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Article

Public Opinion in European Union Politics  

Catherine E. De Vries

Public contestation regarding European integration is becoming increasingly important for the future of the European project. While traditionally European Union (EU) scholars deemed public opinion of minor importance for the process of European integration, public support and scepticism is now seen as crucial for the survival of the European project. One important reason for this change in perspective is the increasing politicization of the EU in domestic politics. In recent years, a burgeoning literature on public contestation concerning European integration has developed. Students of public opinion in the EU have primarily focused their attention on the explanations of fluctuations in support and scepticism. This work stresses both interest- and identity-based explanations showing that support for European integration increases with skill levels and more inclusive identities. Less attention has been given to the conceptualization of the precise nature of public opinion and its role in EU politics. When it comes to the politicization of European integration and its effects on public opinion, many scholarly contributions have aimed to explore the conditions under which EU attitudes affect voting behavior in elections and referendums. Yet, the way in which public opinion affects policy making and responsiveness at the EU level has received much less scholarly attention. This suggests that more work needs to be undertaken to understand the conditions under which public contestation of the EU constrains the room to maneuver of domestic and European elites at the EU level, and the extent to which it poses a challenge to, or opportunity for, further integrative steps in Europe. Only by gaining a better understanding about the ways public opinion limits the actions of domestic and European elites or not at the EU level, will scholars be able to make predictions about how public opinion might affect the future of the European project.

Article

Leadership in the European Union  

Lisbeth Aggestam and Markus Johansson

Leadership in the European Union is an empirical phenomenon that has increasingly come to attract scholarly attention. While a call for leadership in the EU is often heard, not least in times of crisis, it is also accompanied with a general reluctance to centralize powers. This leadership paradox has historical roots and has resulted in a dispersed type of leadership governance at the EU level. Scholarly work varies from mainly descriptive accounts of leadership by particular individuals to more theory-testing approaches to leadership. The academic field of EU leadership studies contains variation along three primary dimensions: (1) how leadership is defined, (2) by which theories it is explained, and (3) through which empirical cases and approaches it is studied. First, there is a wide differentiation in the literature of how leadership is defined and approached as an object of study. Four leadership approaches can be distinguished in the literature, focusing on the role of individuals, an actor’s position, the process of leadership enactment, and the outcomes produced by leadership. Second, leadership in the EU has been theorized and explained in a variety of ways. Explaining leadership in the EU requires an understanding of what power resources different actors draw on, ranging from material to institutional and ideational powers. These sources often also translate into different types of leadership strategies. A substantial amount of research has departed from rational choice institutionalism, which highlights the importance of a formal position to exercise leadership. Sociological approaches have more recently attracted attention to conceptualize leadership as a social role based on the interaction between leaders and followers. Third, the empirical study of leadership in the EU encompasses a range of different approaches in terms of the type of actors studied, the issues covered, and the data and methods used. EU leadership studies include different types of leadership actors ranging from individuals to institutions, member states, and the EU itself as a global leadership actor. The empirical policy domains vary from issues relating to treaty amending processes, environment and climate policies, eurozone governance and crisis management, to foreign and security policy. Although comparative studies of leadership in the EU exist, the focus has predominantly been on single actors during particular policy processes. An increasing use of explicit comparative designs in the study of EU leadership could have the potential to further advance theory building in the scholarship of EU leadership.

Article

Interest Organizations and European Union Politics  

Justin Greenwood

Interest representation plays a systemic role in European Union (EU) policymaking and integration, recognized as such in the Treaty on European Union. Interest organizations supply technical and political information to the EU institutions, and EU institutions use interest organizations as agents of political communication. Interest organizations act as a proxy for an otherwise largely absent civil society, with a teeming population of groups advocating for every imaginable cause. Where groups are absent, so EU institutions have stimulated their formation. The result is a pluralist system of checks and balances, although the literature includes findings of “islands” resembling corporatist practice. EU institutions have designed a range of procedures in support of “an open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups,” now largely packaged as a “Better Regulation” program. Measures include funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), consultation procedures accompanied by impact assessments, a Transparency Register to provide lobbying transparency, and measures for access to documents that enable civil society organizations to keep EU institutions accountable. A multilevel governance system further strengthens pluralist design, making it impossible for any one type of interest to routinely capture the diversity of EU decision-making. A key controversy in the literature is how to assess influence and whether lobbying success varies across interest group type. EU public policymaking is regulatory, making for competitive interest group politics, often between different branches of business whose interests are affected differently by regulatory proposals. There are striking findings from the literature, including that NGOs are more successful than business organizations in getting what they want from EU public policymaking, particularly where issues reach the status of high salience where they attract the attention of the European Parliament. A key innovation of the Lisbon Treaty involves a European Citizens’ Initiative, which takes dialogue between civil society and EU institutions outside the ecosystem inhabited by civil society organizations and EU institutions known as the “Brussels bubble” and into the member states.