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Learning from Difference: The New Architecture of Experimentalist Governance in the EU


  • Charles F. Sabel,

    1. Maurice T. Moore Professor of Law, Columbia University
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  • Jonathan Zeitlin

    1. Professor of Sociology, Public Affairs, Political Science, and History, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Director of the European Union Center of Excellence and the Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE)
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  • For insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article, we are grateful to the members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Columbia Law School project on ‘EU Governance: Towards a New Architecture?’, to participants in conferences, workshops, and seminars organised by the EU 6th Framework Research Programme's CONNEX Network of Excellence on European Governance (Roskilde University), NEWGOV (New Modes of Governance) Project (University College, London), REFGOV (Reflexive Governance in the Public Interest) Project (Catholic University of Louvain), and TRANSLEARN (Transnational Learning through Local Experimentation) Project (Helsinki School of Economics); the ARENA Centre for European Studies (University of Oslo), the European Policy Research Unit (University of Manchester), the University of Pennsylvania, the Society for the Advancement of Economics (SASE), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison; as well as to Maurizio Ferrera, Jürgen Feick, Jan Zielonka, and an anonymous reviewer for the EUROGOV working papers series.


Abstract:  This article argues that current widespread characterisations of EU governance as multi-level and networked overlook the emergent architecture of the EU's public rule making. In this architecture, framework goals (such as full employment, social inclusion, ‘good water status’, a unified energy grid) and measures for gauging their achievement are established by joint action of the Member States and EU institutions. Lower-level units (such as national ministries or regulatory authorities and the actors with whom they collaborate) are given the freedom to advance these ends as they see fit. But in return for this autonomy, they must report regularly on their performance and participate in a peer review in which their results are compared with those pursuing other means to the same general ends. Finally, the framework goals, performance measures, and decision-making procedures themselves are periodically revised by the actors, including new participants whose views come to be seen as indispensable to full and fair deliberation. Although this architecture cannot be read off from either Treaty provisions or textbook accounts of the formal competences of EU institutions, the article traces its emergence and diffusion across a wide range of policy domains, including telecommunications, energy, drug authorisation, occupational health and safety, employment promotion, social inclusion, pensions, health care, environmental protection, food safety, maritime safety, financial services, competition policy, state aid, anti-discrimination policy and fundamental rights.