Policy Networks and Policy-making in the European Union


It is commonplace to treat policy-making in the European Union (EU) as distinctive. The EU is neither a federation nor an intergovernmental body, although it has features of both. Policy-making varies and does not conform to a single pattern or model (Nugent 1994: 297; 2010: 289). However, this chapter adopts a different approach because it does not start with the differences between the EU and the member states.1 It focuses on similarities and asks whether models of policy-making known to be useful in analysing member states are also useful for analysing EU policy-making.[1] [2] It assumes that all governmental units confront similar imperatives and respond in similar ways. In particular, it examines critically the literature on policy networks and asks whether this idea is useful for understanding EU policymaking; does it travel well?

The first section of the chapter briefly reviews the relevant literature.[3] The second section looks at the ways in which the idea helps to explain EU policymaking. The third section examines criticisms of the network approach. Finally, I present a summary evaluation of the policy network approach, identifying the conditions under which it is useful.

  • [1] An updated version of R. A. W. Rhodes, I. Bache, and S. George (1996) ‘Policy Networksand Policy Making in the European Union: A Critical Appraisal'. In L. Hooghe (ed.), CohesionPolicy and European Integration. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 367-87. I have removed theintroduction to the concept of policy networks (see Chapter 3, this volume). Reprinted bypermission of Oxford University Press.
  • [2] As this question applies to all member states, it matters not whether Britain is a member ofthe EU. Britain’s exit means it will lose its right to membership of all networks by right. NowBritain will have to negotiate access sector by sector.
  • [3] In the original chapter, this section summarized mainly the other chapters in Hooghe(1996). The summary was necessary for that book but it is less relevant here so I have abbreviatedit and updated the review of the literature in the Afterword.
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