Better implementation of EU policies depends not only on the capacity and commitment of individual Member States, but also on the adequacy of the overall arrangements for ‘multilevel administration’ through which these policies are managed. These arrangements have been evolving, in a few cases towards stronger EU roles in enforcement, but more through EU actions to help harmonise national implementation, deepen administrative cooperation and support capacity-building. As a result, there is increasing EU involvement in shaping public administration, traditionally a sovereign preserve of the Member States, as part of deeper administrative ‘integration‘ in some sectors, as well as through programmes of support for reform and recovery linked to recommendations. This makes it all the more important that decisions about multilevel arrangements are debated broadly and openly as a reasoned distribution of capacities and sharing of responsibilities for achieving common overarching goals.
Policy implementation remains a challenge in the EU, whether one looks at compliance with single market rules, responses to economic policy recommendations, or practical application of common border controls. As the EU has adopted successive waves of ambitious priorities, many Member States, as well as the institutions, have been urging that creative attention should also be given to ‘Making It Work’.
It is only part of the story to assess whether Member States are doing enough to ensure that commitments are respected: to assist them, persuade them or, in some cases, tell them to do it. Even where ‘enforcement’ of law is the main concern, making it work goes beyond inspection and sanctions. As emphasised by the Commission with regard to better implementation of single market rules, this covers ‘the entire life-span of the relevant rules, from inception to application’. Moreover, not only is it a ‘shared responsibility’ of Member States and Commission, it requires ‘collaboration at all levels of governance’.[i]
This collaboration does not take place between authorities at completely independent levels of action. The EU has long moved past a simple relationship whereby EU institutions adopt rules and Member States, at a separate level of reality, apply these rules in practice. Instead, EU policy implementation takes place through a variety of ‘multilevel cooperative governance structures’ (Hofmann & Türk, 2007).
It is also true that it is not only public authorities that are involved in EU governance. Indeed EU policy implementation, understood as the achievement of broad EU goals in areas such as energy efficiency or waste reduction, involves almost everyone. The objectives of the European Green Deal, for example, can only be achieved if all actors play their part ‘alongside government policies and regulation: from national, regional and local authorities to businesses, unions, civil society organisations, educational institutions, research and innovation organisations, consumer groups and individuals.’[ii]
This paper focuses on administrations, however, since it is the structured interaction between EU actors on the one hand, and national administrations and judiciaries on the other, that generally constitutes the core of multilevel policy management within the broader framework of multilevel governance.
We therefore use the term ‘multilevel administration’ (MLA) in this perspective of ‘administrative governance’ (Benz, 2015) (Trondal & Bauer, 2017), also with a view to the fruitful interaction between multilevel governance and public administration studies in the EU context (Ongaro, 2020).
The key point addressed here is that effective policy implementation depends on a) the degree to which the overall institutional capacity provided by multilevel arrangements is adequate and appropriate to the particular problems that need to be managed, as well as b) the availability of resources and commitment on the part of the individual EU, national and sub-state bodies involved.
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[i] Communication from the Commission, Long term action plan for better implementation and enforcement of single market rules COM(2020) 94 final, 10 March 2020.
[ii] European Climate Pact: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/pact_en.