Policy-making without competences: EU actions in education and training
Souto Otero, Manuel
Education University of Bath Bath, UK
Most current analyses of EU integration have as their start-point 'rational' Member States, which try to preserve as much as possible of their sovereignty, in particular in symbolic policy areas for national constituencies, such as social policy. They assume that national policies are in place in the policy areas upon which the EU takes action. They also assume the existence of rather fixed 'national interests' and constant preferences over policy issues. But what happens when these assumptions do not hold? This question, normally overlooked, will be analysed through a case study of EU education and training policies, an area where several of the assumptions outlined above do, indeed, not hold. The first part of the paper will explain the relevance of the concept of 'lifelong learning' for the European Commission and will analyse the mechanisms by which the Commission has advanced policy in education, an area in which it has very limited legal competences and is entrenched in deeply rooted national traditions. We will explore in particular how the Commission purposefully worked with the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice to create a policy space for action to later focus on the definition and occupation of this space through the creation of a range of epistemic communities and the strategic selection of sub-policy areas for action. The second part of the paper will review the alleged lack of effectiveness of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) with a reference to the area of education -based on the results of a consultation with Member States- and the notion that the EU advances 'slowly and persistently' in its acquisition of competences in this area. I argue that whereas in many policy areas the OMC has been perceived by scholars as a 'step back' for the EU from law-making, in education it can be conceptualised as a 'step forward' which creates new opportunities for policy development from previous phases in which the EU tended to rely on pilot projects and a relatively loose exchange of good practice.