what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

EC's Cohesion Funds (part V) A Tale of Sound and Fury?

There’s something to be said for ignoring a policy field for several years and then trying to catch up with it in one go – it makes you focus on the essentials and certainly saves a lot of time! So it’s been in the last few days as I have downloaded and skimmed a lot of material on the (rather incestuous) debate which has been taking place over the past 2-3 years about the EC Structural (or Cohesion) Funds whose programme for 2014-2020 will have to be decided this year.

As the Commission’s views eventually surfaced at the end of 2011, it seems, frankly, to be have been a case of "sound and fury…signifying…nothing”! When I read the leaflet which set out the Commission’s proposals of 6 October, they don’t seem to contain anything significantly new – more ex-ante evaluation; better monitoring; and a new category of "transitional regions”. And the much-discussed idea of more local flexibility seems to have died without trace. So perhaps the journalists I accused of neglect in an earlier post have been correct to leave the subject well alone. As we say, it "doesn't appear to amount to a row of beans!"
In 2010, a slide presentation caught the terms of the then current debate rather well. For those masochists who want to follow the details of the debate, an archived site allows you to access both the key papers and also the various components of the 2009 Barca report including its ten 10 commissioned studies and a summary of some hearings.

Despite a caustic comment recently about language, the papers from Strathclyde University’s European Policies Centre are the only clear updates you get on Structural Funds. The latest is appropriately subtitled "let the negotiations begin".
In November 2011 one of the leading members of the Centre produced a paper EC Cohesion Policy and Europe 2020 – between place-based and people-based prosperity which subjected the debate on the EC’s Cohesion Policy to the dreadful Discourse Analysis -
Ideas are increasingly recognized as playing an important causal role in policy development. Instead of seeing change as the product of strategic contestation among actors with clear and fixed interests, an ideational perspective emphasises the struggle for power among actors motivated by different ideas.
 The last half of the paper, however is actually interesting - it traces the history of cohesion policy and then explores the various policy positions about the nature and shape of the future programme (which now accounts for 40% of the EU budget). The paper suggests 2 central dimensions – focus and management – to construct a matrix. The focus can be geographical place or sector (eg transport, energy, IT, environment); the management central (EC led) or local (national) – which gives four options -
Territorial contractualism (top-down); supported by two key players – the European Parliament and the European Commission’s Regional Policy Department (DG Regio)
Territorial experimentalism (with more local flexibility); supported by the Committee of Regions
Sectoral functionalism (top-down); supported by the other relevant Commission Directorates
Sectoral coordination

Ideas in these arguments become tools which rationalise the interests of the various actors. As I thought about the process, I was suddenly reminded of one of the seminal texts in the literature of political science – Graham Allison’s The Essence of Decision (1971) - which applied three different explanatory models to the Cuban Crisis – the rational (what is in the interests of the government); the organisational process (organisations do what they are used to doing); and bureaucratic (court) politics ("various overlapping bargaining games among players arranged hierarchically in the national government”). This is a paper of his from 1968 which presents the basic proposition; and this a critique from 1992.

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