Multilevel policy process in the EU

Course description

Policy making in the European Union is among the most complex in the world. This complexity is not only caused by the particular institutions of the European Union, but also by the particular relations with member states. Together with supra-national and infra-national governing levels, most European policy making occurs in so-called multilevel governance settings. This multilevel structure characterizes the policy process in the European Union. How can we analyse and makes sense of (European) policy making under such conditions? That is the central question for this course.

This course provides you with practical and theoretical tools to analyse complex policy making in settings that involve several countries. It also provides you with knowledge of the institutional context in which the European policy process as it takes place, including their relation to national institutions. By institutions, we mean bodies in which policies are made and binding decisions on European policies are taken, as for example the European Commission, the European Parliament, national governments, but also international organisations.

Hence it is important to consider not only what happens around and within European policy making bodies, but also look at the ways in which European policies are coordinated and implemented in member states. Some policies are clear-cut and binding directly, but other decisions taken in Brussels or elsewhere leave discretion for member states, and need to be fitted into their own systems of legislation. All European policies require at least some national coordination. Here, it is important to be aware of the differences in policy-making structures within countries, and in the attitudes of actors within these countries towards policy problems put on the European agenda. For this reason, different countries also may differ in how they implement European policies.

Inversely, European policy does not just descend from Brussels onto European governments from a dizzy height. Member states are the most important actors in the complex policy networks of European institutions and European policies often follow national examples or are instigated at the initiative of member states.

We will investigate European policy making by studying one example of a quintessentially European policy field: fisheries policy. In a project setting, you will analyse the development of this policy, the construction of European and international institutions to implement and develop this policy, and identify ways in which it could be improved.


  • Students know and understand the development of major European institutions.
  • Students understand the complex interplay of multilevel governance, involving governments and the European institutions, but also civil society actors and experts.
  • Students understand key tensions and developments in European multilevel governance.
  • Students are able to describe and analyse past policy programmes in a European context.
  • Students are able to use theory and generalisations of previous research to analyse a new and unfamiliar area of policy making.
  • Students are able to draw lessons from past policies and suggest improvements, specifically for European policy.


  • team work: manage meetings and cooperation
  • gather and manage information efficiently
  • presenting research
  • write a report

Contact: dr. W. Halffman