When does creative appropriation (not) work?

Condition 1: Programmatic fit

It comes as no surprise that the prospect of exploiting the Semester domestically will depend on the degree to which actors’ agendas, priorities, strategies and plans converge with the objectives of the Semester (cf. Weishaupt, 2009). This is a central condition on which successful creative appropriation rests. In instances where there is high fit between the two, it is expected that the Semester can give an additional impetus for domestic actors to use this convergence as a leverage in the policy debate. This “resonance” with thenational level (Heidenreich, 2009: 19) implies no causal relationship between EU initiatives and domestic policy reform. On the contrary, creative appropriation, as it was argued previously, implies a situation where political actors operate in an environment of already pre-defined policy agendas.

Hypothesis 3.1: The potential of the Semester for creative appropriation will depend on the resonance of Semester objectives with national priorities.

Condition 2: Prospect of rewards

The experiences from the EES and OMC prior to their integration into the Semester framework highlight the importance of available funding to incentivize domestic actors to use EU processes as a strategic tool for the promotion of reform agendas (Zeitlin, 2005). Particularly regarding the ESF, availability of financial resources can become an important argument in favour of a specific policy trajectory. Verschraegen et al. (2011: 63) have demonstrated that activation policies gained prominence in Belgium when actors made use of the ESF to further their interests:

[A]ctors actively used the ESF, alongside other, domestic, instruments at their disposal...ESF funding did not put activation on the political agenda by itself: it is the fact that a variety of actors has appropriated the instrument to further their own political agendas....

Influential actors in the domestic policy subsystem, encouraged by available financial rewards, may exploit the situation and advocate change more legitimately by means of reference to EU recommendations and earmarked funding which is fit for the purpose. The leverage effect of available ESF funding should be particularly visible in the case of CEE countries whose employment policies, ALMPs and labour market institutions are marked by “chronic under-financing” (Jacobsson and West, 2009: 117).

Hypothesis 3.2: When in line with pre-defined reform agendas of influential domestic actors, available ESF funding will amplify the leverage effect of the Semester.

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