Informal Governance in the European Union

Informal Governance in the European Union: How Governments Make International Organizations Work

Mareike Kleine
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 192
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    Informal Governance in the European Union
    Book Description:

    The European Union is the world's most advanced international organization, presiding over a level of legal and economic integration unmatched in global politics. To explain this achievement, many observers point to its formal rules that entail strong obligations and delegate substantial power to supranational actors such as the European Commission. This legalistic view, Mareike Kleine contends, is misleading. More often than not, governments and bureaucrats informally depart from the formal rules and thereby contradict their very purpose. Behind the EU's front of formal rules lies a thick network of informal governance practices.

    If not the EU's rules, what accounts for the high level of economic integration among its members? How does the EU really work? In answering these questions, Kleine proposes a new way of thinking about international organizations. Informal governance affords governments the flexibility to resolve conflicts that adherence to EU rules may generate at the domestic level. By dispersing the costs that integration may impose on individual groups, it allows governments to keep domestic interests aligned in favor of European integration. The combination of formal rules and informal governance therefore sustains a level of cooperation that neither regime alone permits, and it reduces the EU's democratic deficit by including those interests into deliberations that are most immediately affected by its decisions. In illustrating informal norms and testing how they work, Kleine provides the first systematic analysis, based on new material from national and European archives and other primary data, of the parallel development of the formal rules and informal norms that have governed the EU from the 1958 Treaty of Rome until today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6940-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
    (pp. 1-17)

    I make my way through the corridors of the Justus Lipsius Building, the monstrous Brussels headquarters of the EU’s main decision-making body, the Council of Ministers. Sitting in front of me is a senior Council official, fittingly wearing an elegant, yet inconspicuous, dark gray suit. I make some small talk and ask what he and his colleagues think about the public quarrels between the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the German chancellor Angela Merkel. “Quarrels among the heads of state don’t affect what we are doing,” he dismisses the question with a smile. “In these corridors, it’s an unsuspicious...

    (pp. 18-35)

    Why do governments carefully design formal rules, and then jointly act in ways that seemingly contradict the rules’ purpose? What do practices of informal governance tell us about why and how international organizations work?

    In this chapter I present a theory of informal governance. At its core is the argument that uncertainty about future political pressure against cooperation generates a demand for what might be called a norm of discretion among governments. This norm states that governments that face unexpectedly strong domestic pressure for defection ought to be accommodated when their noncompliance threatens to diminish the overall value of the...

    (pp. 36-58)

    Uncertainty about domestic demands for cooperation—political uncertainty—leads to the emergence of an informal norm of discretion that adds situational flexibility to the formal institutional design, to enable governments to resolve potentially disruptive conflicts at the domestic level. The purpose of this and the following three chapters is to show that, therefore, this informal norm varies systematically with the extent of political uncertainty.

    Informal institutional elements are, as the chapter-opening quote suggests, difficult to identify with confidence. How, then, do we trace the informal norm of discretion in the context of the European Union? The previous chapters argued that...

    (pp. 59-86)

    In many ways, the European Commission is a bureaucracy like any other international bureaucracy. Similar to the United Nations or the World Bank, it undertakes tasks that are defined in an international treaty, it is primarily funded by direct financial contributions from the member states, it is staffed by civil servants of many different nationalities, and it usually appoints its political leadership only after a ritualistic wrangling among the member states.

    The European Commission is also special in at least two regards. Many view it as the incarnation of the “European idea”: to gradually transcend the nation-state through supranational institutions...

    (pp. 87-107)

    After the Commission has officially submitted its proposal for a legislative act, the Council of Ministers and today also the European Parliament have to decide whether they want to adopt or change it. In a sense, this procedure is not very different from the decision-making procedures in other international organizations. In the United Nations, for example, the members of the Security Council take votes on official proposals for a resolution.

    But there are also some notable differences with the way other international organizations typically work. The first is that the voting rules in the Council strongly privilege the adoption of...

    (pp. 108-122)

    Given the vast array of legislative proposals, the complexity of many issues, and the scarcity of resources and time, it seems impossible for legislative actors to formulate laws in a way that lets the laws always be applied without ambiguity. Legislative actors usually have no choice but to delegate the making of secondary rules to a bureaucracy.

    The Treaty of Rome envisaged this bureaucracy to be the European Commission. Article 155 states that the Commission should “have its own power of decision and participate in the shaping of measures.” In some areas, the Treaty of Rome conferred implementing powers automatically...

    (pp. 123-132)

    The EU legislative process is governed by a norm of discretion, which prescribes that governments facing unmanageable domestic pressure ought to be accommodated. The norm of discretion manifests itself in collective informal governance practices at every step of the EU’s legislative procedure. However, the norm’s precise boundaries are vague; they are also prone to abuse when it is difficult to verify that legitimate demands are being made for the use of informal governance. This means that the actual use of informal governance is fraught with difficulties, since the governments are bound to disagree about its necessity. Disagreements about the necessity...

    (pp. 133-142)

    Barely mentioned in the original Rome Treaty or the Council’s internal Rules of Procedure (Conseil de la CEE 1958), the Council presidency, rotating every six months among governments, surprisingly assumed important responsibilities in agenda setting and intergovernmental negotiations in the Council.

    Some of the Council presidency’s tasks are certainly particular to the European Union, and some of its aspects might be in urgent need of reform. Yet one of its principal functions presents a solution to a more general cooperation problem, which has so far been underappreciated in the literature (Kleine 2013). This chapter argues that the Council presidency serves...

    (pp. 143-153)

    Making full use of its procedural powers, the European Commission under the presidency of Jacques Delors in 1990 submitted a proposal for a directive on the Europe-wide regulation of working time for a large variety of sectors. This proposal was well received by trade unions and most member states, which already had equivalent domestic regulations in place. In the United Kingdom, however, where workers worked the longest hours, the proposal immediately generated strong domestic opposition from employers as well as from Euroskeptics in the ruling Conservative Party, who regarded this proposal as only the beginning of a stream of “socialist”...

    (pp. 154-166)

    Why do governments carefully design formal rules only to depart from them repeatedly? What makes the EU and other international organizations work in reality?

    The central argument of this book is that informal governance is critical for understanding not just how institutions work day to day, but, crucially, why they work and persist at all. Informal governance is the result of an informal norm of discretion among governments that prescribes that governments facing unmanageable domestic pressure to defy the rules should be accommodated. The resulting practices of informal governance, therefore, add a flexibility to the formal rules that permits the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 167-176)
  17. Glossary of Institutions, Treaties, and Procedures
    (pp. 177-180)
  18. References
    (pp. 181-208)
  19. Index
    (pp. 209-214)