Coalition Building

The debate over the Services Directive (2004—2006) (Chap. 3) offers an example where a loose and broad coalition formed to contest the very neoliberal flavour of the directive put forward by Commissioner Bolkestein. The actors forming this coalition—that is NGOs and associations of the global justice movement, political parties of the radical and social-democratic left, and the unions—used successfully two features of the institutional setting which characterized the contentious episode: the multilevel nature of the EU polity, on the one hand, and the key role of the EP under the co-decision procedure (now the ordinary legislative procedure of the EU), on the other. Transnational networks within the global justice (or alterglobalist) movement—notably ATTAC but also unions politically close and practically involved in the movement—played a pioneer role in politicizing the issue at an early stage, notably through events like the European Social Forum and their informal ties across national borders, thus launching and ‘anti-Bolkestein campaign’ in a context where France held a referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty. Along with the transnational mode of Europeanization of collective action, the domestic route (domestication) was used in concomitant way. In countries where the debate was most vivid (Belgium, Germany and France) socialist and social-democratic parties, including those in government (like in Belgium and Germany), took a critical stance towards the Commission’s proposal, thus following the early mobilization of parties of the radical left. This was accompanied by resolutions passed in national parliaments reshaping governments’ positions in the Council. Finally, the supranational route, consisting of using the most institutionalized channels of the EU polity, in particular the EP and the influence of the ETUC, was also activated.

This links to the second key aspect of the institutional setting under codecision: the role of the EP as a co-legislator. Through the simultaneous activation of the multiple channels of Europeanization, an anti-Bolkestein coalition could form which, albeit loosely, enlarged over time. This coalition succeeded in altering the minority/majority positions on the Commission’s original proposal which contribute to attenuating the effects of negative integration enforced through the Services Directive on welfare services. Many MEPs within left-wing political groups (the Gauche Europeenne Unitaire/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) and Party of European Socialists (PES) at the time) were actively involved in the politicization on the ground in their home country. In addition, the two rapporteurs (the Belgian socialist Anne van Lancker and the German social democrat Evelyne Gebhardt) rapidly embraced the concerns of the anti-Bolkestein coalition. Thus, the EP became both the key ally of the coalition and the institutional arena in which critical claims could resonate and be channelled. And in fact, for the first time in the history of EU politics, it is the EP which in its first reading forged a political compromise and redrafted to a large extent the much criticized proposal of the Commission.

Protest against the GATS (2001-2007) (Chap. 6) offers an illustration of how the struggle against negative integration was led at the global scale through the contestation of free trade agreements which aim at making welfare services tradable commodities and create new market opportunities for competitive multinational corporations. Here, the institutional setting of the global arena is of course looser, with patterns of accountability being diluted when opaque negotiations take place under the auspices of international organizations such as the WTO. In the framework of the EU, it is characterized by the exclusive competence of the EU Commission, and weak involvement of the EP.[1] In the aftermath of the foundational climax of protest against trade liberalization in 1999 in Seattle, a loose international coalition, made of overlapping global and

European networks, launched a campaign and a petition labelled ‘Stop the GATS attack now!’ In 2002-2005, contestation crystallized on the issue of water distribution, an area where the EU Commission pursued offensive commercial interests, notably in developing countries. Similar to mobilization against the Services Directive, transnational, supranational and domestic channels were activated in the formation of the anti-GATS coalition. In the absence of co-decision, however, they were less dense and their impact was bound to be more diffuse. Transnational networks featured prominently in the Canadian think tanks Polaris and Centre for Policy Alternatives, while the coalition was coordinated at European scale through the ‘Seattle to Brussels’ network. Contestation also occurred through domestication at the national level as several local governments and authorities declared themselves ‘GATS-free’ zones. However, this did not translate into a critical stance of national parliaments or governments. While some expressed ‘concerns’ about the possible effects of the GATS on welfare services both at home and in developing countries, the nature of the negotiation mandate was given by the EU Commission. Finally, the supranational route for mobilization was also activated. The ETUC and EPSU took defensive action in conjunction with the PSI, but the impact was less significant than in the case of the Services Directive since the links between international trade agreements with public services and workers’ rights are less direct than those with single market legislation. Moreover, the EP adopted two resolutions critical of the GATS. However, these were only non-legislative resolutions which were not legally binding for the EU Commission. In addition, to reactions of high WTO officials dismissing the claims of the anti-GATS coalition as ‘myths’, the EU Commission responded to contestation by engaging with the arguments made by the GATS opponents. It also displayed moderation of its policy for commitments concerning welfare services in WTO negotiations, especially as far as water distribution and sanitation is concerned. While it remains very difficult to evaluate which commitments were made or materialized into actual market expansion through the GATS, welfare services still constitute an important commercial interest for EU-based firms and have never been explicitly excluded from international trade negotiations. Meanwhile, by the late 2000s the Doha round had broken down for reasons which are mainly unrelated to services liberalization.

The debate on a possible Framework Directive for regulating SGI at the EU level (2000-2007) (Chap. 4) offers a contrasted example, shedding light on the obstacles facing the advocates of the logic of positive integration through re-regulation at the EU level in the realm of welfare services. The objective was to define common principles regarding SGI delegation, provision, financing, regulation and control, as well as provisions regarding users’ rights. Coalition formation took place at the stage of discussions preceding a possible proposition by the Commission and the formal launch of co-decision. Insofar, it involved the same institutions and actors as the Services Directive debate and took place partly at the same time. The core of the coalition comprised organizations integrated in the supranational governance of the EU, the PES and the ETUC, in particular with the former elaborating a draft Framework Directive on SGI, while the latter organized a petition-based campaign calling upon the European Commission to propose such legislation. Yet, the transnational networks of the global justice movement were not involved in these actions and never articulated their own specific proposals for reregulation of welfare by the EU.

Beyond co-decision, two further institutional obstacles hampered the formation of a large and vocal coalition including organizations both at the national and European level. The first illustrates what Scharpf referred to as ‘the joint decision trap’. Due to their diverse traditions and institutional arrangements for regulating welfare services, the Member States’ governments did not lend support to a Commission’s proposal. Facing a coalition of more market- and competition-oriented states (mainly in Northern Europe), continental states diverged on whether the EU or the national state is more able to grant the appropriate protection for SGI. Germany in particular, and its Lander which hold key competences over SGI, turned out to be a crucial veto point and consistently opposed a Commission’s initiative. A second obstacle lies with the entrenched sectorizing of EU policy making with regard to SGI. Many actors, including large French companies who were supposedly supporting the French position in favour of re-regulation at the EU level, expressed concerns regarding the compatibility between the existing sectoral regulation and a Framework Directive, and many questioned the added value of the latter. Thus, the established policy practices in the sectorized mode constituted a main obstacle to the formation of a broad intersectoral coalition articulating a demand for positive integration.

In a nutshell, the findings on coalition formation in the third contentious episode under scrutiny reveal that the actors critical towards the marketization of welfare services have proved able to form broad, even if loosely coordinated, coalitions. They have achieved this by simultaneously activating various channels for contesting marketization policies at European scale, including when it is intertwined with a broader process of politicization at the global level. In the framework of EU politics, it appears that co-decision and a firm involvement of the EP are key to producing outcomes in terms of decision making. When decision making procedures and accountability patterns are more blurred (like in the case of international agreements such as the GATS at the time), the effectiveness of contestation and even the possibility to assess such effectiveness becomes more difficult. In the case of positive integration, though, the involvement of the European Parliament (EP) was not sufficient to secure firm support for a Framework Directive on SGI. Additional institutional factors came into play: not only national institutional diversity hampered coalition formation, but also the entrenched sectorizing of EU policy making. Institutional aspects shaping coalition formation only shed light on one part of politicization. The ways in which the policy issues pertaining to welfare services were politicized through ideas and discourse are closely related to coalition formation and also played a key role with regard to decision makers’ responses to contestation.

  • [1] This has changed since the entry into force of the Treaty ofLisbon. The EP now has the possibility,through the assent procedure, to accept or reject free trade agreements. This plays a crucial role inthe debate about the TTIP.
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