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Cracks in European policy

European policy affects our lives: from air quality to the frequency of a bus service. Leiden researchers analyse how the European Union functions, how countries apply European policy and whether this policy actually provides solutions and delivers.

Europe must respond to the refugee crisis.

Europe more political

The EU is increasingly expected to respond to big problems such as the Euro crisis, terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris and Brussels, problems in East Ukraine and countries such as Libya, and the numbers of refugees fleeing war in Syria. All this means that Europe has become more political. However, the member states do not always agree on possible solutions, and some think there are certain problems that Europe should not tackle but should leave to the countries themselves.

The effects of this politicisation are visible at various levels. Negotiations on new European measures can be tough, particularly with ambitious proposals such as the directive that will enable the free movement of services between member states. The media magnifies any disagreement, prompting national MPs to ask parliamentary questions or request a debate. That in turn has an effect on public opinion, which is becoming increasingly critical of Europe. This puts pressure on the negotiations and can mean that national wishes are taken into consideration in the policy. There can also be consequences for implementation if solutions that are not supported are enforced. The researchers at the Institute of Public Administration study these processes at European and national level and the interaction between the political establishment, the media and public opinion.

Unforeseen consequences of policy

Europe does its best to draw up laws as carefully as possible, but it is almost impossible to determine in advance the effect such laws will have in practice and whether they will not affect other policies adopted by the EU. This causes implementation problems for national authorities (centrgovernment, provinces, municipalities), which the European policymakers could not have anticipated beforehand. One example is the European air quality standards and the European vehicle emissions standards. Good air quality and as little particulate matter in the air as possible are things we consider extremely important, because particulate matter can cause all sorts of nasty complaints. The government, provinces and municipalities in the Netherlands therefore have to ensure that vehicles emissions are not too high in their area.

Generous emission standards cause problem for municipalities

The link between air quality and mobility was not fully appreciated when the two sets of standards were drawn up. The European vehicle emissions standards, which were drawn up by others in Europe than those responsible for the air quality standards, have proved to be far too generous. Those who are responsible for air quality would like to see the emission standards reduced. This has only been done to a limited extent, because the interests of the car industry are also taken into consideration at EU level. As a result, municipalities have had to implement expensive measures to limit the effect of car emissions. Furthermore, the authorities in the Netherlands have different roles: the central government manages national highways, the provinces manage provincial roads and the municipality manages local roads. These different roles in turn create governance problems, because national highways sometimes go right through residential areas in municipalities, for instance in big cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam. The different parties then have to work together to try to meet the air quality standards. Researchers from the Institute of Public Administration study how different cities tackle this and how they manage to implement achievable measures.

Research MOOC on what Europe means to you

Academics at the Institute of Public Administration research problems on policy implementation and compliance. They can advise not only municipalities but also other organisations that implement European policy on the best ways to implement such policy and provide services for the public. They study the situation in not only the Netherlands but also in other EU member states. In order to gain the full picture, Bernard Steunenberg, a professor at the Institute of Public Administration, is starting a research MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), in which he and the participants will analyse implementation problems and solutions that have been found in the participants’ own countries. In addition, the participants will be trained on how Brussels reaches decisions, how the member states approach these decisions and the obstacles that are faced by those who implement the policy. They will also think about new ways to make policy in Europe.

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