How does everyday decision-making differ from constitutional bargaining and why?
The EU is characterized by a complicated process of decision making involving various actors and levels of decisions making it difficult to provide a coherent and parsimonious analysis. In order to facilitate this, decision making can be defined as a single unit process, observable at the level of each institutional or personal actor involved (Peterson 1995). This distinction allows a separation of levels, influences, constraints and interaction within a decision process. In order to provide a congruent analysis based on these assumptions a three step approach is implemented: first, an analysis of the nature of the decision making process in the EU, second an explanation of different decision levels, and lastly an overarching general interpretation.
The question of decision making processes is also highly linked with the question of the nature of the EU. Within EU scholarship, the two dominant theories about the nature of the EU are the ‘new governance system’ (Jachtenfuchs 1995, p. 115; Kooiman 1993) and the ‘political system’ approach (McGowan, Wallace 1996; Majone 1993). The idea of the EU being a ‘new governance system’ emphasizes that governing is not done solely by the state, but instead involves a ‘polycentric and non-hierarchical’ relationship between state and non-state actors in a ’multi-level governance’ process (Jachtenfuchs 1995, p. 115). Hence, there must be certain room for maneuver for individual actors, networks and institutions in the decision process. The “political systems approach” assumes stricter formal rules and a strong redistribution focus in the policy output of the system (Hix 2011). For the purpose of this paper, the EU is assumed to be similar to the “new governance system”, allowing for a more flexible interpretation of the actual structure of policy making processes and following the current orthodoxy in EU scholarship (Hix 2011, p. 41).
Decision making process
Within the EU as a “new governance system” decisions are not only taken at one level, but are dispersed over various levels involving multiple actors (Hix 2011). Hence, it is necessary to distinguish the levels of decision making in order to identify differences influencing the overall policy process and the interaction between the single levels. Moreover, this approach allows the integration of theories from various fields focusing on different aspects of the policy making process in a compelling general theory (Jachtenfuchs 1995; Peterson 1995, p. 71).
Empirically, the decision process within the EU is characterized by three facts: multi-layer decision making, time sensitivity, and multiple state as well as non-state actors (Peterson 1995, p. 71; Pierson 1996, p. 149). These three characteristics can be incorporated through a pyramidal policy making model consisting of three levels of decision making: the super-systemic level (grand-bargains, new treaties, etc.), the systemic level (policy making within the regulated EU framework), and the meso-level (informal policy making). Moreover, the model incorporates the time disparity of many EU policy making processes through separating the policy making process into an influencing and an implementation process (Pierson 1996, p. 149).
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Figure 1: pyramidal policy making in the EU