Gaby Umbach, Research Focus: Key Aspects, Core Questions, and Most Distant Cases as Spine of Analysis in:

Gaby Umbach

Intent and Reality of the European Employment Strategy, page 27 - 31

Europeanisation of National Employment Policies and Policy-Making?

1. Edition 2009, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4128-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1247-0

Series: Studies on the European Union, vol. 1

Bibliographic information
27 1. Introduction – A First Snapshot of the Research Subject 1.1 Research Focus: Key Aspects, Core Questions, and Most Distant Cases as Spine of Analysis At the time of its inception in 1997, the European Employment Strategy (EES), at first sight, must have seemed slightly ‘absurd’ a policy instrument to cure the European unemployment disease of the 1990s. However, European policy-makers appeared to be driven by the idea to better be roughly right by co-ordinating member states’ employment policies to combat unemployment in order to safeguard the legitimacy of the socio-economic foundations of European integration and national political systems, than to be precisely wrong in not at all tackling the most vital socio-economic problem of the decade related to tremendous pressures to deliver economic security, growth and wealth for their citizens. Since the 1990s, high levels of unemployment are a substantial problem in many of the European Union’s (EU’s) member states. “Worst of all, in a system of governance that has depended for past acceptability on its association with faster economic growth, the economies of its core member states have grown only slowly over the past decade, while their governments have resisted collective [supranational] attempts to promote reform of employment and welfare policies” (Wallace, W. 2005:502). Accompanied by this persistent weak economic performance, especially in countries like France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Germany, reforms were rather limited in success over the 1990s, indicating at the need for more far-reaching reform approaches (cf. Bertola/Boeri/Nicoletti 2001). However and regardless of globalised demands, increasing economic interdependence and similarities of domestic problems related to unemployment, employment policies remained at the centre of national priorities with strong reservations against supranational intervention, streamlining, or harmonisation. These reservations most strongly rooted in the relevance of these sectors directly affecting the competitiveness of EU member states. They, hence, represent fields, in which member states are strongly reluctant to entirely transfer national sovereignty to the European level (cf. Bertozzi/Bonoli 2002:2). Additionally, national differences in employment policy approaches are deeply interweaved with diverse domestic traditions, which are strongly embedded in the national political systems, in which they exist (cf. Esping-Andersen 2001; Scharpf/Schmidt 2000), making a supranationalisation of competences in this area quite delicate. As a result, a full transfer of sovereignty to the EU level and, hence, a full supranationalisation of employment policies was no feasible alternative at the time of the inception of the EES in 1997, as it still is not today. Nevertheless, guided by the awareness that in order to “cure the problems of public goods provision at least to the extent caused by European integration, a co- Introduction 28 operation of economic policy actors and a harmonization of policies in the areas of fiscal, social, budgetary and probably even wage policies is necessary” (Heise 2004:5). So, European policy-makers finally decided to co-operate in this sensitive area, initiating policy co-ordination of macro-economic and employment policies at EU level in the late 1990s. Against this background the EES was created. It applies the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) as a New Mode of Governance (NMoG) within European socioeconomic policy-making in order to provide the EU with the means to improve national employment policy approaches without putting too strong supranational harmonisation and compliance pressure on EU member states. Taking up these concerns and requirements, the EES provided for an instrument that amends national policy armouries by supranational policy co-ordination to support job creation and employment growth. It established an alternative to exclusive supranational competences and regulatory policy-making (cf. Deppe/Felder/Tidow 2003) in the given area, as “[i]n the light of a variety of path-dependent, historically grown institutional systems in the … EU member states, harmonisation .. [could not] be translated as ‘standardisation’, but rather as a benchmark-based establishment of functional equivalence of different systems preventing dumping effects from happening” (Heise 2005:4). The integration of the EES, and the OMC applied with it, into the special Employment Title of the Amsterdam Treaty fostered the development of “a coordinated strategy for employment and particularly for promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change” (Art. 125 TEC). In contrast to supranational regulatory policies, adaptation pressure under the EES does not derive from the need to comply with or implement (directly) binding European provisions given that this new policy instrument lacks such regulatory character. With the EES, rather, the flexible and de-centralised approach of policy coordination was added to the tool box of European employment policy-making, applying policy learning (rather than harmonisation or regulation), (annual) monitoring cycles, exchange of best practices, peer pressure and review (‘naming, blaming and shaming’) as well as public deliberation. With these elements it aims at (implementation-)flexibility, multilevel policy integration and evaluation, inclusion and broad participation, direct deliberation, best practices as well as knowledge-sharing and multilateral examination. Its development can, hence, be regarded as a response to the need for a national sovereignty-preserving, more flexible instrument of policy co-ordination within the European Multilevel Governance (EMLG) System. Under the conditions of persisting diversity of national employment policies and related traditions, the EES, thus, was perceived to be an innovative and promising instrument to provide supranational guidance for the development of national employment policies across Europe. Due to this quality as a new policy co-ordination device, the analysis of national adaptation processes related to the EES forms an interesting research field to test and evaluate its Europeanisation impact at the domestic level of EU member states. It is, hence, of special interest to analyse, how this particular NMoG, in contrast to Introduction 29 old modes of supranational governance, impacts on domestic institutional set ups and employment policy development and how the European level itself is affected by this new policy instrument. This even more so, as the EES, by applying the OMC’s soft co-ordination approach with its legal non-bindingness, offers ‘implementation’ conditions different from classical command-and-control approaches. The present study, therefore, seeks to complement Europeanisation studies on regulatory policies by analysing the impact of soft policy co-ordination at the national level of EU member states. Its research focus lays on the question whether the EES, by applying the OMC as a new supranational policy instrument, has been successful according to its own understanding and intend. As a consequence, the study focuses on the analysis of the EES’s Europeanisation impact on the adaptation of national employment policy co-ordination structures and policies in two selected EU member states (cf. below) from 1998 to 2005 as well as on its influence on EU level. The analysis takes its starting point in a set of underlying research questions on the potential impact of the EES at EU level: • Does the EES, by applying the OMC, create a functional new way of policy coordination within the EU? • Do arrangements to cope with the EES unite actors from several institutions, networks, bodies, and levels? • Does the EES lead to a more co-ordinated policy-mix with regard to monetary, fiscal, macro-economic and employment policies at European level? • Do national actors shift their attention to the EU level and further pool and merge their national resources with European instruments? • What sort of Europeanisation pressure does the EES exert on EU member states? Starting from these general questions, the analysis concentrates on different dimensions of national employment policy co-ordination structures and policies. By doing so, it focuses on the main dimensions of political systems–policy-making/coordination structures (polity/politics dimension) and policy content (policy dimension)–and their underlying cognitive/normative structures. Main research questions related to the EES’s Europeanisation impact on the national polity/politics dimension are: • Does the domestic institutional practice under the EES pay tribute to the original intent of the EES? • Does the EES lead to institutional adaptation and change of domestic employment policy co-ordination structures? • To what extent do change and new structures represent a fundamental turnaround in national institutional traditions and to what extend do national institutional traditions influence the impact of the EES at domestic level? Introduction 30 Furthermore, another set of underlying research questions guides the analysis of the EES’s Europeanisation impact on the national policy dimension: • Does the EES impact on domestic employment policies or do national priorities and traditions continue to prevail? • Does the EES lead to policy convergence and/or transformation? • Which role do domestic employment policy traditions play in this context and does variation root in different domestic traditions? In order to answer these questions the study analyses the impact of the EES in the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany. With this selection of countries, the study chooses to examine the Europeanisation impact of the EES in two most distant cases. Both countries differ considerably in terms of welfare state traditions, domestic employment policy approaches, national social dialogue practice, and political systems. Additionally, they apply very different conceptual, institutional, and administrative approaches to employment policies, which can be assessed to form different poles of the scale of national employment policy and welfare state characteristics. While putting strong emphasis on these systemic differences for the selection of the UK and Germany, the study does, yet, not neglect the parallel coming into office and re-election of social democratic (coalition) governments in both countries, opting for the ‘Third Way’ and the Neue Mitte approach to reform domestic employment policies in 1997/2001 and 1998/2002 respectively. So, while highlighting the relevance of diverse domestic traditions and national policy differences, the study also takes into consideration change from conservative to social democratic (coalition) governments that potentially initiated parallel policy reforms. With this selection, the comparative analysis seeks to provide for evidence of the differential Europeanisation impact of the EES on different employment and labour market types in order to shed light on the interdependence of the EES’s Europeanisation impact with national systemic and policy traditions. The study does, yet, not stop with the analysis of domestic adaptation within the UK and Germany. It, additionally, tests an acknowledged theoretical framework for the analysis of adaptation and change in the case of the EES and the OMC. Given that this new policy instrument considerably influences core features and central parameter of European governance, it is of academic interest to analyse whether, in the case of EES/OMC, valid results can be generated by applying the most relevant political science approach to analyse the impact of European provisions at domestic level: the Europeanisation approach. So, it will be examined whether this approach can be fruitfully applied to discover and categorise impact at national level and whether impact-tracing through the Europeanisation approach can deliver sufficient explanative elements to elucidate the degree of Europeanisation of domestic employment policy co-ordination structures and policies by applying categories developed for the analysis of adaptation and change through supranational regulatory policies. Introduction 31 1.2 Research Design: Variables, Theses, and Methodology The EES, and the OMC applied with it, form the independent variable of the research design. The aim of the analysis of this independent variable is to learn, whether and in how far the EES has the potential to Europeanise member states’ domestic policy co-ordination structures and employment policies. The study combines both the bottom-up and the top-down perspective of the Europeanisation approach, aiming at a better understanding of the EES under the preconditions of the EMLG system. The focus of analysis is laid on the top-down direction of Europeanisation. However, aspects of bottom-up Europeanisation, leading to the official inception of the EES and to several reform waves, are not neglected. The analysis of the independent variable, therefore, also comprises the examination of the emergence and development of European employment policy co-ordination. Moreover, given that a clear categorisation of the EES’s Europeanisation potential is indispensable to draw conclusions on domestic adaptation, the analysis also includes an assessment of the EES’s structural/procedural aspects and portrays its underlying policy ideas/paradigm, i.e. its ‘policy ID’. As intervening variables, the research design identifies national political systems and domestic employment policy traditions of the UK and Germany. Moreover, relevant elements of inter- and supranational economic integration are analysed. These factors are supposed to include most important veto points for the adaptation of domestic political structures and employment policies, able to impact on the degree of Europeanisation at national level. It is of interest to analyse, in how far these intervening variables influence the EES’s Europeanisation impact in terms of pathdependence or transformation of domestic systems. In a first step, the institutional capacity of national political systems and core institutional arrangements to further or impede Europeanisation is analysed. Thereafter, an analysis of the underlying employment policy and welfare state traditions in the UK and Germany follows. Finally, the analysis of relevant elements of inter- and supranational economic integration, such as EMU, OECD, or IMF initiatives, completes the presentation of intervening variables. The dependent variables are formed by the development of British and German employment policy co-ordination structures and employment policies under the influence of the EES.1 In order to analyse the Europeanisation impact of the EES, the core phase of analysis is the first period of the ‘stand-alone’ EES from 1998 to 1 Especially within the analysis of policy adaptation caused by the EES the study focuses on “policy outputs (the policies adopted by governments)”, while the Europeanisation impact of the EES on the real “policy outcomes (the actual effects of a policy in terms of goal achievement)” (Holzinger/Knill 2005:776) is not analysed in-depth. This decision follows the perception of Holzinger and Knill, who state that “governments are agents reacting to problem pressure, experience gained elsewhere, pressure of powerful external actors, economic pressure, and legal obligation. Thus, governmental programmes are what counts. Policy outcomes, by contrast, are only indirectly related to the causal mechanisms of [policy change and] convergence, because they are usually affected by many intervening variables” (ibid.).

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Mit ihren spezifischen Merkmalen als neues Politikinstrument – wie etwa ihrem rechtlich nicht bindenden Charakter, dem Ziel des gegenseitigen Politiklernens durch Austausch bester Praktiken oder gemeinsamen Evaluierungsprozessen – stellt die Europäische Beschäftigungsstrategie (EBS) und die mit ihr Anwendung findende Offene Methode der Koordinierung (OMK) beschäftigungspolitische Akteure in der EU vor die neuen Herausforderungen von Politik-Koordinierung, die die Politikgestaltung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem neu prägen.

Das vorliegende Buch beschäftigt sich intensiv mit diesen unterschiedlichen Facetten der EBS und ihrer Wirkung. Es geht dabei über bisherige Einzelstudien zur EBS hinaus und befasst sich nicht nur mit deren Entstehung, Entwicklung und Merkmalen. Es kontrastiert vielmehr den eigenen Anspruch der EBS mit ihrer politischen Realität und untersucht theoretisch hoch reflektiert deren Einfluss auf Politik-Koordinierungsstrukturen, Beschäftigungspolitiken und zugrunde liegenden Ideen sowie deren Zusammenspiel mit anderen wirtschaftspolitischen Bereichen. Neben der EU-Ebene dienen Großbritannien und Deutschland als Fallbeispiele für mitgliedstaatliche Anpassungsprozesse. Das Buch verankert seine Wirkungsanalyse sehr fundiert in der wissenschaftstheoretischen Debatte um Europäisierung und Politikkonvergenz, um deren Anwendbarkeit im Falle der EBS kritisch zu analysieren. Es komplettiert damit Europäisierungsstudien zu regulativer Politik durch die Analyse des Einflusses weicher Politik-Koordinierung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem.