Chapter 10 Decision-making

  • Three types of decisions can be discerned in the EU: history-making decisions, policy-setting decisions, and policy-shaping decisions. Decision-making dynamics vary between these types.
  • History-making decisions define the framework within which the EU operates, while policy-setting and policy-shaping decisions are about policy-making within that framework.
  • History-making decisions are typically ‘high politics’, policy-shaping decisions ‘low politics’ and policy-setting decisions ‘high’ or ‘low’ politics depending on the issue.
  • History-making decisions are characterized by negotiations between member state governments. During those negotiations, governments use different tactics, including coalition formation, persuasion and the ‘management of meaning’, challenging other member states, issue linkage and side-payments, and splitting the difference.
  • Policy-making in the EU is characterized by a large number of veto players. This has four consequences: (1) it makes it difficult to reach decisions, (2) decision-making in the Council revolves around the creation and dissolution of ‘blocking minorities’, (3) decision-making with institutions needs to take account of the acceptability of the outcomes to other institutions, and (4) actors within the EU operate under a culture of consensus and compromise.
  • Decision-making does not take place only between and within the EU institutions but also includes actors outside of the formal institutions, such as interest groups, member state civil servants, and academics. The interaction between actors within and outside of the EU institutions takes the form of policy networks.
  • EU policy-making is often described as ‘technocratic’. This means that decision-making takes place on the basis of expertise rather than bargaining or popular politics. This depiction is correct for many ‘low politics’ decisions but typically not for ‘high politics’ decisions. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that ‘technocracy’ is not the opposite of ‘politics’ but involves a political struggle that is fought with expert-based arguments.
  • The joint-decision trap thesis argues that because of the complexity of and the direct involvement of member state governments in EU decision-making EU policies tend to become inflexible and inefficient. Although this argument holds true for some policies and decision-making processes, there are also examples of the opposite.

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