The Relevance to the Objectives of Priority 7 of the 6th Framework Programme of the EU
The choice of the thematic priority reflects a political preoccupation social science researchers in Europe share. The European Union finds itself in a state of profound transformation. The negotiations on a Constitutional Treaty and the follow-up process to the Commission’s White Paper on European Governance signal that Member States and Community institutions see an urgent for deep cutting institutional reforms. European integration has accelerated in the past decade.
At high speed the European Union has expanded in scope and membership. European governance is more demanding internally and the EU has gained a more prominent role in international affairs. This mounts up to a transformation in political quality which can not and for normative reasons should not be met by incremental change within the existing institutional system. The aim is to modify by purposeful design the constitution and the governance system of the EU in a way that it lives up to the citizens’ expectations in terms of efficient and democratic rule.
The task is squaring the circle mainly for two reasons. Firstly, the transformation in governance is not confined to the political system of the EU. It deeply affects its constituting parts and these effects are difficult to predict. Constitutionalising the EU is challenging the nation-state, the most important locus of governance and citizens’ loyalty over the past 200 years. EU policy-making is transgressing national boundaries while nation-states are still the most important source of political order and identification. The EU is and for the foreseeable future will be a system of “governance with governments” but the role of national governments and the mechanisms of democratic accountability will be altered.
Secondly, the particularities of this multilevel system does not allow for a simple transfer of constitutional designs and policy instruments from the national to the European level. The task is compounded by the variations in member states’ institutions, national political cultures and socio-economic conditions. This is a matter of fact and of normative aspirations: Even among the founding members, half a century of economic integration and political cooperation have not levelled out national divergence. Furthermore, diversity is considered an asset to be preserved. Governance mechanisms, therefore, have to be well suited to identify and advance the common interests of the Member States while simultaneously respecting their autonomy. Innovation in policy instruments, in particular the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), stems from widespread concern for more flexibility. It has been introduced as a useful policy instrument in policy fields where no stronger coordination mechanisms exist and has developed further as a complement to established Community methods.
Multilevel governance and new instruments raise major problems for the democratic legitimacy of the EU. Member States have come out in favour “to bring the EU closer to its citizens” and when taking office, the President of the Commission declared reform of the European system of governance one of his key priorities attributing an important role to civil society involvement . These concerns have ranking high in the debates of the Constitutional Convention and the present IGC. The same holds true for the scientific debate.
Social science research has delivered important contributions to our understanding of the functioning of multilevel governance, the challenge of improving democratic accountability and the benefit and deficiencies of new policy instruments. It raised doubts concerning the high appreciation of the new instruments like the OMC because tracing the implementation in the EU’s multilevel system gives evidence contrary to expectations. Comparative studies have also revealed that powers given to parliaments have created new “accountability-efficiency” dilemmas. Direct political participation in multilevel governance is a popular though still contested concept that needs further theoretical scrutiny and empirical research. It is obvious that the roles of public and private actors are changing but we should have more precise information concerning national and sector variations both in terms of normative concepts and of institutions and routines.
A main objective of CONNEX is to contribute to the emergence of a European Research Area and thereby improve conditions for European leadership in social science research. The ambition is to establish a well connected scientific community covering all future EU member states and stretching into the “wider Europe”.
The thematic focus follows the key conceptual and empirical points in the work programme on “Multilevel governance, democracy and new policy instruments”. In order to avoid overlap and to make best use of cooperation with NewGov, CONNEX will focus on “efficient and democratic governance in a multi-level Europe” and less on new instruments. In order to strengthen complementarities in research, the original proposals have been restructured on both sides. Cooperation will cover integrating activities in research (democratic theory, civil society involvement, et al). Further synergies will be produced by working together in the state of the art evaluation, in dissemination, and in training.
CONNEX will have a major impact by establishing a wide and open network for communication and providing platforms for exchange. Bringing together researchers from different academic traditions, countries and disciplines will stimulate critical discussions and have a benchmarking effect. What is more important, it will open opportunities for joint research as well as for more complementarities in research.
Involving young scholars in the network’s research and integrating activities will enhance the level of professionalisation. Networking will contribute to mobility and the Europeanisation of research, which is a prerequisite for the emergence of an European research area.
Electronic information will provide easy access to research in progress and up-to-date research findings from which both scholars and users will benefit. Involvement of interest groups, civil society organisations, parliaments, public administration will increase the relevance of research to society.
|Degree of integration and the Joint Programme of Activities (JPA)|
Integration will come through careful design of the network activities. It has two dimensions: bringing together people and linking issues. Transparency, facilitating communication, providing opportunities for personal contacts will promote cooperation. Designing a joint programme of activities that rewards linking issues and explore them from a multi-disciplinary perspective will contribute to take both a more integrated and a more open thematic approach. A mid-term conference will assess and revise the research themes to make sure that CONNEX remains open to new ideas and perspectives from disciplines not yet well represented in the network. Progress toward more integration will be measured with help of performance indicators (see section 7 below). A special Work package (WP2) will be dedicated to the monitoring and assessment of the JPA.
|Organisation and management|
The management structure aims at finding an optimal balance between centralisation and decentralisation. Decentralisation should support responsiveness, especially when it comes to initiating research and research cooperation. Centralised decision making in representative organs should support accountability. Cooperation between CONNEX and NewGov will be institutionalised in the Executive Committee.
The Advisory Board should provide critical evaluation and open a wider perspective on issues of European governance. Excellence of the participants: CONNEX took great care to include leading scholars in the field and profit especially from their experience with national research programmes on European governance. At the same time, the network aims at being encompassing in terms of geographic reach. The input of CONNEX in terms of spreading excellent research should allow to find a better compromise between the depth and the size of the network over time. CONNEX will be open not only to new ideas and approaches but also to new individuals and institutions. The openness especially at Research Group and project team level will be reviewed regularly. Procedures will have to be agreed upon jointly.