The aim of this project, linking two political scientists (Laffan) and (Mörth), was to undertake theoretically informed, empirically rich comparative analysis of the open method of co-ordination. The methodology consisted of comparative case studies across policy areas, levels of government, horizontal measures such as benchmarking and methodologies such as peer review.
The policies and policy processes of the European Union have been characterised by experimentation from the outset. When faced with limits to its constitutional and legal mandate, potential blockages in the policy process and new policy challenges, the Union attempts to turn constraint into opportunity by experimenting with additional and in some cases innovative modes of governance. The open method of co-ordination is one such mode that proliferated in a number of EU policy areas in the 1990s. The term OMC is now applied to a range of diverse processes in different policy domains. OMC can be found in policy domains where the EU has a limited legal competence and weak policy instruments. OMC can be classified as a ‘soft’ mode of governance in contrast to ‘hard’ policy instruments such as regulation. The purpose of OMC is to increase supranational influence on national policies without developing fully-fledged EU policies. OMC is designed to trigger adaptation and adjustment within the member states.
The general purpose of this research was to identify and evaluate the significance novel forms of governance in the European Union. This initially entailed a precise mapping of the emergence of Open Method of Coordination (OMC) processes across all relevant policy fields. Once this empirical phase was concluded, we analysed specific conditions under which OMC developed or failed to develop. A further stage in our research was to carry out two cross-country/cross-policy case studies of particular OMC processes; Research and Development policy (R&D) and Information Society policy in Ireland and France. This phase allowed us to challenge the theoretical insights gained in stage one and two with real-world policy implementation. This exercise finalised our research and added to the cluster conclusions that new modes of governance are complementary to (and not substitutive of) traditional modes. We further concluded that new modes, at least as regards the OMC, are secondary with respect to more binding measures, i.e. they are superseded by attempts at hard coordination when conflicts between policy actors emerge.