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More and more regulations and increased enforcement from the European Commission, new research shows

The European Commission has changed its strategies for making sure that the member states comply with EU law: from collaborations and dialogue to more regulations and increased enforcement. This is shown in a new study by Brigitte Pircher, associate professor of political science, that covers more than 30 years.

How have the European Commission’s strategies for counteracting member states’ non-compliance with EU law changed over the last 30 years? This has been studied in a new study by Brigitte Pircher, associate professor at the Department of Political Science at Linnaeus University. She found that there has been a clear shift of strategies over time.

“In the 90s, the Commission primarily focused on a normative approach based on management tools. This gradually shifted to a more regulative approach with enhanced enforcement measures, which peaked when Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission in 2014”, Pircher explains.

The study has been published in Journal of Common Market Studies, a prestigious journal with focus on European and comparative regional studies. In her study, Pircher has looked at the Commission’s annual reports on monitoring the application of EU law from 1989 to 2018. The change in the Commission’s strategies is also reflected in the language of the reports, which shifted from a common dialogue and support for the EU member states to a more authoritarian and official language.

Increased focus on enforcement increased compliance

The Commission’s increased focus on enforcement prevailed, says Pircher. Especially when the EU faced crises and when policy preferences at EU level and national level deviated. At the same time, when the Commission focused primarily on enforcement measures, the compliance with EU law by the member states also increased.

“This shows that the Commission increasingly wants to hold member states on a short leash. However, based on the official reports we cannot know whether the Commission only wanted to appear more authoritarian while its strategy behind the scenes might have been another”, Pircher continues.

The starting point for Pircher’s research was that despite the current crises and increasing Euroscepticism, European integration seemed to function without major interruptions. Member states’ compliance with EU law also increases over time, which stands in contrast to the current rule of law crisis that is debated with regard to Poland and Hungary.

Unique research

Pircher’s research is unique as no one has previously studied the Commission’s strategies within this area and how they have changed over time. She has developed an analytical framework that distinguishes between two different strategies. On the one hand, a normative approach that focuses primarily on management tools to ensure compliance. On the other hand, a regulative approach that focuses on enforcement measures, such as infringement procedures, to ensure compliance.

“As my study stops at 2018, we do not know whether the trend towards enhanced enforcement is pursued by the current president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, or whether the member states support this path. Yet, the study shows that the harmonisation of rules in the EU has increasingly been accomplished through enhanced enforcement. This development has the potential to undermine the EU’s legitimacy in the long term, where Brexit may only represent the beginning of an ‘ever looser union’”, Pircher concludes.

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