Panel 9: Coming full circle

Analyzing EU policy-making

Chaired by: dr. Ellen Mastenbroek (RUN), dr. Sebastiaan Princen (UU) & dr. Esther Versluis (UM), &

Central theme

This panel seeks to bring together papers that analyse policy-making in the EU, covering all aspects of the EU policy process from agenda-setting, through decision-making, to implementation, evaluation and feedback. In particular, it aims to contribute to the further interaction and cross-fertilization between different approaches to EU policy-making and different stages of the EU policy process, which tend to be studied in isolation.


Policy-making in the EU has become subject to a blossoming literature over the past decade. This ties in with the broader ‘governance turn’ that Ben Rosamond identified in his survey of European integration theory. Rather than seeking to explain the process of European integration per se, policy-making studies focus on the way the EU develops, adopts, carries out and revises policies. The growing interest in EU policy processes also reflects developments in the EU itself, in which ‘daily’ policy-making on specific issues has become an ongoing concern. This type of policy-making has now come to occupy the vast majority of actors and officials working in and around the EU, both in ‘Brussels’ and at the national, regional and local levels.

The rise of EU policy studies has led to two profound shifts in perspective in EU studies. First, it has led to the introduction of a set of questions that have been central to ‘domestic’ policy studies for a long time but are still relatively new in an EU context, such as: Why do certain issues arise on the EU agenda? What determines the content of EU policies? How are EU policies implemented and enforced? How is ‘routine’ decision-making institutionalized within the EU? What are the outcomes and outputs of EU policies- and how are these fed back into the policy process?

Second, it has strengthened the application to the EU of a number of theoretical approaches from ‘mainstream’ political science and public administration, including institutionalism in its various incarnations and the range of approaches developed in the policy studies literature. In that sense, EU policy studies has led to a double ‘mainstreaming’ of EU studies, linking it more closely to core concerns and approaches in political science and public administration, while at the same time probing the validity of those approaches in an EU context.

Studies of the EU policy process have developed along specific lines, which reflect the classic distinctions between ‘stages’ of the policy process:

  • Since the mid-2000s, a literature has sprung up on agenda-setting in the EU
  • Decision-making in the EU has been subject to a vast literature, using a range of different theories, primarily within the rational choice paradigm
  • Implementation studies in the EU have focused primarily on the transposition of EU directives into national law. The actual application and enforcement of EU law, let alone rule observance by businesses and citizens, are even more scarce
  • We have seen various studies focusing on enforcement at the EU level, focusing on the activities of the European Commission and the Court of Justice, including some studies on the role of national courts
  • Evaluation studies have been done primarily in relation to policy-oriented advice, for instance in the field of regional policy. Another body of literature concerns the use of impact assessments in the EU- a topic that has boomed over the last five years. The practice and role of ex post policy evaluation in the EU, however, has received hardly any attention in the academic literature.

The above inventory leads to two observations. First, attention to the various stages has been very uneven, with attention so far primarily having been paid to decision-making, agenda-setting, and transposition, at the expense of the later stages of the policy process. We thus propose to come full circle, and pay more attention to the stages of national implementation and enforcement, as well as ex post evaluation. Second, whereas the specialization according to policy stages has helped to develop new insights in each of these fields, it has also hampered cross-fertilization between the literatures. This tendency has been reinforced by the fact that each literature has relied on its own set of preferred theories and has developed a distinct set of concepts and assumptions. This is all the more problematic since the ‘stages approach’ to policy-making has been widely challenged in the policy studies literature, as it artificially separates different aspects of policy-making that in reality are often intertwined and affect each other.

Types of papers invited

In order to bring the debate on policy-making in the EU further, this panel seeks to bring together papers on different aspects of and taking different approaches to the EU policy process.

To that end, we invite (1) papers that analyse a specific aspect of the EU policy process, such as agenda-setting, decision-making, implementation (including both transposition and practical application and enforcement) or evaluation, and (2) papers that integrate different aspects of the EU policy process.

We welcome all types of theoretical approaches and studies of all types of policy or issue areas. In addition, the panel is open both to (quantitative and qualitative) empirical studies and to conceptual and theoretical papers.

Link with the NIG research programme

This panel is closely linked to two subthemes in the NIG research programme 2012-2017: ‘multi-level governance and Europe’ and ‘multi-actor governance in complexity’. The subtheme ‘multi-level governance and Europe’ is directly addressed by the panel’s focus on EU policy-process, which take place both at the EU-level proper and in the interaction between the EU and the national, regional and local levels. In addition, the panel’s emphasis on EU policy process, and specifically the interaction between the different aspects of those processes, is relevant to our understanding of multi-actor governance arrangements in complex settings.