The Open Method as a New Mode of Governance: The Case of Soft Economic Policy Co-ordination

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Abstract

Taking economic co-ordination in EMU as a starting point, this article explores the development of the open method of co-ordination, addressing whether it is a new form of governance from two related perspectives. First, to what extent can the method be effectively applied outside the scope of economic policy? Second, will it lead to policy transfer to the EU and hence act only as a transitional mode of governance? Identified at the Lisbon European Council, the method codified practices such as benchmarking, target-setting and peer review developed in the Luxembourg, Cardiff and Cologne processes. The method offers a new approach to governance of the EU as a heterarchical, decentred and dynamic process. It supports and radicalizes the principle of subsidiarity; offers an alternative to the treaty rules on enhanced co-operation; and addresses some of the legitimacy issues inherent in the EU. In EMU, the method arose out of a specific policy framework with a common monetary policy complemented by the coordination of national economic policies. The recent recommendation issued against Ireland is the first example of the operation of the method in EMU and shows how debate can be stimulated and how different and arguably equally valid perspectives defended. The particular experience of EMU with a sound money, sound finance paradigm, a long history of project-building by key elites and the central role of the European Council suggest similar conditions are required for the effective application of the method in other policy spheres. The context within which the method has operated to date is contingent and could change either over time or between policy fields. If so, the very openness of the method may serve to reconfigure the boundaries of competence between the Member States and the Union, after all.

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