The logic of access to European Commission expert groups: assessing the delay of the eCall project.

Author:Miethe, Christiane
 
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1 Introduction

Over the past years, we have seen the spread and often repeated use of closed consultation committees that provide expertise to the European Commission during the first stages of a policy making process. Because most of their activities go unnoticed, they are one example often cited in discussions about the lack of transparency and legitimacy of the European policy making process. Looking into the reasons for the creation of such fora Broscheid and Coen (2002: 17) argue that as an answer to an ever growing quantity of lobbying activities, the European Commission created restricted-access fora to reduce the number of actors with which it needed to interact on particular issues. This increased efficiency and decreased the transaction costs that the Eurpean Commission had to invest for particular expert advice.

A special kind of these closed consultation committees are expert groups. (2) They can be made up of representatives from Member State governments, academia and various interests groups (Gornitzka and Sverdrup 2008: 5). Their primary aim is to provide expertise on particular matters to the European Commission but also to prepare initiatives, to mobilise support for the policy in question and to build consensus (Larsson 2003: 20). In return, the organisations engaged in the groups expect that their position and expertise is taken up in the legislative proposals drafted by the European Commission. This resource dependence perspective on the internal work process of expert groups entails that the European Commission is dependent on the input of its negotiation partners in order to draw up effective regulation (Pfeffer & Salancik 1978: 258). The same assumption regarding resource dependencies forms the basis of the "logic of access" theory (Bouwen 2002). Argued from the angle of private interests, it explores the apparent ad hoc lobbying behaviour of private interests vis-a-vis the European institutions. It identifies three different kinds of information and assumes that since each institution has a specific role in the policymaking process, each institution has a specific input demand when consulting external expertise. Consequently, the theory develops hypotheses on how business interests can most efficiently organise their input in order to gain access to the European institutions.

This paper will argue that the different kinds of interests identified and the mechanisms described by Bouwen can also be applied to the European Commission's selection process of members for expert groups. It also argues that changed information needs of the European Commission can lead to changes in negotiation partners - also during a negotiation process.

To apply Bouwen's concept, the selection and negotiation of the pan-European in-vehicle emergency call (eCall) is analysed as a case study. The advantage of this case study is that the Commission set up different panels along the negotiation process. This makes it possible to study the selection of experts at three different points during the negotiation process of a system that basically requires the same stakeholders all along the process. Thus, the main variables (stakeholders and issue) remain constant while other variables (institutional structures and interest demand by the European Commission and stakeholder's positions) may change.

In order to rule out that the institutional structures of the negotiation panels or the stakeholders' positions influence the European Commission's choice of negotiation partners, both will be analysed based on the Actor-centred Institutionalism (Scharpf 2000) in section five.

The analysis finds that whilst the institutional structures of the negotiation panels basically remain unchanged, a shift towards organised representation occurs among the main industrial stakeholders that entails a change of their positions on the emergency call system. The following part employs Pieter Bouwen's logic of access theory to explain this shift in stakeholder representation and the analysis gives some answers regarding Bouwen's question on the applicability of his theory to non-business interests. Finally, the conclusion presents an overview of recent developments of eCall outside the negotiation panels analysed.

2 Methodology and eCall study motives

The decision to concentrate on a single case study was taken in view of the existing criticism towards this approach, such as the usefulness of research based on one study, its lack of potential to draw generalisations and theories, arbitrariness in the choice of case studies (Gerring 2007; Flyvbjerg 2006; Yin 1994 etc). Nevertheless, this paper is designed to test the use of a particular theory in a field to which it has not been applied to before. Thus, using a case study remains the key instrument to conduct the required fact-based analysis.

eCall was chosen because the selection of stakeholders for one particular issue can be studied at three different stages during the development of a policy. Thus, although eCall may represent one single issue, its particular negotiation process leads to 3 case studies in one. Furthermore, only through a single case study can the dense volume of material on the eCall case be analysed in a way that new insights and foundations for further, possibly comparative research can be laid. (2)

3 The theoretical context

The case study will be analysed first with the help of a policy-oriented framework. It contextualises the institutional structures and the positions of the key actors around eCall to rule out that the institutional structures of the negotiation panels or the stakeholders' positions influence the European Commission's choice of negotiation partners. For this analysis, the Actor-centred Institutionalism (Scharpf 2000) is applied.

Scharpf's framework assumes that social phenomena are the result of the interactions between actors who act intentionally. The institutional structures in which these interactions occur, define the rules, the actor constellations, action orientations and their resources. In fact, these structures are defined as a generic term that describes the key influences on the actors (2000:78). This quite broad definition of the term is, depending on each research question, limited in terms of time and space but it is not limited by the theoretical framework itself. Although this could be interpreted as a deficit on the theoretical level, it can be very helpful when attempting to include all observations from the "real world" in a theoretical concept.

As a central proposition, Scharpf (2000: 83f.) argues that the information about the institutions which act as framework for negotiations often suffice to analyse central aspects of a policy. Thus, a researcher should first explore those institutional frameworks and only in case some questions remained unclear, turn to an analysis of the most important actors involved. This prioritisation will be adopted for the analysis of the panels of the eCall negotiations.

As the actual focus of the paper, the "logic of access" theory (Bouwen 2002) is applied to the eCall expert groups in section seven. It was developed to explain the logic behind the apparent ad hoc lobbying behaviour of private interests vis-a-vis the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Basis of the provision is the assumption that both sides need goods from the other side. For access to the EU agenda setting and policymaking process, corporate actors provide access goods to the European institutions. Bouwen defines three kinds of access goods: (1) Expert knowledge on technical and systematic details that private companies can best provide, (2) Information about the European Encompassing Interest (IEEI) (3) that European associations can best provide and (3) Information about the Domestic Encompassing Interest (IDEI) that are best provided by national associations.

Since the European institutions need these goods in different intensities along the policymaking process, Bouwen prioritises the different access goods for the three institutions (and with it, he sets forth a theoretical ranking of which organisational forms of private interests should have the best access to which European institution).

Because the negotiations on eCall are being held under the auspices of the European Commission and the other institutions are not involved, this paper concentrates on the provisions of the framework for this institution of the European Union. For the European Commission, Bouwen assumed a primary demand for expert knowledge (thus input from individual firms), followed by IEEI (European industry associations) and IDEI (national institutions) in its initial paper. When he empirically tested the assumptions by interviewing Commission staff from the EU financial services sector on the frequency with which they were in contact with each of the three organisational forms of private interest (and that of consultancies), the results showed that the European Commission staff's contact with European associations was slightly more frequent than that with individual firms (Bouwen 2004).

Thus, in the case of eCall, the private interests most likely represent themselves or they are represented by European industry associations.

For purposes of this analysis, the framework is somewhat modified in its focus: Whereas Bouwen focuses on the exchange channels that business interests select to gain access to the different institutions (the push-factor), this paper concentrates on the pull-function of the European institutions. As the good "access to the EU agenda setting and policymaking process" can only be provided by the EU institutions themselves but the access goods can be provided by a more or less large variety of corporations and organisations (depending on the subject), the author assumes a surplus of access goods on the industry's side. Thus, the European Commission is in a position in which it...

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