Politicization Through Coalition Formation and Framing

This book argues that, notwithstanding the key role of the institutional features of the EU, the prevailing of marketization in the realm of welfare services is also due to the fact that resistance could be to a large extent contained. Insofar, it is demonstrated that the neoliberal agenda has been to a certain extent impeded by occasional politicization, but has nevertheless remained at the core of policy making in the EU.

In older works on European integration, this concept was often understood as one of increased salience of the left-right cleavage in EU politics (Hix and Roland 2006). More recently, however, it has been rather understood from the point of view of the formation of a European public sphere through the expression of political contention over EU matters and criticism towards the EU itself. At the outset, politicization can be identified as a consequence of the increased authority of the EU; that is its continuously enhanced capacity to decide, formulate and enforce public policy (de Wilde and Zurn 2012). However, de Wilde and Zurn point out that it is not an automatic process; rather, there is a need for an opportunity structure conducive of politicization; that is settings which allow for a type of public debate which will result in raising awareness, bring about mobilization, and eventually polarization on EU-related matters. In a compelling fashion, Statham and Trenz (2015) put forward that politicization occurs through three mechanisms: a ‘polarization of actors’ relations’, ‘modes of public perceptions and resonance’ and

‘legitimation’. Building on these insights, the present research investigates these three dimensions by looking at coalition building, discursive framing and responsiveness in policy making. While converging with the above-mentioned literature, the sociology of collective action, on the one hand, and discursive institutionalism, on the other, provide useful tools to do this. They have in common that they put the emphasis on coalitions and discourse, by looking at how both are shaped by institutions or, more precisely, by the institutional settings in which actors coalesce or oppose through coalitions and discourses. Both bodies of literature also offer insights into whether such processes of politicization contribute to enhancing or strengthening the legitimacy of the EU.

First, politicization occurs through polarization and the formation of opposed coalitions. The term coalition will be used to identify a diversified set of collective actors who are mobilizing on the same issue and, although they may have divergent secondary objectives as well, share a number of objectives in the policy making process. Unlike advocacy coalitions as defined by Sabatier (1988), these coalitions are not specific to a policy subsystem, and they may not share a large set of normative and causal nor common resources. They rather emerge progressively on an issue. While they have a transnational dimension, they are different from transnational social movement organizations (Della Porta and Diani 1999; Tarrow 2001) because they may include agents belonging to political institutions such as members of the EP (MEPs) or regional and national governments. In that sense, they come closer to the concept of transnational advocacy coalitions defined by Keck and Sikkink as ‘networks of activists, distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their formation’ (Keck and Sikkink 1998). The loose heteroclite coalitions which have emerged in the context of EU policy debates therefore have a strong strategic dimension rather than a shared identity. With regard to welfare services, the opposition between advocates of the neoliberal project for the EU, on the one hand, and those of a more regulated form of capitalism in the form of a supranational social market economy, on the other, has been identified by many scholars of the EU (Hooghe and Marks 1997; Copeland 2014). Interestingly, these coalitions do not completely overlap with the left- right cleavage because diverse national economic and political cultures, on the one hand, and ad hoc dynamics on particular issues, on the other, allow for the fluidity of EU politics. Here the formation of contentious coalitions opposing marketization policies is especially scrutinized.

Taking into account institutions is key since the emergence of coalitions is shaped by the necessity to rally the relevant allies in a given institutional setting.[1] Two main characteristics of the EU institutional setting are relevant here. The first key feature of the EU is its multi-level and transnational nature. Scholars who have studied the transnationalization of mobilization and protest have put forward a useful typology to distinguish between the activation of (a) loosely institutionalized transnational networks like those of the global justice movement (transnationalization), (b) more formal supranational channels provided by the EU polity such as neo-corporatist and parliamentary actors (supranationaliza- tion) or (c) national channels such as political parties, parliaments and governments (internalization or domestication) (Balme and Chabanet 2002, p. 185; also Imig and Tarrow 2002; della Porta and Caiani 2009).[2] In this regard, the book shows that the impact on decision making is greater when all three modes of mobilization are combined. The second crucial institutional feature which shapes coalitions in today’s EU is the role of the EP As mentioned before, the rise of the EP has been a result of the continuous parliamentarization of the EU. The role of the EP is key not only because it has been, from the outset, a ‘deliberating assembly’ (Costa 2001) thus introducing a sense of democratic debate in the technocratic EU polity; it has also progressively become a powerful and efficient legislative body, notably due to the introduction and continuous rationalization of the procedure of co-decision (Costa et al. 2015). Co-decision between the Council of the EU and the EP was introduced with the Treaty of Maastricht and have conferred upon the latter the power to shape, amend or even reject legislation. Moreover, the MEPs have sought to reinforce their weak linkage to citizens by strategically profiling themselves as the most legitimate (because elected) representatives in the EU, and the main interlocutors of organized civil society in Brussels and elsewhere (Costa 2006; Costa and Saint Martin 2009). The issues pertaining to SGI in the EU internal market—such as services liberalization or re-regulation (Chaps. 3 and 4)—are decided in the framework of the legislative procedure of co-decision. The importance of parliamentary deliberation therefore opens ‘discursive opportunities’ (Koopmans and Statham 1999) for actors challenging policy makers. The fact the EP has proved to be both a target as well as an ally in many debates has significantly influenced the form and strength of contentious coalitions.

The second dimension of politicization investigated pertains to the role of ideas and discourses, and how contentious actors are able to create resonance for a particular issue and influence public perceptions. The role of ideas is particularly relevant insofar as welfare services can be regarded as fundamentally ideological issue. In tune with discursive institutionalism, the role of ideas in politics is best grasped through discourse conceived as a dynamic interactive process among actors, rather than as a structure determining power relations from the outset. These reciprocal relations can be best understood through the concept of framing. Inspired by the work of Erving Goffman (1974) on the schemata of interpretation constructed by individuals to make sense of the world surrounding them, the concept of frame has been widely used by both scholars interested in the role of culture and identities in social movements (Benford and Snow 2000) and students of public policy studying how actors shape debates about what is at stake with a given issue (Daviter 2007; Baumgartner and Mahoney 2008). Frames are tools for mobilization and persuasion which

assign meaning to and interpret relevant events and conditions in ways that are intended to mobilize potential adherents and constituents, to garner bystander support, and to demobilize antagonists. (Snow and Bendford 1988, p. 198)

It does so in suggesting what is in and what is out of a frame, that is through which particular lens or from which angle a specific policy proposal should be assessed. As we will see with debates on welfare services, discourse may be a cement for coalitions to hold together by sharing catch-all frames loose enough to include actors and organizations with divergent identities or ideological views (Oliver and Johnston 2000; Westby 2000), thus shaping the nature and size of a coalition. Discourse is also more likely to be politically efficient if it builds on master frames, such as ‘Social Europe’ or ‘democracy’, which have already been invoked in past debates and are more likely to resonate within the public sphere.

Compared to other constructivist approaches, the added value of discursive institutionalism is to put the stress on how different institutional settings are conducive to different types of discourses and frames. Schmidt (2006, 2008) has distinguished between ‘coordinative’ discourse used among elites and policy makers, and mainly based on cognitive arguments, and ‘communicative’ discourse directed at the broader public and relying to a larger extent on the appeal to values and normative arguments. She has further argued that in ‘compound’ polities such as federations of the EU, coordinative discourse tends to prevail. Indeed, the technocratic nature of the EU emphasized above has led to a bias towards the former where expertise is a crucial resource. Yet, it would be simplistic to separate politics-based debates from expertise-based debates. On the contrary, the book shows how politicization in the EU consists to a large extent of the empowerment of contentious actors with expertise (Radaelli 1999), and the use of expertise and communication to translate technical problems into political arguments aimed at mobilizing support. Thus, various institutional settings will allow actors to frame counter-discourses more or less successfully.

Finally, the third dimension of politicization suggested by Statham and Trenz is that of legitimation. Yet, politicization does not automatically contribute to enhancing the legitimacy of the EU. In this regard, most scholars of politicization focus on criticism of the EU as a political order or polity. In contrast, the assumption here is that decisions over policies resulting from contention are key with regard to legitimation. In other words, politicization and conflict can only enhance the legitimacy of the EU if policy makers prove responsive when deciding on particular issues thus providing tangible outcomes responding to contestation. In turn, if citizens can express disagreement but receive no response from EU authorities, this is not likely to feed legitimation: on the contrary. The European Citizen Initiative introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon is a good illustration of how a procedure which allows voice but generates no response in terms of policy making can only make a poor contribution to the legitimation of the EU. In respect of welfare services, responsiveness and legitimation are assessed by locating particular episodes of contention in the historical developments of policy making. This allows to assess not only the short-term effects of contestation but also the possible discrepancies with further policy developments in the long run as some ideas and policy recipes may find their way back onto the EU agenda ‘through the back door’.

  • [1] The term institutional setting used by Schmidt (2008) is preferred to the much discussed conceptof political opportunity structure which has been conceptualized in the context of nation states(Kriesi et al. 1995) and has been criticized notably for its static and structuralist bias (Koopmans1999). For a relevant adaptation to the context of the EU, see Parks (2015, Chap. 2).
  • [2] A fourth mode of Europeanization identified dis-externalization; that is the mobilization ofEuropean actors and targeting of EU institutions for protesting over a national issue. Insofar as thisbook focuses on European debates, externalization will not be dealt with. It is also worth notingthat Imig and Tarrow (2001) and later della Porta and Caiani (2007) have shown that domestication remains, at the quantitative level, the most significant mode of contentious politics in Europe.
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