The Lisbon (2000–2010) and its successor, the Europe 2020 strategy (2011–2020), denote EU-wide exercises in economic policy coordination for economic and institutional modernization. They set an ample reform agenda with common targets to transform a host of common challenges facing the EU and its members (as varied as globalization, the paradigm shift to a knowledge economy, demographic aging, or climate change) into economic opportunities and quality growth. The economic and political economy arguments for EU-level coordination rested on positive spillovers from trade and peer pressure, respectively. The Europe 2020 strategy, a revised Lisbon rather than a new strategy, set a renewed vision of a European social market economy that also plays an important role in the global context (the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). Built on the Lisbon strategy’s governance framework, Europe 2020 inherited a problem-laden legacy with respect to governance and ownership of reforms and in addition faced the impact of large negative transnational spillovers, which put in sharp focus that there was an as-yet-unaccounted-for euro-area dimension to the reform agendas. The sovereign debt crisis (2010–2014) added urgency to dealing with the EU’s structural weaknesses and economic governance building. The European Semester was set up as the chief instrument to help overcome compliance and implementation problems, inserted within broadened economic policy coordination, of which structural reforms under the Europe 2020 strategy constitute one of three blocks. The OMC method affords member states the possibility of finding their own consensual path toward agreed economic reform targets within the strategy’s adequate, 10-year timeframe. The central idea continues to be the promotion of reforms tailored to member states’ heterogeneous situations and preferences and that so are also politically sustainable. Without being framed and perceived in terms of desirable reforms in line with socioeconomic objectives and preferences, reforms carry potential for a political backlash. The Europe 2020 strategy also captures the fundamental and long-term issues for economic development and competitiveness, notably institution building, and outlines a forward-looking model of society with social and environmental dimensions. The European Commission came to base its assessment of the implementation of structural reforms on the broader objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and also included the respect for the European social pillar in the European Semester. Nonetheless, Europe 2020 results have been mixed. The OMC does not feature sanctions for non-compliance. The sovereign crisis context added compliance-enhancing mechanisms that were absent before (market and peer pressure, conditionality in countries subject to adjustment programs) although those came essentially to a halt when financial market pressure subsided, and ECB actions had the side effect of relieving pressure. Efforts undertaken to improve implementation include a structural reform support program to make country-specific recommendations more effective. Yet, close to the end of its term the Europe 2020 strategy continues to be held back by member states taking insufficient ownership of reforms and not prioritizing the relevant ones from an EU point of view, a lack of visibility and ultimately, governance (the unanimity requirement).
Annette Bongardt and Francisco Torres
Social policy has a particular character and set of associated politics in the European Union (EU) context. There is a double contestation involved: the extent of the EU’s agency in the field and the type of social policy model pursued. The former is contested because social policy is typically and traditionally a matter of national competence and the latter because the social policy model is crucial to economic and market development. Hence, social policy has both functional and political significance, and EU engagement risks member states’ capacity to control the social fate of their citizens and the associated resources, authority, and power that come with this capacity. The political contestations are at their core territorially and/or social class based; the former crystalizes how wide and extensive the EU authority should be in social policy and the latter a left/right continuum in regard to how redistributive and socially interventionist EU social policy should be. Both are the subject of a complicated politics at EU level. First, there is a diverse set of agents involved, not just member states and the “political” EU institutions (Parliament and Council) but the Commission is also an important “interested” actor. This renders institutional politics and jockeying for power typical features of social policymaking in the EU. Second, one has to break down the monolith of the EU institutions and recognize that within and among them are actors or units that favor a more left or right position on social policy. Third, actors’ positions do not necessarily align on the two types of contestation (apart perhaps from the social nongovernmental organizations and to a lesser extent employers and business interests). Some actors who favor an extensive role for social policy in general are skeptical about the role of the EU in this regard (e.g., trade unions, some social democratic parties) while others (some sectors of the Commission) wish for a more expansive EU remit in social policy but also support a version of social policy pinned tightly to market and economic functions. In this kind of context, the strongest and most consistent political thrust is toward a type of EU social policy that is most clearly oriented to enabling the Union’s economic and market-related objectives. Given this and the institutional set-up, the default position in EU social policy is for a market-making social policy orientation on the one hand and a circumscribed role for the EU in social policy on the other.
John Erik Fossum
Norway has applied for membership of the European Union (EU) four times but is not a member. The two first applications were aborted because of de Gaulle’s veto against the U.K.’s application. The two latter were turned down by Norwegian citizens in popular referenda (1972 and 1994). Why did a majority of Norwegian citizens reject EU membership? A survey of the literature identifies a range of historical, cultural, political, and socioeconomic factors. In addition, it cannot be discounted that there were specific features about the referendums and the referendum campaigns that help account for the decisions to reject EU membership, given that all Nordic states except Iceland have held EU membership referendums. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Norway is not an EU member, it has opted for as close an EU association as is possible for a nonmember. In order to understand Norway’s EU relationship, the following paradox must be addressed: whereas the question of EU membership has long been a highly controversial and divisive issue, Norway’s comprehensive incorporation in the EU through the EEA Agreement and a whole host of other arrangements has profound constitutional democratic implications and yet has sparked surprisingly little controversy. What then are the distinctive features of the “Norway model,” in other words, Norway’s EU affiliation? In order to clarify this, it is necessary to compare and contrast Norway’s affiliation with other relevant types of affiliation that nonmembers have to the EU. Thereafter, the distinctive features of Norway’s EU affiliation can be outlined: the internal market through the EEA Agreement; justice and home affairs through the Schengen and Dublin conventions; as well as defense cooperation and the institutional apparatus regulating Norway’s relationship with the EU. A distinctive feature of the Norway model is its comprehensiveness: Norway’s various EU affiliations amount to it incorporating roughly 75% of all EU laws and regulations. What are the domestic mechanisms and arrangements that enable Norway to adapt so closely to the EU when the EU membership issue continues to be so controversial? There is public support for the present arrangement, but how robust and resilient that is can be questioned. The arrangement depends on specific mechanisms that ensure that Norway’s EU affiliation remains depoliticized. In explicating these mechanisms, a clearer conception emerges of how Norway balances the challenges associated with global economic integration, national sovereignty, and democracy.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule. Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate. Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.