Kenneth Armstrong, Queen Mary University of London
Uwe Puetter has written a fascinating article due to come out in the Journal of European Public Policy this year that relates to the role of the European Council and the Council in giving leadership to economic governance. His essential argument is that in the absence of formal extensions of EU competence in the economic sphere, we have instead witnessed not mere intergovernmental cooperation but rather an increasingly intense form of “deliberative” intergovernmentalism. There is something important here.
For many scholars of the EU, anything that departs from the classic Community Method is dumped in the garbage can of “soft” governance. We really need to stop using the term “soft” either in respect of law or of governance. It is completely meaningless with no analytical content whatsoever. It turns out that as soon as you depart from the archetypal “hard” governance by hierarchy through law, it’s all soft. Analytically this is really just mush. I digress. Puetter’s point is that in the realm of EU policy coordination there is a paradoxical desire for more EU solutions while holding onto domestic competence: the result is that there is more intense intergovernmental cooperation the more there is a demand for EU solutions. But what is important about the example of economic governance is that this intense deliberative intergovernmentalism goes all the way up to the level of the European Council.
When we look across to EU social policy coordination, there is perhaps less of a desire for European solutions to domestic social problems and hence intergovernmental cooperation has remained relatively loose. And while social policy coordination has emphasised deliberation all the way down and all the way across, it has perhaps less successfully engaged the elite level of the European Council. Perhaps it is for this reason that while policy coordination in economic governance is both deepening and widening, in the social policy sphere it is in crisis.