Jakob Edler
Die Genese des Forschungsprogramms BRITE: Institutionalisierungsprozesse zur Überwindung eines europäischen Konsensdilemmas : eine reflexiv-institutionalistische Analyse

Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 16
ISSN: 1437-8574

The basis of European research policy since the mid eighties is a complex "guiding policy idea". This guiding policy idea consists of two closely related claims, namely (a) that trans-border co-operation in research and development serves private profit interests and overall economic growth and (b) that trans-border co-operation will also be a trigger for closer European integration. Despite the traditionally very divergent interests and world views in the area of research policy throughout the EC member states, negotiations on distributive specific R&D-programmes did not meet much resistance: in fact, there was almost unanimity on the logic of the new policy approach. This paper explains the build up of this broad consensus which turned out to be instrumental for the Europeanisation of research and development policy by focusing on three elements. These are (a) the role of trans-border social interaction, (b) ideational discourse and (c) the European Commission, which, once the discourse gained momentum, successfully took on the role of a process manager.
The analysis is based on a reflexive-institutional understanding of the political process. The main theoretical premise of the paper is that all politics is based on interpretations of the problem at hand and of the underlying causalities. Interpretation is shaped by a set of ideas which are regarded as valid and appropriate by a majority of relevant actors. Hence, consensual political concepts are not the result of bargaining between actors with clear-cut interests, but rather a result of cognitive processes and ideational discourse that take place through social interactions.
Taking the genesis of BRITE (Basic Research for Industrial Technologies in Europe) as an example, the study analyses the emergence of a perception that the EC faced problems in the field of research and development in the 1970s and then looks in detail at the process of constructing a new policy concept that could serve to tackle the problem. It is shown that the institutionalisation of the new policy did not start with the negotiations between political decision makers. Quite the reverse, institutionalisation was the result of manifold transnational and European interactions between scientific experts, industrial stakeholders and European and national administrative specialists. This web of interactions gradually led to the formation of a new European discursive space and finally to the breakthrough of a dominant interpretation shared by most not all relevant actors in the field. This construction of a pre-political consensus paved the way for political decisions that, by and large, followed the new consensus of experts and stakeholders. At the same time, alternative concepts such as the free-market based approach pursued by the German economics ministry were marginalised.
The study has been conducted within the research group "Institutionalisation of International Negotiation Systems". The basic difference to the rational choice-approaches developed and used by other projects in the interdisciplinary research group is that it postulates an interdependence between the definition of interests and identities of actors in international negotiations and institutionally mediated ideas, an interdependence that is crucial to understand the build up of consensus in international negotiations. One of the objectives of the group is to confront the reflexive-institutionalist approach to analyse international negotiation systems and the outcome of international negotiations with other approaches in the field.