Term Paper, 2010
7 Pages, Grade: A-
The Open Method of Coordination (OMC) was “born” in the European Union (EU) at the Lisbon Summit of March 2000. A new method of integration was needed in order to achieve the Lisbon agenda – the EU to become the most competitive knowledge based economy in the world with better jobs and greater social cohesion. In this context OMC was presented as the most appropriate policy tool towards achieving an economic and social “revival”. Since its introduction the OMC has gained momentum in European policy-making because many areas previously falling under the exclusive competence of the member states (MS) are now tackled at the European level. Although the OMC was originally designed to foster a problem-solving approach in the area of employment, it has now expanded to include the fields of social exclusion, immigration, pensions and education.
The OMC may be analysed as a multilevel process of governance, comprising at least four levels. First, the European Council agrees on the general objectives to be achieved and offers broad guidelines. Then, the Council of Ministers selects qualitative and quantitative indicators (benchmarks), for the evaluation of national practices. These indicators are selected upon a proposal by the Commission or by other independent agencies. Afterwards, measures at the national and regional level are adopted in view of the achievement of the set objectives and in pursuit of the indicators chosen. These measures are usually referred to as the “National Action Plans” (NAPs). The process is completed with mutual evaluation and peer-review between Member States, sometimes together with a system of “naming and shaming” at the Council level.
The OMC is thus interesting to examine because many authors consider it novel in many aspects. Sabrina Regent claims that its novelty derives primarily from its approach to legislation. She claims that the OMC clearly marks a departure from traditional community methods because its objective is neither to prescribe uniform rules nor to deliver policy outcomes. Instead, it organizes a learning process with the aim of promoting the exchange of experiences and best practices. Therefore, OMC shifts the emphasis from harmonization to a “soft law” mechanism designed to achieve some convergence but still allowing for a diversity of national policies. Regent warns that the label “soft law” can be misleading since OMC differs in many essential respects from typical soft law measures such as recommendations, codes of conduct or resolutions. The OMC is a process that provides “a soft framework for hard law interventions and has its own methods of sanctioning”. Its innovative character thus potentially provides a new form of governance. Finally, it is flexible enough to be adapted to complex realities but establishes a follow-up system that significantly limits the scope of circumvention.
Indeed, Caroline de la Porte’s findings confirm the previous hypothesis. After examining how OMC is applied to the areas of employment and social inclusion, she concludes that the European discourses produced in these policy areas are sufficiently broad to be adapted to different national contexts but depending on the welfare state system more policy shifts have to be made in some countries than in other. Distinct welfare paradigms (especially in the social policy area) imply different degrees of adaptation to comply with the European-level strategies. In sum, the OMC cannot be applied in the same manner in all policy areas which means that the shape of OMC is variable depending on policy field.
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