Macro‐economic coordination and elusive ownership in the European Union

Published date01 September 2018
AuthorPierre Vanheuverzwijn,Amandine Crespy
Date01 September 2018
Macro-economic coordination and elusive
ownership in the European Union
Pierre Vanheuverzwijn | Amandine Crespy
Department of Political Science, Université
libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
Amandine Crespy, Department of Political
Science, Université libre de Bruxelles,
Avenue F. D. Roosevelt 50, Brussels 1000,
Funding information
European Commission Project Number:
The notion of ownership is well known in relation to global gover-
nance. In the realm of EU macro-economic coordination, it has
become a buzzword since the revamping process of the European
Semester in 2015. This article investigates how ownership by four
types of domestic actors (governments, administrations, parlia-
ments and soc ial par tners) manifest s itsel f in the European
Semester. We conceptualize three types of ownership, namely
institutional, political, and cognitive. Using network analysis, semi-
structured interviews, and a small-scale survey, we find that owner-
ship is strongest among governments and administrations which
are able to shape the outputs of the European Semester (institu-
tional ownership) with little political disagreement (political owner-
ship). While national parliaments display low levels of all types of
ownership, employers and unions exhibit relatively strong cognitive
ownership. We conclude that the European Semester remains a
bureaucratic process contributing to building a multi-level adminis-
trative space rather than an arena for political debates.
The idea that recipients of a given policy ought to be involved in its formulation, management, or implementa-
tion is nothing new. Ownership has been a pervasive buzzwordin the fields of aid and development policy,
peacekeeping operations and external policy for decades.IneconomicpolicycoordinationintheEuropean
Union (EU), the notion of ownership is not confined to the recent period, either. In the mid-term review of the
Lisbon Strategy, the European Commission stressed the importance of making the various players feel that the
policies proposed concern them, and that they are truly involved in the decision-making and implementation
processfor the success of the Strategy (European Commission 2005, p. 14). Likewise, the notion of ownership
was at the centre of the preface to the Commission communication on the Europe 2020 Strategy under Barro-
so's Presidency (European Commission 2010). The problematic political indifference and lack of implementation
in the domestic arenas of the policy orientations agreed at the EU level has yet again emerged as a leitmotiv in
relation to the European Semester.
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12413
578 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Public Administration. 2018;96:578593.
The Semester is a broad, complex governance framework which was set up in response to the destabilization of
the Economic and Monetary Union by the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent debt crisis. It can be seen as a
hybrid type of governance aiming at better coordinating fiscal, macro-economic and social policy through a mix of
regulatory binding instruments and voluntary-based coordination (Armstrong 2014). The main outputs of the Semes-
ter are the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) based on the analysis by the Commission of each country's
issues in the respective Country Reports. It would be foolish to conceive of the Semester as a process where the
Commission tells member states what to do. Rather, there is a more complex distribution of tasks (see Zeitlin and
Verdun 2017). On the one hand, the Commission performs the analytical work within its own ideational framework
focused on labour market flexibilization, the further liberalization of services and product markets, and the reform of
public administration (Crespy and Vanheuverzwijn 2017). On the other hand, the Councilnotably through its
committeesperforms the role of multilateral surveillance and endorses these orientations politically.
Since 2010, the Semester has undergone important changes, both in the substance of the ideas expressed and
in the procedures th rough which those id eas are conveyed (Com an and Ponjaert 2016 ; Crespy and Vanheu verz-
wijn 2017; Zeitlin and Vanhercke 2017). At the height of the crisis, the EU was criticized for the incapacity of
harsh austerity to re-launch growth in Europe while aggravating the social crisis in the countries sever ely hit by
the recession. The S emester was seen as an example for t he dominance of creditor countr ies imposing fiscal disci-
pline and structural reforms through a rule-basedbureaucratic process (Schmidt 2015b) steered by a Commission
empowered with increased surveillance powers (Savage and Verdun 2016). When Juncker was appointed Presi-
dent of the Commission in 2014, he claimed that the EU should deliver a social triple A. Thus, the changes oper-
ated in the Semester aimed at responding to the legitimacy deficit of the EU's socioeconomic governance
(Schmidt 2015a).
From a procedural point of view, the new Commission declared its intention to revampthe Semester in order
to improve the legitimacy and efficiency of the process, notably in terms of increasing the implementation rate of the
CSRs (European Commission 2015, p. 3). Against this background, the notion of national ownershipwas emphasized
as a way to intensify the involvement of national political authorities in endorsing and implementing the reforms
advocated in Brussels. The Commission's efforts materialized in several initiatives: a new calendar for the Semester
that gives more time to national actors to provide expertise feeding the work of the Commission, a proposal to set
up national productivity boards that would play a role in monitoring macro-economic developments in each country,
and an improved functioning of the peer review process in the Council committees. Last but not least, new positions
of European Semester Officer (ESOs) were created in 2013 in the Commission Representations in order to add
weight to the Commission's capacity to conduct surveillance activities, assess policies, gather country-specific intelli-
gence, and increase the compliance record on European Semester initiatives(Munta 2017, p. 8).
Although more interest for this issue is developing within the scholarly community (Kreilinger 2016; Coman and
Sbaraglia 2017; Munta 2017), we still know little about how ownership is fostered in practice in the Semester. In this
article, we take seriously the ubiquitous call for more national ownership of the European Semester and put forward
our own definition of ownership to investigate its manifestations as well as limitations in actual political praxis. We
therefore address two questions: How can ownership be conceived of in EU socioeconomic governance? How does
it manifest itself in everyday practice in the framework of the European Semester? This article is structured in four
parts. In the next section, we review three strands of literature that are relevant to our topic and shed light on the
normative underpinnings and motivations for fostering ownership in the realm of the EU socioeconomic governance.
In section 3 we then put forward our own threefold conceptualization distinguishing institutional, political and cogni-
tive ownership, and present the methods used for the empirical analysis. Section 4 provides a basic network analysis
that allows us to visualize the actors involved in the European Semester in three countries (Belgium, France and the
Netherlands). Finally, section 5 presents the results of a survey conducted among ESOs in order to assessthe relative
importance of our three types of ownership.

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