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"Is EU policy implementation ultimately a matter of political will?".

Differences in the European Union member states' implementation record (of the EU policies and Directives) initiated debate among European scholars. These differences have presented a 'fertile ground' for development of different theories concerning the factors that affect implementation (1) of the EU policies (Toshkov 2007). The main arguments discussed in the literature are related to the division between Institutional and Cultural factors. The institutional factors analysed in the first section of this essay comprise of 'goodness of fit' (Duina 1997; Knill & Lenschow 1998, 2000; Borzel 2000), veto players (Heritier 2001; Tsebelis 1995, 2002) and administrative efficiency (Pridham 1996). On the other hand, the Cultural factors examined in the second section, and developed by Falkner et al (2005, 2007), were divided into different worlds (law observance, domestic concerns and transposition neglect); depending on the political culture of the EU member states. Going through the institutional and cultural camps I analyze the influence of political will (political support of the Government for particular policy) in each segment. The main argument of the essay is that political will, influences the process of (non)implementation in both institutional and cultural divisions. However, the political will it is not the sole aspect that ultimately determines the EU member states' implementation record, as it is demonstrated by the empirical evidence. Nevertheless, such 'integrative' approaches (Institutional and Cultural) hardly identify how European and domestic factors interact (Borzel 2000). Nor can they explain the differences in implementation and compliance. The findings lead us to suggest that there is variation in compliance not only among the different EU member states but also different factors explain variations across different policies within one single state.

The 'goodness of fit' argument (as part of the institutional framework) unquestionably contributes in illuminating why some member states will tend to comply more easily than other, depending on the (mis)fit of their domestic institutions and policies with the ones on European level. Understandably, countries whose existing institutions and policies are comparable with those of the EU will implement more swiftly than those who are radically different. However, policy misfit does not inevitably leads to non-implementation. The mobilization of national actors (e.g. interest groups) who 'pull' the policy down to the national level by pressuring the Government to implement it appropriately may convince domestic public actors 'to give priority to particular policy and to embrace new directions' (Pridham 1994:84). National mobilization is most efficient if it is capable to connect with the European Commission which may 'push' an EU policy from above by opening infringement proceedings against refractory member state. Overall, if the Governments are pressurized from above (EU) and below (domestic actors), EU policies have a good possibility to be implemented efficiently, even if implementation is costly due to policy misfit.

Moreover, a high level of misfit may be a prospect for national authorities to transform the current situation in a more desirable direction. For example, the Working Time Directive implicated enormous restructuring in Ireland. However, the Irish Government readily implemented it because it had public support for the drive of the reforms. Contrary, even comparatively insignificant alterations to national legislation may encourage ideological confrontation by political parties and their followers. Hence give rise to considerable postponements in implementation regardless of the lower level of misfit. To illustrate, the German right-wing Government declined to conform to the negligible requirements arising from the Parental Leave Directive because the requirement (to include men from single-income couples) was not in accordance with the conservative family policy preferences. Only when the new left-wing Government came into power it implemented the Directive and even followed its nonobligatory suggestions (Bursens 2002). Hence, it may be argued that the political will of the Government in both cases undeniably influenced the (non)implementation of the Directives. However it should be noted that without the public support for (non)implementation, the Directive transposition into national legislation would induce cost to the Government in power. Thus as well affect its legitimacy of the reform. Hence it would be fair to state that the political will was not the sole determining factor.

The veto player argument, which was initially developed in the context of comparative politics, begins with the postulation that the reform capacity of a political system decreases as the number of distinct actors (e.g. multi-party Government) whose agreement is required to pass a particular reform increases (Tsebelis 2002). However the empirical analysis demonstrates that the veto player argument does not match in every case very well either. The analysis of Labour directives implementation suggests that there is only a weak association between the number of veto players and Member State implementation record (Falkner et al 2007). Obviously, some states do correspond to the expectations of the veto player argument. In Germany the Directive on Packaging Waste required slight lowering of the strict standards concerning the Refillable Drink Packaging (Mastenbroek 2005). Although supported by the German Government, the Bundesrat refused its support and led to 2 years delay. Contrary, other states do not correspond to the veto player argument. The case of Denmark underlines these conclusions. Although the Government in power had fierce opposition (and required votes from the opposition in the Folketing to implement the Labour Directives) there were no delays in transposition. Hence, it can be argued that in some member states, the political will of the actors involved in the political process was determining factor when (non)implementation was taking place as the Waste Packaging Directive shows. However this argument can not be applied in each case.

On the other hand, there are number of states where implementation frequently remains an administrative procedure isolated from the Government (for long period of time). With these circumstances, best demonstrated by Greece, the number of political veto players is irrelevant for long periods of the process, as political actors do not even become involved in the first place. This is the rationalization for why Greek performance is poor regardless of the low number of veto players (Greece had single party Government throughout the 90's). Certainly, the low number of veto players (according to the logic) eases up the implementation process of the Government when pressures from the Commission increase in order to end the bureaucratic sluggishness. However this is not the case if the administration of the institutions in charge does not initiate the reform process in the first place. For example in the case of the Transport Directive, the data shows that Greece's implementing instruments were on average 60 weeks delayed due to administrative inefficacy (Kaeding 2006). The veto player argument is therefore not incorrect, but veto players sometimes just do not have a critical role in implementation. Hence the administrative incapacity and bureaucracy have more influence on the inefficiency of the Greek implementation record (Pridham 1996) rather than the political will of the Greek Government. Additionally, the lack of domestic interest groups (e.g. NGOs) support to encourage change in the system (which would pressurize Governments to react) influences the low implementation record of Greece.

Altogether, therefore, the world appears more complex than the institutional factors and political will argument suggest. In their research (about the implementation of the Labour Directives in the EU) Falkner et al (2007) argue that some EU members are displaying regular patterns of (non)compliance regardless of the goodness of fit or the number of veto players in their administrative system. They acknowledged three worlds of compliance (world of law observance, world of domestic politics and world of transposition neglect) hence a 'specific national culture of appraising and processing adaptation requirements' (Douglas 2001).

In the world of law observance, the compliance objective generally overrules domestic concerns. Even if the EU policies are not in line with the domestic (policy) ideology, implementation of EU Directives is regularly in time and proper. Moreover, the public is used to complying. This model is supported by a domestic 'compliance culture'. Non-implementation usually happens only seldom and only when essential national traditions are at stake. Additionally, the propensity is for occurrences of non-compliance to be finalised swiftly. Based on detailed empirical analysis of implementation patterns customary in fifteen states, Falkner assigned Denmark, Finland and Sweden to this country cluster.


A case in point would be Denmark's implementation of the Young Workers Directive. The Directive necessitated Denmark to increase its minimum age border for children to be allowed to execute light work. The centre-left minority Government supported the policy, however the opposition parties were ferociously opposing the legislation. Since the government did not have a majority in the Folketing (Parliament), it needed the assent of one opposition party. As the policy preferences between the political actors were not in agreement, this was a situation for expecting implementation stalemate. However that was not the case. As the implementation deadline was approaching, the Government offered some concessions not related to the raising of the minimum age, and the opposition abandon its confrontation in order to avoid an implementation delay. In other words, Falkner suggests that policy and ideological differences were superseded by a shared commitment and political will of complying with the law.

Danish political parties, moreover, feel politically bound by EU directives, since they have had the prospect to influence the Danish negotiation position in the Folketing. Additionally, the proportional representation within the European Committee (of the Danish Folketing) ensures that all actors are trustworthy to the European decisions, even in cases where Denmark was outvoted in the Council, since they were included in the policy-making (Eliason 2001:201). The same argument clarifies the early involvement of interest groups (e.g. for Environmental policy). Their participation guarantees an agreement among the private interest groups, avoiding their disagreement with the implementation of EU Environmental policies later on (deBerranger 1997:129). Eliason (2001:211) concludes that the Danish example for implementation of the Environmental Directives discloses the 'residual adaptive capacity' of institutions based on prearranged consultation and conciliation 'predicated on an expectation of pragmatic compromises among competing interests'. Hence it may be argued that there is interaction among the Institutional set-up (Committees) and domestic interest groups together with the political actors (assisted by the political will of the actors involved). Moreover, these actors effectively influenced the implementation of the Environmental policies, rather than their political culture of conforming to every EU Directive as Falkner et al (2005) argue. But then again one single factor such as political will was not determining in this case either.

On the other hand, in the world of domestic politics, domestic concerns regularly prevail if there is a conflict of interests. Implementation is timely and appropriate when no national interests dominate over the weak objective to comply. In cases of clash of interests between EU and national politics, non-compliance is the outcome. Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK belong to this typology according to Falkner.

In the countries forming the world of transposition neglect, Falkner et al argue that compliance with EU law is no goal in itself. At least as long as there is no powerful action by supranational actors (like an infringement procedure by the European Commission), implementation is frequently not recognised at all in these countries. Only after a Commission intervention, the implementation may be started and might advance rapidly. According to their empirical findings, France, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal form this country cluster.

The last empirical case (illustrated bellow) argues against Falkner arguments of cultural divisions and countries typologies. Nevertheless it clearly exemplifies how political will of the Government, however, supported by interest groups and public opinion, encourage noncompliance of EU policies even if there are infringement procedures raised by the Commission. It can be argued (in some cases) that the main determinant when implementing EU Directives is the characteristics of the Member state's voters. As for domestic policies, Governments will follow EU Directives and policies that match to the voters' preference (Oppermann and Viehrig, 2008:2). Hence, they will adjust to the public opinion. For instance, the Commission decided to place two infringement procedures against France on the Wild Birds Directive in 1998. The Directive has been implementation failure for years, because of the powerful hunting lobby in France. Thus France deliberately failed to comply. This case exemplifies that the domestic 'legitimacy' affects political actors not to comply, depending on the importance of the policy and the public interest. The Wild Bird Directive clearly shows how domestic concerns prevail when salient issues are touched upon. This example explains once again that the political will of the Government is not the sole determining factor for non-compliance. Moreover, public opinion and domestic interest groups 'assist' Government decision for non-compliance. Furthermore, Falkner placed France in the 'world of transposition neglect' rather than in the 'world of domestic politics' as our empirics demonstrates. His divisions can be contested for another reason. This particular case undoubtedly clarifies that even if there are pressures from the Commission and the European Court of Justice (in the 'world of transposition neglect' where Falkner placed France), when it comes to salient issues (that may affect Governments legitimacy and its rating for the next elections), domestic concerns which affect political will, influence Governments on their decision not to comply with particular policy. Therefore Falkner's 'worlds' are not always true when analyzed with different EU policies.

Hence, the empirical evidence presented in this paper might lead us to suggest that the arguments for the institutional and the cultural frameworks are not precise in each and every case. Moreover, it can be argued that political will obviously has influence in country's implementation record. However according to the empirical evidence so far it can be clearly stated that the world of compliance is much more complicated than European scholars would suggest. There are many factors that influence implementation. Nonetheless, although there are typologies of compliance and groupings of factors that affect particular countries record it can be argued that in the 'real world' these divisions are not accurate. There are differences in implementation not only among groups of countries (or divisions of factors) but different directives have different implementation record even in the same country. Thus each case should be analyzed independently. In conclusion, the political will of the Government influences the implementation of the EU policies and Directives. However is not the 'overarching meta-property' that particular country's implementation record ultimately depends on.



Borzel, T., (2000) Why There Is No 'Southern Problem': On Environmental Leaders and Laggards in the European Union, Journal of European Public Policy, 7(1): 141-162.

Duina, F. (1997) Explaining Legal Implementation in the European Union International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 25(2): 155-179.

de Berranger, T. (1997) 'Danemark', in Rideau, J., ed., Les Etats Membres de l'Union Europe"enne. Adaptations, Mutations, Resistances. Paris: LGDJ.

Eliason, L. (2001) Denmark: Small State with a Big Voice', in Ze!, E. E. & Pirro, E. B., eds, The EU and the Member States: Co-operation, Coordination and Compromise. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Falkner, G. Treib, O. Hartlapp, M, Leiber, S. (2005) Complying with Europe: EU Harmonisation and Soft Law in the Member States, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; New York.

Falkner, G., Treib, O., Hartlapp, M. (2007) Worlds of Compliance: Why Leading Approaches to EU Implementation Are Only 'Sometimes-True Theories, European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming.

Heritier, A. (1996) The Accommodation of Diversity in European Policymaking and Its Outcomes: Regulatory Policy as a Patchwork", Journal of European Public Policy, 3(2): 149-167.

Knill, C, Lenschow, A, (1998) Coping with Europe: The Impact of British and German Administrations on the Implementation of EU Environmental Policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 5(4): 595-614.

Kaeding M. (2006) Determinants of Transposition Delay in the European Union. Journal of Public Policy 26(3) p.229-253.

Knill, C., Lenschow, A., (2000) Do New Brooms Really Sweep Cleaner? Implementation of New Instruments in EU Environmental Policy", in Implementing EU Environmental Policy: New Directions and Old Problems, (Eds.) Knill, Christoph, Lenschow, Andrea, pp. 251-282, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Oppermann, K. and Viehrig, H. (2008) Issue Salience and the Domestic Legitimacy Demands of European Integration. The Cases of Britain and Germany, European Integration Online Papers, Koeln.

Pridham, G. (1994) 'National environmental policy-making in the European framework: Spain, Greece and Italy in comparison', Regional Politics and Policy 4(1) Special Issue: 80-101.

Pridham, G. (1996) 'Environmental policies and problems of European legislation in southern Europe, South European Society and Politics 1(1): 47-73.

Tsebelis, G. (1995). Decision making in political systems: Veto players in presidentialism, parliamentarism, multicameralism and multipartyism. British Journal of Political Science 25: 289-325.

Tsebelis, G. (2002). Veto players: How political institutions work. New York: Sage.

Toshkov, D. (2007) In search of the worlds of compliance: culture and transposition performance in the European Union, JEPP, 14, 6, pp. 933-59.

Dejan Siljanovski--Executive Director of Regulatory Area in Makedonski Telekom, Master of European Studies, Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn, Germany, and Master of Science in International Economic Relations, University of Sofia, Bulgaria.

(1) Implementation and/or compliance with EU policies and directives in this essay is defined as transposition of the EU Directives into the national legislation of the EU member states
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Author:Siljanovski, Dejan
Publication:Macedonian Affairs Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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