How the mechanism operates
The OMC in employment (EES) was designed as an “arena for mutual learning processes” (Heidenreich, 2009: 20). Member State representatives interact in EMCO, share their policy experiences with peers and seek to find solutions to policy problems in a deliberative exchange of information (Hartlapp, 2009: 3). In the context of soft governance and lack of coercion, policy learning in social and employment policy was considered the most promising mechanism of influence (de la Porte and Pochet, 2012: 340). Mutual learning remains an integrative element of policy coordination in the Semester framework. Civil servants and policy experts are central actors in the process. The mechanism of mutual learning is expected to operate based on a voluntary process of direct or indirect policy learning from the EU level and from peers in the EU fora. The focus in this book is exclusively on learning which occurs in peer reviews at the EU level. Direct forms of learning describe processes in which a Member State representative in EMCO, based on new knowledge acquired through open interaction with peers, redefines his understanding of the appropriate policy means to reach a national policy objective (instrumental learning) or becomes genuinely convinced that the country should pursue new policy objectives (social learning) (Moumoutzis and Zartaloudis, 2016: 341). In instrumental learning, actors actively screen policy alternatives and learn about best practices. This type of learning resonates with Rose’s (1991) concept of lesson-drawing, in domestic actors screen for appropriate policy tools to cope with policy problems. On the other hand, social learning is a more complex process which is not easy to trace. Learning here implies a change in preferences and policy goals, which does not happen by itself but through persuasion from peers.
Empirical evidence from the employment OMC suggests that mutual learning exercises are rarely capable of exerting direct effects in the form of policy transfers; however, there is abundant evidence of indirect effects (Heidenreich, 2009: 22; Zeitlin, 2005: 472 476, 2007: 5, 2009: 229-230). Indirect learning requires that participants in EMCO reviews become, first, increasingly aware of what is out there in terms of practices and policies (heuristic learning), and second, self-reflect on the state of national policies based
Influence of the European Semester 47 on benchmarks and cross-examination of comparable indicators (reflexive learning). In the later, domestic actors examine the strengths and weaknesses of a domestic policy, based on the evaluation of new information coming in from peer reviews, reports and indicators. The capacity and willingness of actors in CEE for introspection is said to be very low; however, non-state actors such as NGOs, social partners and think tanks are expected to use reflexive learning as leverage (de la Porte and Pochet, 2012: 343).
Early empirical findings indicated that mutual learning within the OMC is hampered by differences in administrative, legal, institutional and economic-political conditions between countries (Nedergaard, 2006b; Casey and Gold, 2005). Others have placed mutual learning among “the most widely attested findings about the OMC’s national influence” (Zeitlin, 2009: 229). Since 2011, the review processes take the form of multilateral surveillance within the Employment Committee, in which Member States thematically and multilaterally discuss the implementation of employment CSRs and the responses to CSRs in the NRP. Several innovations in the Semester led to the intensification of multilateral surveillance. This trend has raised expectations on the influence of mutual learning.