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Beyond the softening narrative: The governing of the EU in times crisis

Abstract : Introduction : The study of EU governing, how it operates and whom contributes to it, is essential to our understanding of the functioning of this political system. This is particularly true in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which deeply challenged existing forms of decision- making and redistribution mechanisms (Streeck and Schäfer, 2013). Possibly, the EU has never been so effective in imposing decisions on member states and societies. And in this critical context, the long-term structuring impact of the policy tools and modes of governance that had been introduced in order to define a new approach to governance were made visible. By exploring this initial assumption both theoretically and empirically, this special issue sheds new light on current debates regarding the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on EU governing. Following the 2001 White book on governance, a series of new modes of governance and policy tools have been designed and implemented across EU policy domains in order to address simultaneously the problem-solving capacity of EU institutions and the need to strengthen the participation of civil society (Heritier and Rhodes, 2011). Managerial reforms within the EU Commission and policies justified the need for softer modes of governance such as regulatory networks, benchmarking and tools through which policy and state performance could be measured and compared. By providing more participative and negotiated ways of decision-making, these softer modes of governance increased the political and administrative governability of the EU (Radaelli and Coletti, 2013), yet which actors and organizations benefited most from this new governance approach as well as its contribution to increasing the system’s political accountability and democratic legitimacy remains a contested issue (Bellamy et al., 2011). The supposed superiority of new modes of governance – in terms of both inclusiveness and effectiveness – has been hotly debated in the EU literature. Following the changes brought since the 2008 crisis to the socio-economic and the fiscal governance regimes, these softer modes of governance have developed into harder, more coercive forms of decision-making, thus justifying the need to re-examine the ‘softening narrative’, which dominated academic and practitioners’ debates about the EU governing over the past fifteen years. Far from reopening classic debates on EU modes of governance, this proposed special issue uses the governance notion as an organizing concept in order to examine the governing of the EU in times of crisis. More specifically, we argue that focusing on modes of governance contributes to the understanding of “where the power lies in the EU system” especially when an external shock – such as the crisis – hits the EU governance system. In our analysis, looking at “power” implies looking at influence, i.e. the capacity of actors to obtain decisions which are in line with their specific preferences. This introductory article highlights some of the aspects that we consider have been at the heart of the new political challenges to the EU in terms of governance. But before we turn to the discussion of such traits, we will briefly situate our analysis in the broader (and ‘classic’) spectrum of the studies on European integration.
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Paolo Roberto Graziano, Charlotte Halpern. Beyond the softening narrative: The governing of the EU in times crisis. 2015. ⟨hal-02286063⟩

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