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Historical institutionalism and policy coordination: origins of the European Semester

This paper explores whether multilateral surveillance and policy coordination under the European Semester (ES), introduced in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, was based on a path-changing or a path-dependent mechanism.

Madeleine O. Hosli, Wen Pan, Michaël Lantmeeters
15 April 2023
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This case study focuses on the European Semester (ES) and assesses whether the ES constituted a ‘critical juncture’ in the sense of a radical departure from an earlier path of European economic and fiscal governance taken, or whether it was largely a result of a process of ‘path dependence’. It formulates two hypotheses and carried out a historical-institutionalism analysis based on the legal provisions contained in Treaty reforms, ranging from the Maastricht Treaty via the Nice and Amsterdam Treaties to the Lisbon Treaty.

In the scheme of the three-step analytical model applied, T(0) reflected the situation encompassed in the TEU (Maastricht Treaty), T(1) the Nice and Amsterdam Treaty provisions and T(2) the respective contents of the Lisbon Treaty. Exploring the respective Treaty articles and their respective formulations, a table was created demonstrating adaptations over time. Based on the results of the analysis, using specified indicators, the study concludes that the ES was a result of path dependence or ‘incremental change’. The distribution of power in either a member state to member state perspective (horizontal power distribution) or a comparison between the power allocation between EU member states and the supranational level (vertical power distribution) was not seen as having been strongly affected, providing further evidence for the lack of a critical or path-changing juncture.

Historical institutionalism was found to have been particularly useful to guide the analysis based on a range of relevant indicators. As a bridge between claims made between intergovernmentalist and neo-functionalist ‘camps’, it provides a useful angle to explore in more detailed ways processes and developments of EU post-crisis economic governance.

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