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Final Report Summary - EPISC-EU (European Agencies and Epistemic Communities: Engines of European Integration in Internal Security?)

This research project engages with one of the most hotly debated questions in the study of European integration and in International Relations more broadly: who drives the process of European integration? Whilst, for intergovernmentalist scholars, the Member States of the European Union (EU) have been firmly in the driving seat, the important role of EU institutions has been highlighted by others, most notably neo-functionalists. Some scholars have also emphasised that the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice have all played an important, albeit varied, role as engines of European integration alongside the governments of the Member States. However, the scholarship to date has neglected the potentially important role of European agencies in this context. It is true that the powers of European agencies are far more limited than those of these three institutions. They do not propose, adopt or annul legislation, as they are specialised and ‘depoliticised’ administrative structures that perform the generally technical tasks that have been delegated to them. However, they should not be readily dismissed as potential engines of European integration. Indeed, agencies have knowledge - producing specialised knowledge being generally one of the main aims pursued in their creation – and knowledge is a form of power.

It is therefore important to examine the extent to, if any, and the ways in which European agencies, which have recently proliferated in the area of internal security, have influenced policy-making and European integration in internal security. In order to answer these questions, and given the importance of knowledge in the activities of European agencies, the project develops an analytical framework drawing upon the literature on ‘epistemic communities’. Epistemic communities are particular networks of knowledge-based experts, which may, in certain circumstances, shape policy debates and help policy-makers identify their interests. This specific approach has been chosen over other network approaches because it is the most adequate to capture the importance of expertise and knowledge creation in the activities of European agencies. Thus, this project examines whether the European internal security agencies belong to an epistemic community and, if yes, the extent to which this epistemic community has managed to influence policy-making – thereby enabling the agency to act as an engine of European integration through its membership of the epistemic community.

The research fellow has successfully executed the research project according to the workplan initially established, which foresaw the implementation of the research project in two main cycles, corresponding to the two project reporting periods.

As part of the first cycle, a systematic review of the existing literature on the topic was first completed. A new theoretical framework adapting the concept of epistemic communities to the EU and European agencies was also elaborated, which also incorporated some elements from the literature on policy entrepreneurship. The first phase of data collection (documents and research interviews) was completed, whilst significant progress was also made on data analysis. The first research findings were also presented and disseminated at several international conferences and through peer-reviewed publications.

As originally decided, this second reporting period was dedicated to the execution of the second cycle of the research project. The initial reviews of the literature on (1) the EU internal security policies (also known as 'Justice and Home Affairs' (JHA) or the 'Area of Freedom, Security and Justice' (AFSJ)), (2) European agencies, and (3) epistemic communities were fully updated. Some slight adjustments were made to the theoretical framework. It was also decided to collect additional data through documentary research and research interviews on the basis of the first results of the data analysis in the first cycle of the project. More than twenty elite semi-structured interviews were conducted with officials from the European agencies, the EU institutions, and national bureaucracies, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations by phone or through face-to-face interviews. The elite interviews have enabled the researcher to check whether the data gathered through the analysis of secondary sources and the documentary analysis of primary sources is corroborated by interview data. In addition the research fellow has continued to write up and present her research findings at various international conferences, seminars and workshops, as well as publishing her research results in various leading peer-reviewed publications.

This research project has highlighted the existence of epistemic communities in some dimensions of the EU security activities. Those have managed to play the role of engines of European integration with more or less success, which can be seen in the extension of competences and the rise in budget for some European agencies. However, in other areas, the groups of security experts cannot be regarded as epistemic communities. This is particularly the case when it comes to EU policies and activities where a significant degree of non-transparency and secrecy is the norm, mainly for operational reasons. Nevertheless, these experts have been able to shape EU policies to some extent, although their activities have not tended to lead to significant advances in European integration in their field of expertise. This influence could not be entirely captured through the use of the concept of epistemic communities. This finding has also contributed to the existing literature by highlighting the usefulness, but also the limitations, of the concept of epistemic communities, especially when applied to European agencies dealing with security matters. From the viewpoint of society, the research project has shown the importance for policy-makers to ensure greater accountability of the European security agencies, given that they have played a greater role in influencing European policies and European integration than what had been hitherto acknowledged.

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