Multilevel governance in Europe

Authored by: Rainer Eising

Routledge Handbook of European Politics

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415626750
eBook ISBN: 9781315755830
Adobe ISBN: 9781317628361


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In EU Studies, the term ‘multilevel governance’ signifies a move away from classical International Relations (IR) understandings of European integration. Gary Marks (1993) coined the term in his analysis of the European Community’s structural funds policy in the early 1990s, and it has since become a buzzword. It is no coincidence that the concept first gained prominence within the multilayered EU institutional context, as the EU is often considered to be ‘the most active and innovative producer of new types of decision-making arrangements’ worldwide (Bartolini 2011: 5). The concept is also tied into wider developments in the social sciences that drew attention to the increasing complexity of national and international governance arrangements. It is now common practice to characterize the EU as a multilevel system; however, the multilevel governance concept, which encompasses broad understandings of two universal elements in politics (i.e. territorial relations and the ways in which collective courses of action are taken), has also gained currency in a great variety of other contexts. Zürn, Wälti and Enderlein (2010: 5) claim that multilevel governance research has prompted ‘innovation in at least three main subfields of political science: European integration, comparative federalism and international relations’. Renate Mayntz (2008: 46) locates it within a general shift from an actor-based ‘steering theory’ to the institutional analysis of ‘global governance’. More generally, it forms part of the contemporary scholarly effort to move from ‘simple systems’ towards ‘more complex frameworks, theories, and models to understand the diversity of puzzles and problems facing humans interacting in contemporary societies’ (Ostrom 2010: 408).

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