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European Legitimacy in Governing through Hard Times: the role of European Networks

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENLIGHTEN (European Legitimacy in Governing through Hard Times: the role of European Networks)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

The ‘European Legitimacy in Governing through Hard Times: the role of European Networks’ (ENLIGHTEN) project was tasked with answering the question “More Europe? – Less Europe?” by providing original research on issues that are straining the European project. The ENLIGHTEN consortium was unique in having a balance between university academics and frontline NGO expertise. The team worked together by focusing on a series of original research cases through the lens of how different modes of governance are legitimated, and through the concept of “fast- and slow-burning crises” that was developed and applied during the project.

ENLIGHTEN distinguishes between Europe's ‘fast-burning’ and ‘slow-burning’ crises and how EU authorities and social actors have made sense of change, as well as the appropriate forms of governance to deal with crises. The distinction between fast- and slow-burning crises is straightforward. Fast-burning crises are moments and events characterised by alarm and an urgent demand for political action. Fast-burning crises throw European institutions and their functions into sharp relief, bringing to the fore political, social and economic interests to fight over how immediate problems should be addressed. Issues such as unemployment spikes, bank collapses, and drastic austerity cuts are examples. Social actors’ experience of fast-burning crises often increases frustrations with the EU’s governance architecture, and raises questions about the appropriateness of reforms from politicians. Slow-burning crises differ in extending beyond normal political and business cycles. These crises are more ‘normal’ in how they are considered by the public, with expectations about life chances changing, including the role of the European Union as a project that can help these chances be realised. Issues here include financial sustainability, health and housing, and the political and socio-economic consequences of regional employment trends and demographic change. On issues that are less politically visible, the key point of contestation is over what constitutes appropriate expert knowledge on what is really a problem to be addressed.

Following this separation of fast- and slow-burning crises, the ENLIGHTEN project mapped how European institutions and expert networks handle crises, differentiated key policy players, and provided proposals for policy problems.

Research in ENLIGHTEN has been important for European society because the framework and subsequent research focus attention not only on how European authorities have dealt with crises, but also the experience of European citizens. Identifying how authorities diagnose and treat crisis issues, and how European citizens experience them, is important to locate where communication can improve between the two, which can then support the legitimacy of European integration efforts.
ENLIGHTEN’s tasks were organised into the following work packages. The WP1 team worked on theories of European governance, developing the fast- and slow-burning concept as well as theories of legitimacy, primarily through original cases on the European Semester and Brussels think tank networks. WP1 argued for the politicization of the European semester process. The WP2 team provided original cases on regulatory dilemmas in financial regulation, macroeconomic imbalances procedures, expert networks on ‘shadow banking’ and European economic governance, and initiatives to change corporate taxation rules in the EU. WP2 highlighted how European capacity on finance and tax regulation relies on civil society actors and international organizations. The WP3 team worked on comparing national cases of reforms to health systems and housing systems, focusing on Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, and the UK. This research focused on how cuts to health are publicly justified, as well as pressures from the financialisation of housing. The WP4 team worked on youth employment and inclusive growth, which was divided into individual streams on intra-European labour mobility, on unemployment policy tools, and on expert networks on demographic change issues. WP4 found that employment policies are poorly targeted towards intra-EU migrants, and that the dominance of the skills and growth agenda inhibits policy discussions about demographic change, including 'brain drain' and family formation problems. The WP5 Impact team worked on public outreach, providing information to the public, to stakeholders, and hosting events for public debate. Important here was the use of fora conceived of as participatory exercises, mainly through Associating Governmental Organisations, Researchers and Advocacy (AGORA) events that were rooted in the substantive collaboration between the project’s 4 Academic and 4 non-Academic partners. Following the AGORA model for policy engagement, the key events in the project included four policy stakeholder engagement workshops, a Summer School for Early Career Researchers interested in European governance issues, a network conference with academics and stakeholders, as well as presentations of ENLIGHTEN research at international conferences. The WP5 team also made a documentary film “Resilience” that was released on the ENLIGHTEN home page and YouTube. The project website - provides content on the ENLIGHTEN project, including the academic papers, policy briefs, and videos.

ENLIGHTEN’s policy recommendations can be found on our website and in our Findings and Recommendations report. Key policy recommendations include:

Greater Legitimacy for the European Semester - strengthening the European Semester process through increased politicisation, by allowing a greater voice to social partners.
Boosting Financial Sustainability - placing a strong focus on “financial sustainability” in Europe, which requires combatting tax avoidance, questioning macroeconomic indicators, and integrating with international policy networks.
Maintaining Health and Social Housing – acknowledging that publicly funded health and housing systems require more fiscal space to reduce social and political frustrations. Not addressing these issues provides political room for populist anti-EU parties.
Addressing Migratory Employment and Family Formation Issues - active labour market policies are not hitting their intended targets and migrants are often not being served. European authorities need to discuss more than skills and growth to address Europe’s significant demographic challenges.
ENLIGHTEN research went beyond the state of the art in European studies in political science and sociology, especially in discussing the relationship between power and ideas, the temporal dimension of crisis dynamics according to sensemaking perceptions and periodisation, and with methodological innovations in the combination not only of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, but the integration of computational methods such as content, network, and sequence analyses.

Beyond the academic state of the art, we have been positively surprised by how quickly the language of “fast- and slow-burning crises” was adopted in our discussions with members of the European Commission, the European Parliament, and external stakeholders. On societal impact, our original research and range of policy recommendations provided a strong contribution to the European policy debate, offering new findings to stimulate debate on important issues and long-term trends.