EU Socio-Economic Governance

In how far is the OMC an effective tool for European social governance?

Term Paper 2013 17 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: European Union



1. Introduction

2. The Open Method of Coordination

3. The Evaluation of the Open Method of Coordination

4. Policy Recommendations

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In the mid- 1990s, welfare states in Europe were under acute strain. Unemployment had risen dramatically (Trubek/Mosher 2001, 6) and in 1997, 18 per cent of the population of the European Union (EU) lived in a household below the relative income poverty threshold[1] (Armstrong 2010, 1). Although social policies were traditionally tasks of the nation-states, an increasing “Europeanization” of “social exclusion”[2] and the inability of the member states to act in an increasing multi-level governance context led to the need for actions on a European level (Armstrong 2010, 2).

The start was made with the “European Employment Strategy” (EES) (Trubek/Mosher 2001, 6), which became, due to its success, (Trubek/Trubek 2005, 349-351) the forerunner of the “Open Method of Coordination” (OMC) (Sabel/Zeitlin 2008, 289). The OMC, like the EES, is an Instrument of governance in the EU, which is based on voluntary cooperation and rests on soft law mechanism (Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 189). Armstrong describes the function of the OMC in his Book about European policy coordination as follows: “The function of the OMC is not to make policy itself but rather to provide a framework within which states are encouraged to identify policy problems and to seek solutions either within their own domestic systems or by learning from the experience of others” (Armstrong 2010, 9). The reason for this soft law solution was the lack of political support for further transfers of legal competencies to the EU in social areas (Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 190). But precisely because of this soft law nature, many critics accuse that the OMC is ineffective and even dangerous for further European integration (Trubek/Trubek 2005, 344, 351, 355).

Therefore, the purpose of this term paper is to find an answer to the question: “In how far is the OMC an effective tool for European social governance?” and to show whether the OMC is as effective as many European institutions and scholars claim, or just a paper tiger. In order to answer these questions the procedure is as follows: First, a very brief summary of the history and emergence of the OMC, followed by a summary of its principles and impacts. Secondly, a detailed evaluation of the OMC, where also will be shown why it is difficult to evaluate the OMC (and soft laws in general). And thirdly a policy recommendation that considers the discussed evaluation of the OMC.

The answer to the research question plays a very important role because of increasing unemployment and poverty in EU since the European sovereign debt crisis (Süddeutsche.de 2013). If an evaluation of the OMC shows that it is ineffective, maybe the EU should use other policies to overcome current socioeconomic problems.

2. The Open Method of Coordination

The OMC has two forerunners, the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (BEPG) introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 (Sabel/Zeitlin 2008, 289) and the more immediate EES, which was formalized in the 1997 Amsterdam treaty (Art. 128 EC) (Armstrong 2010, 33). Due to its success in reforming the labor market in the EU on the one hand (Trubek/Trubek 2005, 349-351) and its methodology, which allows member states to keep their legislative competence in this policy domain, on the other (Armstrong 2010, 33), the principles of the EES were transferred to the OMC later. In 2000, after an Extraordinary European Council meeting in Lisbon, the heads of states admitted a new strategic goal that included a better coordination of national economic policies and that the OMC should become the driving motor (Armstrong 2010, 29 | Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 187). The main difference between the EES and the OMC is that the first one is a treaty based process, while the OMC process has emerged through institutional practices (Armstrong 2010, 34).

But there are also three deeper reasons that are accountable for the establishment of the OMC: Firstly, strong economic disfunctionalities due to a globalized economy and increased worldwide competition (Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 186). Secondly, the political consideration to build up a social dimension in the EU, which became possible with these new open methods (Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 186). And thirdly, a strong crisis in EU legitimacy in the 1990s, where the OMC has been seen as a tool to introduce more democratic ways in decision-making (Borrás/Jacobsson 2004, 186-187).


[1] “Households with less than 60% of national equivalized median income.“ (Armstrong 2010, 1).

[2] The term „social exclusion“ is a politically correct circumscription of poverty (Armstrong 2010, 19).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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561 KB
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Institution / College
Central European University Budapest – Department of Public Policy
A- bzw. 1,7
socio-economic governance european



Title: EU Socio-Economic Governance