It would seem that the beginning of the 21st century brings about a paradigm shift in what we considered to be the world order that we know. By the looks of things at “stake is the very foundation of the present world order based on the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648… As a result we are approaching a major governance vacuum which should be filled in the not too distant future if the gains achieved by humanity since the Industrial Revolution are to be preserved and enhanced” (Valaskakis, 2001. p. 45). Human rights, humanitarian intervention, NGO’s, competing jurisdiction, corporations, to name just of the few things that have eroded classical sovereignty of states, have shaped the public sphere (Habermas, 1997) in a way that seems irreversible. All this appear more obviously when looking at Europe. Obviously today the Europe of 1649 is no more. However the ‘new form of governance’ that emerges and seems to slowly replace the ‘old’ one, which ruled for so long time, needs further and deeper analysis to fully grasp the significance of the change and to have some glimpse of what the future will bring. There are many competing theories that aspire to become the next paradigm of Europe. This paper will focus mainly on the Multi-Level Governance (MLG) as it has been formulated to explain how and why European policy-making processes challenge the sovereignty of member-states by including sub-national and civil society partners. The theory has carved for itself a theoretical space between the contending theories of inter-governmentalism and neo-functionalism, but is recognised to have at most a descriptive power. Its usefulness lies in raising empirical, theoretical and normative questions which would otherwise remain untouched. Therefore, this paper will highlight some of the findings the literature has produced on this specific topic in an excursus that will make an attempt to see if MLG has the potential of becoming a paradigm for the study of European Union.
What is governance? Since this appears to be the question that troubles Europe nowadays, since it is a phenomenon in transition, both in form and content (Knill, C. and Lenschow, 2003), before we move to MLG, we should see what governance and different modes of governance are.
There are many attempts to define governance and many somehow contrasting views on the matter. James Rosenau sees governance as a broad view referring to any “collectivity, public or private, that employs informal as well formal steering mechanisms to make demands, frame goals, issue directives, pursue policies, and generate compliance…thus it consists of a set of rule systems that perform or implement social functions or processes in a variety of ways at different times and places (or even at the same time) by a wide variety of organizations” (Rosenau, 2004, p.32). Beate Kholer-Koch defines governance “as the continuous political process of setting explicit goals for society, of providing incentives and sanctions for their achievement, of monitoring and controlling compliance” (Kohler-Koch, 2005). Drawing on this definition and also on other existing definitions in the literature Treib, Bähr and Falkner proposed a two-step approach to classify modes of governance in the EU: in the first step by focusing on politics, policy and polity separately they addressed modes of governance in order to explore, in the second step, the relationship between the three, and offer an example within the policy dimension. (Treib, O., Holger, B. and Gerda, F., 2005) The result was, as far as the policy dimension is considered, a new typology of modes of governance based on two criteria: (a) the nature of a legal instrument (binding/non-binding), and (b) the conditions for implementation (flexible/rigid). The result follows: (1) Coercion – “characterized by binding legal instruments prescribing detailed and fixed standards that leave little leeway in implementation… it is most intrusive in terms of EU intervention vis-à-vis domestic societies. (2) Voluntarism – “based on non-binding instruments and only defines broad goals that member states may specify in implementation. The broad and legally non-compulsory guidelines that have characterized much of the processes in the framework of the open method of co-ordination are the best example for this type of governance”. (3) Targeting – “also uses nonbinding recommendations, but these recommendations are more detailed and thus leave less room for manoeuvre for specification at the implementation stage than is true in the case of voluntarism”. (4) Framework regulation – “remains within the realm of binding law... The level of EU intervention of this mode of governance is thus higher than in the case of the non-binding policy instruments included in the categories of targeting and subsidiarity, but lower than in coercion” (Treib, Holger and Gerda, 2005, p.13-14). Following this line of reasoning innovation is introduced by/within EU as a “specific expression of "governance without government", particularly as form of ‘multi-level governance’ …or ‘network governance’… in this view, the EU is regarded as a special case and most progressive model for governance which has limited national sovereignty through integration to a degree unprecedented in modern history; it imposes limitations upon the sovereignty of the member states and acquires state-like functions without revealing the quality of a full-fledged state” (Diedrichs, 2005). Diedrichs also argues that, drawing on Kholer-Koch, that there is “a difficulty in defining the levels of governance, either with regard to the distinction between the European Union and the member state level, and also with regard to the intra-EU institutional level of decision-making in defining the nature of the EU system and its typical mode of governance” because of “the impact of EU governance upon the member states, and also because of the relationship between the macro-level type of governance and policy-specific modes of ‘sector governance” (Kohler-Koch, 1999). In the view of Torfing, “governance networks refer to networks of actors, such as politicians, administrators, interest organizations, private firms, social movements and citizen groups involved in public governance” and he defines governance networks as “(1) relatively stable horizontal articulations of interdependent, but operationally autonomous actors who (2) interact with one another through negotiations which (3) take place within a regulative, normative, cognitive and imaginary framework that is (4) self-regulating within limits set by external forces and which (5) contributes to the production of public purpose” (Torfing, 2005).
Obviously, they think something is going in Europe and they are on to something. But is this enough to consider that we are witnessing a shift from ‘old’ to ‘new’ governance?
Multi-level governance as Explanandum vs. Explanans1
Is MLG the ‘post-nation paradigm’ that Europe is searching for? The Prodi Commission decided that the problem should be tackled with. In a speech given in the European Parliament in 2000, Prodi had acknowledged that ‘governance’ is a political innovation in Europe. Soon afterwards the OMC - Open Method of Coordination was introduced in the EU. The OMC is according to the official wording of the 2000 Lisbon European Council a “fully decentralized approach that will be applied in line with the principle of subsidiarity in which the Union, the Member States, the regional and local levels, as well the social partners and civil society, will be actively involved, using variable forms of partnership”2. Very nice, but what exactly does all this mean? It means that The Open Method of Coordination (Laffan and Shaw, 2005; de Schutter, 2004) is a new tool of doing things in Europe which looks like a soft way of challenging government authority from above. Member States are obliged to provide information, get examined, and reassess current policies on regular basis and they are strongly encouraged to involve private actors in this process. Hence, governments become target of external checking with the purpose of starting domestic public debate on various issues. As Eberlein and Kerwer argue, OMC “relies on local deliberation, it offers an answer to the challenge of democracy in Europe. Instead of relying exclusively on expert deliberation within European regulatory agencies or committees, it enables stakeholders to participate directly in decision-making process” (Eberlein and Kerwer, 2002).
Hence, the White Paper on European Governance was produced by the Commission which defines ‘governance’, in a footnote, as “rules, processes and behaviour that affect the way in which powers are exercised at European level, particularly as regards openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence”3. The White Paper on European Governance was intended to bridge the gap and even go further in presenting proposals for new forms of European governance that will be a step towards a model of global governance. Since the Commission provided its own definition of governance, this paper will consider it, although the literature has competing alternatives.
The last attempt to formally go one step further was with articles I-46 and I-47 of the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which introduced the principle of participatory democracy, which basically means that everybody should consult with everybody as regularly, openly, transparently and broadly as possible. So, in a situation where Europe is without government but with a 25 national governments, soon to be 27, but it speaks and it deploys governance, the question that arises is whether multi-level governance will be able to provide European citizens the feeling that they are European? Despite the growing importance of multi-level governance in Europe still, it would appear that the citizens of two major European countries didn’t fancy so much ‘participatory democracy’ and have rejected the Constitutional Treaty4. And the Commission seems to be powerless in the face of it, despite the fact it has a steering role (if we leave aside the European Council) and despite it’s intension to ‘compete’ with national governments to get closer to the citizens.
So, what is multi-level governance? Is it all just another catch-all phrase in the field of EU studies or is it more? Is it a theory/paradigm? These are questions that usually come to mind when dealing with this concept. Does ‘multi-level governance’ need further clarification or it is already self-sufficient and provides a well grounded view of what is going in Europe? There is literature in the field, actually is the academic world that coined the term, mainly Gary Marks and Liesbet Hooghe (1996, 2003, 2004). As far as scholarship is regarded the “literature on MLG is at the crossroads of two research traditions, namely, organizational theory, interorganisational and inter-governmental decision-making, on the one hand, and research on policy networks (which succeeded pluralist, elitist and neo-corporatist approaches in political science) on the other” (Papadopoulos, 2005).
Marks and Hooghe define governance as “binding decision making in the public sphere” (Marks and Hooghe, 2004). They have identified two forms, types of MLG: one is of federalist inspiration and envisions power as shared by some levels with “non-intersecting memberships” in a system wide architecture with general purpose jurisdictions at a limited number of levels” (Marks and Hooghe, 2004, p.17). The second type has task specific jurisdictions with intersecting memberships in an unlimited number of jurisdiction levels and all is in a flexible design. Here it is possible to encounter, for instance, jurisdiction of appointed or elected bodies. So in MLG actors (individual or collective) negotiate policy-making. Therefore, MLG appears both as remedy and outcome in a functional way of the authority or power that is inherent to any form of governing (Papadopoulos, 2005, p.317-318). The two authors consider that MLG offers a significant advantage in terms of its scale of flexibility because it “allows jurisdictions to be custom designed in response to externalities, economies of scale, ecological niches, and preferences” (Marks and Hooghe, 2004, p.29) since both type of MLG deliver scale flexibility in a complementary fashion, although in a contrasting ways. Type I creates general purpose jurisdictions with non-intersecting membership being oriented to intrinsic communities, while Type II allows for special purpose jurisdictions with tailored membership (Marks and Hooghe, 2004, p.29). In terms of location Type I can be found in conventional territorial government up to the national level and is related to the decentralization process. Outside the national state, it can be found only within the EU. Type II can be located at the national/international frontier, is common to cross-border regions and is widespread at local level. The two types can be biased as follows:
Biases of Type I and Type II of multi-level governance
Source: Marks, G. and Hooghe, L., (2004), pp. 27
According to scheme above, in Type I jurisdictions citizen’s foster particular identities (locally, regionally based), face a deliberative multi-issue process with structured and articulated conflicts, with exit being a second choice, because barriers to exit are high, while in Type II they develop “instrumental arrangements” to solve ad hoc problems, freely exit the jurisdiction and avoid conflict by insulating decision making from potentially contradictory issues (Marks and Hooghe, 2004, p. 27-29).
Arthur Benz argues that, without “doubt, the concept of multilevel governance is better suited to describe the complex multilevel structure of European policy-making than the term joint-policy-making” although “it reduces analytical stringency” (Benz, 2003; Scharpf, 1999, 2005;).5 According to Tanja E. Aalberts “multilevel governance tries to overcome some obstructive cleavages which have haunted the academic field from its emergence, notably that between intergovernmentalism and neo-functionalism/supranationalism.” (Aalberts, 2004).6 She is criticizing Marks and Hooghe for paying
“…relatively little attention to its bearing on the sovereignty of the Member States. Rather, they interpret sovereignty foremost along the traditional lines of the supreme locus of political control, autonomy and exercise of actual authority. This focus on the ‘empirical realities’ of politics reveals a positivist approach to the sovereignty issue. Whereas Hooghe and Marks distance themselves from supranationalism, and explicitly reserve a key role for Member States in the policy process, sovereignty, in their analysis, is clearly undermined by multilevel governance when benchmarking it against effective and exclusive control. Because of this positivist approach (taking sovereignty as an objective, ‘hard’ fact), their analysis cannot account adequately for the endurance of sovereign statehood within the emerging hierarchical structures in the European arena.”
The ‘fragmegration’7 that Rosenau brought about is challenging MLG as well. Rosenau speaks about ‘SOA – spheres of authority’ – which are formal and informal rule systems-, because as, he suggests, the term “multi-levels suggests governmental hierarchies and explicitly posits the various levels as vertically structured in layers of authority …But once one broadens one’s analytical antennae to encompass networking processes and a variety of dissimilar SOAs, it becomes clear that authority relations have to be reconceived” (Rosenau, 2004, p.39). Since there is a demand for quality in the government and both quality and quantity in governance, MLG can be “misleading and imprisoning” as it does not “allow for a full analysis of the complexity of the emergent political world” (Rosenau, 2004, p.39). Therefore, Rosenau suggests a six-governance typological scheme that captures in his view transnational processes we are witnessing from the perspective of formalizing authority vertically/horizontally.
In his analysis of the relationship between multi-level governance and intergovernmental/supranational dichotomy Stephen George argues that multi-level governance “does not escape the dichotomy, but is simply a more sophisticated restatement of one side of it; and the dichotomy, far from being moribund, has been extremely productive and is continuing to be so in its revised form. This represents broad agreement with the observation that multilevel governance is nothing new, but without seeing that as necessarily a criticism” (George, 2004; Jordan, 2001)8. Hence, the “relationship of multi-level governance to the ‘intergovernmental/supranational dichotomy’, than, is that multilevel governance has effectively taken the place of neofunctionalism as the alternative theory to intergovernmentalism” (Moravcsik, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2002; Temple, 2003; Sandholtz and Stone Sweet, 1998)9.
Top down governance
(governments, TNCs, IGOs)
Network governance (governments, IGOs, NGOs, INGOs, business alliances)
(mass publics, NGOs, INGOs)
(NGO and INGO, governments)
Moxed formal and informal
(governments, IGOs, elites, markets, masspublics, TNCs)
(governments, elites, mass publics, TNCs, IGOs, NGOs, INGOs)
Finally, in a recent point of view following Simon Hix’s view that EU should be studied with help of “tools, methods and cross-systemic theories from general study of government, politics and policy-making” (Hix, 1999), Bailey argues that European governance, which he defines as “the attempt to introduce territorially unbounded public and private actors, acting outside of their formal jurisdiction, into political institutions’ decision-making processes” (Bailey, 2006. p. 22), poses a serious threat to the “traditional hierarchies, government structures and the separation between the state and society”. Therefore he turns to liberal-democratic and social-democratic theories, which he finds “unable to explain either why the representative or redistributive role of the EU has developed to an inadequate extent to date”. So he turns to critical theories of the state because he considers that only “by viewing the very existence of the political institutions of the multi-level European polity as problematic per se the critical state-theoretic approach …is able to generate hypotheses and concepts that enable us to understand the inability of those institutions to meet compatible demands placed upon them”.
Conclusion - the search for a paradigm
When evaluating MLG as a possible paradigm for Europe one should consider if it achieves completeness (coherence and consistency), and it is not subject to contradiction, that is to say, since there are no absolute sources of knowledge, MLG should be put to the test in a direct way or by testing the consequences that are inferred from it. Because coherence alone cannot establish validity, falsehood can be identified out of incoherence and inconsistency, indicating the way out of a particularly predicament. As Xenophanes knew our knowledge is guesswork and opinion – doxa, rather than being episteme (Popper, 1963). This would be a Karl Popper approach to test verifiability of a theory.
Multi-level governance as Marks and Hooghe have presented it focus governance on actors mainly, but not so much on the institutional and constitutional, understood as EU polity. As Diedrichs observes the “attempts to generate an overall EU macro level model of governance, like 'network' or 'multi level' governance, is not wrong, but much too unspecific for the purpose” (Diedrichs, 2005,p.17) of a paradigm of the EU.
Europeanization research has showed that there are different ways, in which Europe is absorbed and perceived, in which is changing, in which Member States adapt to it and in which it relates to neighboring situations (Cowles, Caporaso, and Risse, 2001; Featherstone and Radaelli, 2003; Coppieters et. all (Eds.), 2004). But as Kholer-Koch observes at “least for the old member states the empirical evidence is unambiguous: Interest intermediation is firmly established at EU level, it accentuated the unequal distribution of opportunities and resources, it followed pluralist network patterns that are easier to reconcile with some national systems than with others, but nowhere did it disrupt the member state system of interest intermediation. It did not uproot the established power balance nor did it alter public-private relations; national governments are still strong gate-keepers. The story in the transition countries may be different, unfortunately it is less well known.” (Kholer-Koch, 1999, p. 11). So, she argues that even if multi-level governance made national borders irrelevant it is not “yet a stumbling stone for national system coherence” and is “not (yet) a stepping stone for trans-national system trans-formation” because “nations and governments are here to stay” (Kholer-Koch, 1999, p. 13).
The main problem of MLG is the fact it raises so many other problems that need further attention or mopping-up. Thus, the deeper and more articulated is our knowledge of Europe, the bolder the solution to the problems raised must be and, hence the difficulty in achieving a paradigm. Although MLG shows enough strength to sufficiently attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific research activity and is sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners (and their students) to resolve in future research, it would appear that MLG is in what Kuhn calls the ‘preparadigmatic phase’, where different theories are competing and, for the time being there is no emerging theory that can achieve the status of a paradigm. It is clear that something new is going on in Europe and, as it was previously shown, some say that we are witnessing ‘the change’. However the argument they are making is not convincing that it is really a ‘shift’ from traditional theories and not all the researchers are really convinced that the shift has occurred in the first place. Kuhn showed that new assumptions, paradigms/theories require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the reevaluation of prior facts in a difficult and time consuming process, but when a shift takes place, "a scientist's world is qualitatively transformed and quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or theory" (Kuhn, 1962). Therefore, a change in an existing theory that results in the apparition of a new paradigm is also brought about by the awareness of observed anomalies, the emergence of a new theory being generated by the persistent failure in solving the puzzles by the usual and generally recognized theories. Again this is not the case with MLG, as it does not shift away much from intergovernmentalism and neo-functionalism. At best we might be witnessing a ‘theory war’ with no clear winner emerging from the battlefield as shown by Kuhn who indicated that to the “extent that two scientific schools disagree about what is a problem and what a is solution, they will inevitably talk through each other when debating the relative merits of their respective paradigms” (Kuhn, 1962, p. 109), in the circular argument that results from this conversation, hence, each ‘paradigm’ will satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself, and fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent. In this ‘battle’ one must admit, at least from the side of the ‘inter-governmental’ camp, there has been strong and constant opposition.
So, are we seeing ducks where we saw rabbits? Some may say that it takes a meaning to catch a meaning but I would argue that no, we don’t see ducks now but we see black, grey and white rabbits. Maybe we should wait for the ‘Planck effect’ to take place: the paradigm change corresponds to generational change: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. But this can be a little too much. Much work still needs to be done, MLG must be further and deeper explored. As Europe changes and in an ‘invisible’ fashion, so must theory accommodate such a change moving from a “woven web of guesses” as Xenophanes would say to what Alexis de Tocqueville brilliantly had foreseen to will take place in Europe. ‘What’s in a name?’ some may say: multi-level governance, network governance, European governance…as long as it delivers what it has to? True, but first, one must deliver.
1 Terminologically the two terms are used in the sense given by Hempel and Oppenheim as follows: “By the explanandum, we understand the sentence describing the phenomenon to be explained (not that phenomenon itself); by the explanans, the class of those sentences which are adduced to account for the phenomenon”. For details seeHempel, C.G. & Oppenheim, P. (1948). "Studies in the Logic of Explanation." Philosophy of Science, XV, pp.135-175. For a short account of this also go to
2 See Lisbon European Council Presidential Conclusions, 23-24 March 2000, pp. 11, available at
3 The European Commission’s White Paper on European Governance, pp. 8, 25.07.2001, COM (2001) 428 Final, Brussels. It can be found at
4 Remember that the Maastricht Treaty was approved by the French with a fragile majority and the Dutch have rejected it while the Nice Treaty was, first time, rejected by the Irish. The White Paper on Governance didn’t manage to exorcise the ‘saying No Ghost’ which haunted the Irish and now haunts the French, who have modified their Constitution, so les citoyens of the French 5th Republic can veto further enlargement, mainly that of Turkey.
5 The concept of joint-policy making was brought about by Fritz Scharpf, who developed it on the model of the German federal joint-decision system, and it focuses on multilateral system of negotiations, providing a focus on the efficiency and coherence of the EU structures and their mechanisms of interactions. Benz, while trying to clarify “the basic logic of European policy-making”, is aiming at adapting Scharpf’s view of the EU to the European multi-level system. Although Scharpf himself agrees that the joint decision system is a ‘trap’ and German federalism must reform itself in order to cope with the changes brought about the developments of reunified Germany and Europe, it is still interesting to follow up how his skeptical vision of ‘Politikverflechtung’ can explain the way Europe ‘vetoes’ itself.
6 The author is trying in a preliminary manner to “merge multilevel governance theories and social constructivism to analyze the condition of statehood of sovereignty in EU Europe”.
7 As a contraction of the terms ‘fragmentation’ and ‘integration’
8 George is basically pitting to test the seven key criticism that Andrew Jordan has identified as MLG is regarded: (1) MLG is nothing new, but an amalgam of existing theories; (2) it provides a description of the EU, without being a theory in itself; (3) it overstates the autonomy of subnational actors (SNAs); (4) it adopts a ‘top-down’ view of subnational actors; (5) it focuses on SNAs to the exclusion of other subnational actors; (6) it mistakes evidence of SNAs mobilization at European level as evidence of SNAs influence; (7) it ignores the international level of interaction.
9 When he refers to ‘intergovernmentalism’ George mainly points to Andrew Moravcsik and his liberal intergovernmentalism while by supranational/neofunctionalism he refers to Wayne Sandholtz. In the case of the Community method - intergovernmental arguing and bargaining on the basis of a Commission proposal with a strong mediating role of the Commission (and in case of co-decision the European Parliament can get involved), with qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers and the European Court of Justice as a guarantor of the rule of law - is predominantly a two level game with governments as so called ‘gate-keepers’. Although others actors can sometimes by-pass national interest aggregation and are invited by the Commission to do so, nevertheless, things are still under government control.
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- Master in
Comparative Local Development, University of Trento,
Italy and Regensburg University, Germany.