The Open Method of Coordination. The Lisbon Strategy in the United Kingdom

Term Paper 2014 20 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: History of Inernational Relations



1. Introduction

2. The Lisbon Strategy and the Open Method of Co-Ordination
2.1. Understanding OMC
2.2. Policy, Politics and Polity - An Analytical Framework
2.3. The OMC in the United Kingdom

3. Conclusion

Publication bibliography

1. Introduction

With the ever-increasing number of member states that have joined the European Union (EU), which has meanwhile grown to 28 members after the most recent enlargement with the accession of Croatia in 2013 the EU, has undoubtedly undergone severe subsequent changes concerning the balance of power between the European institutions themselves and the representation of its member states. New challenges were brought about by the inevitable increase in diversity that enlargement entailed for example in terms of institutional structure, economic integration and the specific functions of the welfare state among each of the 28 member states. The European institutions have certainly accommodated for this increased diversity for example through possibilities of pragmatic opt-outs or the method of enhanced cooperation. But the introduction of the new EU governance tool of the Open Method of CoOrdination (OMC) certainly marks a more significant change to policy making in the EU. As part of the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 the Union set forth a new strategy for achieving the ambitious goals of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” (European Council 2000) until the year 2010. Through incorporation of iterative benchmarking processes to assess progress in achieving the objectives set forth by the EU on the national level, mutual learning among member states and mobilization of actors across many levels - EU, national and sub-national levels - the OMC represented a novel approach to governance in the EU (Zeitlin 2005, pp. 1-2, 2010). And while the OMC was introduced to a wide range of policy fields its effectiveness, although hard to assess due to its soft-law character and multiplicity of variables involved in measuring its results (Kröger 2009, pp. 6-8)1, was highest in social inclusion, employment and social protection, also due to stronger institutionalization and simply a longer period of time the OMC processes have been in action (Zeitlin 2010, p. 2). Because the environment in which the OMC is applied, the multiple actors it involves across multiple levels, as well as the challenge of correctly placing it among other soft-law measures and the existing toolset of the EU institutions the literature in OMC research is equally complex. Contributions to OMC research emanate from many researchers across different fields of science, such as economists, legal scholars, sociologists and political scientists that have brought forth analyses looking at the topic from various angles. These include the OMC as a New Mode of Governance, a form of Policy Learning and Europeanisation and as a motor of European Integration (see de la Porte, C., Pochet 2012). Taking this complexity into account and given the limited ability of this specific type of essay it seems necessary to concentrate on a few specific aspects. This work will thus limit its timeframe - from the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy in 2000 until the overhaul it received with the introduction of ‘Europe 2020’ in 2010 at most - and discuss the case of the United Kingdom (UK) with regard to the possible impact the OMC has had on social policy and the way in which different levels of government and non-government actors have been involved. The UK presents itself as an interesting case for investigating social policy changes as its liberal society and institutional framework seemingly offer a higher possibility for incorporating OMC processes (de la Porte, C., Pochet 2012, p. 342). So the question this essay will try to answer is How has the Open Method of Co-Ordination influenced social policy in the United Kingdom and has it been able to involve a wider array of actors in the process?

2. The Lisbon Strategy and the Open Method of Co-Ordination

2.1. Understanding OMC

First and foremost this chapter will serve as a short summary to explain the basic principles and functioning of the OMC and outline the goals the European Council initially set forth in 2000 as part of the Lisbon Strategy to shed light on what was originally envisioned and how subsequent changes have shaped the method.

The European Council specified a set of ambitious goals in a special meeting held on 23rd 24th March of 2000 in Lisbon (European Council 2000). The newly introduced OMC was supposed to help facilitate the implementation of the EU’s strategic goal of becoming ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’ which was already stated previously. Achieving this would mean utilizing the mechanisms of increased convergence and of spreading best practices with regard to the most important goals of the EU. In detail this outlined the four core processes serving as the cornerstones of the OMC as a way to develop member states’ policies. These processes of fixing guidelines for the Union, establishing benchmarks, translation of best practices into European guidelines and subsequent periodic monitoring and evaluation:

“fixing guidelines for the Union combined with specific timetables for achieving the goals which they set in the short, medium and long terms; establishing, where appropriate, quantitative and qualitative indicators and benchmarks against the best in the world and tailored to the needs of different Member States and sectors as a means of comparing best practice; translating these European guidelines into national and regional policies by setting specific targets and adopting measures, taking into account national and regional differences;

periodic monitoring, evaluation and peer review organised as mutual learning processes.” (European Council 2000, 37)

Partnership across several actors from different levels ranging from the local to the Union level and from different member states would be used to implement a decentralized approach while staying in accordance with the important EU principle of subsidiarity. The European Council’s focus on actively involving civil society and social partners were characteristic for this new method of governance and its focus on involving the aforementioned wide range of actors. By involving NGOs, companies and social partners through networking the European Commission (EC) was to assume the role of devising the benchmarking methods for best practices on change management. In addition the OMC does not delegate authority, being a soft law method with a low legalization level. Governments can essentially choose from various modes of co-ordination that differ in their form of delegation and level of legalization (Schäfer 2004, pp. 3-4).

Shortly after the initial start of the Lisbon Strategy the initial goals of economic and social development in Europe were expanded to include the underpinning principle of sustainable development. This resulted in the common referral to the three pillars consisting of social and employment policies and economic competitiveness while maintaining the added principle of sustainable development, making up the Lisbon Strategy (Kakrida 2011, p. 273). This set the stage for the new social policies within the scope of OMC. Beginning in the middle of 2001 member states had started to present National Action Plans on Social Inclusion (NAPs/inc) bi-annually.

In 2005 when the European Presidency announced a relaunch of the Lisbon Strategy after the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy following the Spring European Council in Brussels produced disappointing results for the previous years. “Taking stock five years after the launch of the Lisbon strategy, the Commission finds the results to date somewhat disappointing, and the European economy has failed to deliver the expected performance in terms of growth, productivity and employment” (European Union 2005).

With the relaunch it was decided and consented that the single member states were supposed to report on their progress each year. Further on in every third year the report was planned to be presented as a form of a National Reform Programme (NRP), while in the intervening years providing a progress report was introduced as a requirement. To bring forth a mutual progress on a supranational level these reports were meant to be submitted to the European Commission and the national parliaments as well (European Council 2005a; Kakrida 2011, p. 274; European Commission 2005b, p. 7). The previously required NAPs were replaced and streamlined into sections of the National Reform Programmes. With regards to social policy the NAP/inc were from then on also combined into a single National Report on social protection and social inclusion and a single ‘Social OMC’ was created. This single Social OMC was now designed to include health care, social inclusion and pensions while creating the Social Protection Committee (SPC) to support process of OMC Inclusion. The role of the SPC was designated to foster cooperation on social protection policies with the Commission and among the member states. Although the participation and mobilization of all significant actors was already a core principle of the Lisbon Strategy, the relaunch also revised this statement to more specifically put emphasis on the increased involvement of stakeholders in the policy cycle of designing, implementing and monitoring while at the same time strengthening transparency and governance processes. In contrast to the original Lisbon Strategy the relaunch explicitly assigns these goals not only to employment, but also social OMC (European Commission 2005a; European Council 2005a; Zeitlin 2010, p. 5; European Commission 2005b, p. 3).

The following table gives a summarized overview over the original and revised strands of social policy of the relaunched Lisbon Strategy:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1 (DALY 2008, p. 6)

2.2. Policy, Politics and Polity - An Analytical Framework

In accordance with Borrás and Jacobsson (2004) and MacPhail (2010) the approach used here will try to shed light on the impact of the OMC on three key dimensions. Namely the dimensions of policy, polity and politics. It is a key argument that the function of the OMC is in harsh contrast to existing applications of soft-law within the EU. This means that it is not primarily a legal process, but rather a political continuous process of controlling and evaluation incorporation a diverse set of actors.

Firstly, the policy dimension encompasses the learning processes of the OMC and the coordination of national policy change. The vision of the OMC was to implement two different strategic goals in order to achieve greater convergence and at the same time spread best practices among the member states. As a prerequisite a ‘mutual learning process’ is necessary to compare and coordinate changes in the national and sub state policies. This is only possible when the actors from different nationalities learn to know the each country’s specific national policies and structures. These achievements then have to be periodically reviewed with the aim of increasing the political commitment to reach the joint goals that have been determined (Trubek, Trubek 2005, pp. 110-112).

According to Borrás and Jacobson (2004) among the specific mechanisms to arrive at such operational proceedings the OMC is based on a number of different items: A systematic diffusion of knowledge and experiences; persuasion supported by practices of peer review and dialogue; knowledge work including the development of a common policy discourse, comparable statistics, and common indicators, repetition, and strategic use of policy linkages (see Jacobsson 2004). These instruments are, of course, only viable when all actors involved provide data that goes beyond symbolic statistical results that do not reflect actual development, but the actor’s desired outcome (Borrás, Jacobsson 2004, p. 195). Borrás and Jacobsson (2004) derive their assumptions for policy change facilitated by the OMC from an interdisciplinary comparison of theories and projections from the fields of international relations, public administration, discourse analysis and administrative networks.


1 See Zeitlin et al. (2005) for a synthetic overview of empirical difficulties


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Title: The Open Method of Coordination. The Lisbon Strategy in the United Kingdom