Reforming European Institutions of Governance

From a distincly institutionalist perspective, this paper considers the prospects for pre-designed reform of the EU's institutions of governance.

ARENA Working Paper 07/2001 (html)

Johan P. Olsen

Institutional reform has reappeared on the political agenda of the European Union, as EU institutions of governance are accused of inefficiency and inability to tackle future tasks. Implicit in these arguments is the need for comprehensive reform, involving the basic principles and rules for constituting, distributing, controlling and legitimizing power.

My focus is on comprehensive reform of the European political order and the prospects for a deliberate rearrangement of inter-institutional relations. What can students of political institutions contribute to a better understanding of institutional reform in a complex, dynamic, multi-cultural and pluralistic setting like the EU? How useful are existing theoretical ideas about institutional dynamics, that is, how political orders are established, maintained, changed and abandoned? There is little consensus on theories of institutional dynamics explaining how and when institutions of governance change; neither is there agreement on the significance of deliberate intervention in processes of change. A reform perspective emphasizes the role of political agency and the attributes of identifiable and autonomous actors - such as their will, understanding and power. The working assumption of this paper, however, is that an adequate understanding of comprehensive reform in the EU must presuppose that actors’ understanding and power may change during reform processes. The institutional perspective used also assumes that such changes are influenced by the institutional contexts within which reform takes place.

A later version of this article was published in Journal of Common Market Studies 40 (4): 581-602, 2002.

Tags: institutions, governance, neo-institutionalism
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 26, 2011 11:46 AM