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Article

Intergovernmental Conference: Three Case Studies of EC/EU Institution Building  

Běla Plechanovová

Intergovernmental conference (IGC) within the European integration context is a vehicle for institutional change. Based on the majority decision in the Council, the representatives of member states’ governments convene to debate proposals for amendments to the founding treaties of the European Union (EU) and make decisions on the agreed changes, which are then subject to the ratification process in the member countries according to their constitutional requirements. This procedure was used for almost all treaty revisions until the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 changed the rules. An ordinary revision procedure was introduced that assumes a role for the Convention to draft changes to the treaties, while keeping the IGC as a next step in the process. A simplified revision procedure was introduced for making adjustments to the internal policies and actions of the EU according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, thus replacing the IGC by a unanimous decision of the European Council. The Merger Treaty of 1965, the Single European Act in 1986, and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 represent distinct steps in shaping the perception of the role of the IGC as an institution in the political process within the European Communities and the EU.

Article

Applying, Enforcing, and Implementing European Union Rules  

Gerda Falkner

Making decisions is a complex and often problem-ridden process in a union of almost 30 member states. Most political science research hence discusses aspects of either decision-making or contents of specific EU policies. However, intricacies do not end when the governments and the European Parliament come to an agreement about, for example, regulative standards in a given policy. In actual fact, it is all but clear that the rules decided on the top layer of the European multi-level system will be implemented on the lower levels, ranging from the central governments of member states down to local communities. Multi-facetted issues related to the actual practice of implementing EU rules, and the Commission’s tough job in controlling this compound process, need to be addressed, while also evaluating the social science coverage of the topic. Research has a strong bias toward looking into the early phases of the implementation of EU law as opposed to the later ones, a trend which has only somewhat softened in the “new school” of relevant studies. A hardly researched but increasingly relevant factor in non-compliance with EU law is unwillingness by national governments. Therefore, it is important to consider the state of the rule of law in several member states and democratic backsliding—both essential for a healthy European integration process.

Article

The European Commission  

Hussein Kassim

Novel in both design and function, the European Commission occupies a central position in the political system of the European Union (EU). Compared to other international administrations in other international organizations, its responsibilities are extensive. The Commission is the principal source of EU legislative initiatives. It manages EU policy and processes, monitors the implementation of EU law, and negotiates trade agreements on the EU’s behalf. Though often decried as an “unelected bureaucracy,” the Commission is in fact a hybrid body. Whereas the services of the Commission form a permanent administration, the College, headed by the Commission president, is political. Members of the College, including the president, are appointed by the governments of the member states and elected by the European Parliament every five years, following popular elections to the latter body. The internal functioning of the Commission has attracted considerable interest, particularly among scholars of public administration and comparative politics. With respect to the Commission’s functioning within the wider EU system, the main debates relate to the role of the institution in the EU’s development; the extent of its influence over policy; its executive responsibilities and interaction with agencies at EU and national levels; and, in the context of a wider discussion of the EU’s democratic credentials, the Commission’s accountability. Few dispute the Commission importance, but there is considerable disagreement on how the Commission’s role in integration should be theorized and how the Commission as a body should be conceptualized.

Article

Comitology: Controlling Everyday Rule-Making in the European Union  

Jens Blom-Hansen

Rules issued by the European Commission, based on powers delegated by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, constitute the vast majority of all EU rules. They regulate the daily operation of common policies in all areas. Because the devil is often in the details, Commission rules are tightly controlled by the member states. This traditionally takes place in the so-called comitology system, which is a system of 200–300 member state committees set up to control and approve draft Commission rules. Comitology dates back to the early 1960s, when the Common Agricultural Policy was introduced. The institutional setup of the comitology system is a four-tiered structure composed of Treaty rules, framework rules, daily legislation, and the formal and informal working practices in the individual comitology committees. The Treaty of Lisbon gave the comitology system a major overhaul and introduced new types of Commission rules, delegated acts, and implementing acts. Research on comitology has focused on the purpose and design of the system and its daily workings. Relevant research questions for future studies include the legislative choice between delegated and implementing acts, the daily workings of the comitology committees, lobbying of comitology committees by interest groups, introduction of comitology through the back door in the delegated acts system, and the relationship between comitology and the new rule-making role of European agencies.

Article

Higher Education Policy in the European Union  

Dorota Dakowska

Whether higher education (HE) can be defined as a European Union (EU) policy has been matter of debate. Formally, education is still a domestic prerogative, and in principle, the EU can only support and supplement national governments’ initiatives in the sector. Yet, this official division of tasks has been challenged in many ways over the last decades. First, the history of European integration shows that the European community took an early interest in educational matters. The Treaty of Rome established a community competency on vocational training. Subsequently, the European Commission framed HE and vocational training as two entangled policies. Second, the EU institutions, the member states, and noninstitutional actors have coordinated in innovative ways, through soft governance processes promoted by the Bologna Process and the EU Lisbon—and later Europe 2020—strategy, to impose a European HE governance based on standards and comparison. Third, the study of HE requires going beyond an EU-centric perspective, with international organizations such as the OECD and the Council of Europe cooperating closely with the European Commission. HE has been increasingly shaped by global trends, such as the increased competition between universities. The mechanisms of European HE policy change have elicited academic debates. Three main explanations have been put forward: the power of instruments and standards, the impact of the Commission’s funding schemes, and the influence of interconnected experts, stakeholders and networks. Domestic translations of European recommendations are highly diverse and reveal a gap between formal adaptations and local practices. Twenty years after the Bologna declaration, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) presents a mixed picture. On the one hand, increased mobility and the growing interconnectedness of academic schemes facilitate the launch of ambitious projects such as the “European universities.” On the other hand, concerns are periodically raised about the growing bureaucratization of the process and the widening gap between the small world of the Brussels stakeholders and everyday academic practices in EHEA participant countries. Paradoxically, smaller and non-EU countries have been more actively involved in advancing the EHEA than large, older EU member states.

Article

The Lisbon Treaty  

Jacques Ziller

The expression “the Lisbon Treaty” (LT) is a shortcut to the treaties upon which the European Union (EU) has been based since December 1, 2009. During the “reflection period” that lasted from June 2005 to December 2006 three options were available: remaining with the European treaties as amended by the Nice Treaty; starting new negotiations in order to adopt some changes deemed technically necessary; or trying to get “the substance” of the Constitutional Treaty (CT) of 2004 approved in the form a new treaty. Most member states and the EU institutions were in favor of the third option. The negotiations that led to the adoption of the LT in December 2007 departed from the usual treaty amendment scenarios. The content of the LT is to a large extent similar to that of the CT, as most of the novel provisions of that treaty have been taken over as they were written in the CT and introduced in the existing European Community (EC) and EU treaties. Apart from a few institutional innovations such as the Permanent President of the European Council and the new voting system in the Council, most innovations with regard to the European communities are to be found in the details. The ratification process of the LT was difficult, as it was slowed down by the necessity to hold two referenda in Ireland, and to overcome the resistance of the President of the Czech Republic, an overt Euroskeptic. The negotiations of 2007–2009 shed some light on the importance in EU policy-making and especially in treaty negotiations of the epistemic community of legal experts and, more precisely, of experts in EU law. Events in the years 2010 and 2011 led to minor treaty amendments, shaping the present content of what is usually referred to as the LT. Whether Brexit and the EP elections of 2019 will lead to important changes remains unknown.