approach and its interdisciplinary lineage. Some contested IR concepts include sovereignty, the nation-state, the international system, anarchy, agency, and levels of analysis. These IR concepts benefit from the application of an MLG framework by enabling the use of an interdisciplinary and multimethodological, yet systematically comprehensive, approach—which allows for nuanced use of these concepts. Other areas that benefit from IR methodologies applied in MLG research are methodological toolkits with a special focus on the areas of global governance, security studies, and international political economy.
Emanuele Massetti and Arjan H. Schakel
Regionalist parties are political actors that emphasize distinct ethno-territorial identities and interests vis-à-vis those of the entire state, advocating some forms of territorially based self-government in a view to protect, give voice to, and enhance those identities and interests. The tense relationships that these political actors often have with the central institutions leads them, in the European Union (EU) context, to identify the EU as a potential ally in their struggle against the state. Indeed, the EU system of multilevel governance, in which regional governments have obtained a considerable role, is also the result of a combined effect of regionalist parties’ pressure on member states from below and the process of European integration creating a favorable political framework from above. This putative alliance was celebrated, during the 1980s and 1990s, with the Maastricht Treaty representing a pivotal moment for the launch of the vision of a “Europe of the Regions.” However, the EU constitutional reforms of the 2000s (from the Treaty of Nice to the Treaty of Lisbon) fell rather short vis-à-vis regionalist claims, revealing the “illusionary character” of the “Europe of the Regions” idea. Since then, attempts to achieve “Independence in Europe” (through “internal enlargement”) have intensified in regions governed by strong and radical regionalist parties, such as in Catalonia and Scotland. These secessionist attempts have added further strain to an already under-stress EU political system. Indeed, far from acting as an ally of regionalist forces, the EU appears to have straddled between the role of a neutral observer and a supporter of member states’ territorial integrity.
Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari
Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.