2. Institutional analysis paradigm
Concept and object of the neoinstitutionalism
Nature of political process
Norms and values
Advantages and disadvantages of neoinstitutionalist approach
Institutionalism is a general paradigm of social sciences (politics, international relations, economics, sociology, administrative sciences), which sees institutions as playing a key role in the functioning of society. Recently institutional analysis was adopted as a tool for studying the governance of the European Union. The adoption of this approach reflects the general trend of employing the theories of comparative politics to the analysis off the EU. The attention is shifting away from the attempts to predict the final end of European integration process towards the analysis of day-to-day decision-making processes.
This position paper is modestly aimed at presenting a new institutionalist approach. Thus object and main concepts of neoinstitutional analysis are introduced and briefly illustrated. Position paper also seeks to identify possible advantages and shortcomings of employing new institutionalist perspective to the study of the EU.
It is worth noting, that the conception of new innstitutionalist approach presented here relies heavily on the insights of Simon Bulmer, who is one of the representatives of new institutionalist analysis.
Institutional analysis paradigm.
The concept and object of the new institutionalism
As the term of “new institutionalism” already suggests, this is
Institutions structure access of political forces to political process. Institutions do not provide equal access for influencing the policy process. (i.e. CM privileges national governments. White paper on EU governance states: systemic Commission’s dialogue with regional and local governments is still lacking).
Institutions themselves initiate or block policy change. (i.e. Commission initiates policy. EU legislation is dependent upon its proposals.)
Institutional configuration and policy instruments predispose the certain tyypes of activity and limit scope for others. (i.e. EC pillar has a regulative character while the 2nd and 3rd pillars have coordinating character.)
Holding that institutional arrangements shape the outcome of decision-making process, it becomes inevitable to concentrate on them asking how different institutional configurations impact upon governance and decision-making capacity? (i.e. Complex system of EU governance contributes to the lack of overall policy coherence. White paper provides suggestions how to simplify, clarify institutional arrangements to achieve more consistent and ef
Having clarified the “institutional” part of the concept, the next question naturally is: what is specifically new about the approach? The best way to answer this question is compare the “old” versus the “new”.
Institutions have been central to the discipline of political science in its inception. “Old institutionalism” studied government as a set of formal institutions, legally defined roles and positions. It was behavioural revolution, which shifted attention away from institutions towards actors, behaviour and processes. Neo-institutionalists seek to re-emphasize the “forgotten” centrality of political institutions and the polity. However there are important differences between the old and new institutionalisms.
Neoinstitutionalism study institutions in much wider perspective. Institutions are seen as persistent and connected sets of rules – both formal and informal – that prescribe behavioural roles, constraints and shape expectations. (While old institutionalists were interested only in legal, constitutional, formal structures ignoring the role of the informal structures.)
The other great novelty of new institutionalism is its concern with norms, values and cultures, embedded within institutions.
Here it is important to note, that neoinstitutionalism is first of all an umbrella term for many variants of institutionalism: rational choice, historical insitutionalism, organization theory, etc. In such a way it is possible to di
As analysis of all the variants of institutionalism is beyond the scope of this position paper, the rest of it will be devoted to historical institutionalism.
The nature of political process
Public policy is not assumed to be an efficient outcome of the aggregation of individual preferences, technological progress and free of ideas. Political decisions emerge from highly complex combinations. According to historical institutionalists, political process is structured by constitutions, institutions, structures, interest groups, policy networks, contingencies and timing. This process is incremental, cumulative, built on prior experience and legacy. The decisions of the past affect the dynamics of political development by creating opportunities and constraints in contemporary political strategies, institutional design and policy outcomes. That’s why institutional inertia or lock-in might occur, blocking change prospects, new policy avenues and innovations. Policies and institutions have their internal logic and can outlive their initial purposes, usefulness.
As evolutionary nature of the decision-making process is emphasized, it is necessary to adopt a historical perspective. Evolution is always a lengthy pr
Values and norms
As already mentioned above, historical institutionalists hold the view that institutional norms greatly affect the way in which the functions ascribed to institutions are actually exercised. Political actors are driven not only by self-interest, but also even more by institutional duties and roles. Collective organizations and institutions shape actors’ interpretations of their interests and preferences. Preferences are not fixed and exogenous, but may change as a function of political learning in a given institutional and historical context. (i.e. Commissioners, judges in the ECJ who come from national states adopt a supranational, communitarian perspective while ministers in the CM continue to pursue national preferences. “Where you stand depends on where you sit” Logic of appropriateness guides the behaviour of political actors.)
Historical institutionalists believe values and norms have a considerable explanatory power. (In order to understand how the European institutional framework functions one has to understand the principles of institutional balance, subsidiarity, proportionality, flexibility, and consensualism.)
Advantages and disadvantages of the institutional analysis of EU governance
Neoinstitutional perspective provides with valuable insights of how the day-to-day decision-making process of the EU operates. It can explain a change occurring between critical episodes of European integration. By adopting a broad interpretation of institutions it is possible to analyse interaction and power sharing among multiple levels of EU governance. It also allows analysing, how different institutional structures contribute to the different dynamics of various sectoral policies.
Furthermore, if we conceive EU as normative and cognitive structure, new institutionalist (especially its historical variant) approach is useful in being sensitive to normative and cultural dimensions of decision-making process.
The shortcomings of employing the new institutional approach to the study of the EU are more related to the general weaknesses of this particular perspective.
D.B.Robertson, for instance, characterizes new institutionalist approach as “more a persuasion or an emphasis rather than a fixed blueprint for political analysis”. The problem is that various branches of the neoinstitutionalism are united by little but common scepticism toward atomistic accounts of social processes and a common conviction that institutional arrangements and social processes matter. New institutionalism seeks to impose a unity of perspective on a set of figures who actually have little in common. “It lumps together apples, oranges, and artichokes.”
What is more, the historical-institutionalist approach suffers from the contradictory aims of trying to provide systematic explanations, all the while insisting upon particularism, context, and contingency. Likewise, attempting to be a middle-range, middle-ground theory, linking multiple levels it encounters the structure-agency problem, which is not yet solved in social sciences.
1. New institutionalism focuses on institutions, which are broadly conceived as sets of formal and informal rules.
2. Institutions structure actors’ behaviour and policy outcomes.
3. Political process is evolutionary in nature and needs a historical perspective.
4. Norms and ideas have an explanatory value in analysing the governance.
5. New institutionalist approach can be employed to study the EU governance.