Who Consults? Expert Groups in the European Union
The EU is frequently understood as a special kind of governance system characterized by its strong degree of interpenetration of different levels of government and a plethora of interactions between EU institutions, administrations from national and subnational levels, as well as organized non-state interests. Nowhere is this kind of multi-level governance as evident as in the committees system of the EU. This article examines and explains a crucial property of this system, the committees and experts groups organised by the European Commission. Based on new data we answer some basic questions related to this aspect of the EU multi-level system. What is the extent of the expert consultative system? What is the distribution of expert groups? Are these groups best understood as loose networks or do they constitute a stable, well-established consultative system? We observe a proliferation over time and across sectors of this mode of governance. The use of Expert group has developed into a routinized practice of the European Commission and a great share of the Expert groups has become permanent and lasting properties of the governance system. Our data also shows that Expert groups are remarkably unevenly distributed among different policy domains and areas. The high degree of sectoral differentiation is accentuated by the fact that we observe weak horizontal coordinating structures between the Directorates-General (DGs) in their use of Expert groups. We argue that the heterogeneity in modes governance across policy fields is partly a result of deliberate design attempts and differences in policy tasks, but also to a large extent the result of different institutional and organizational factors, such as legal and administrative capabilities, as well as the gradual development of different routines and norms among the DGs for connecting to their environment. A later version of this article has been published in West European Politics, Vol. 31, No. 4, July 2008, pp. 725-750
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