Review: Joseph Jupille on Procedural Politics in the EU

by Henry Farrell on October 11, 2006

Joseph Jupille, Procedural Politics: Issues, Influence and Institutional Choice in the European Union (Cambridge 2005). Available from “Powells”: and from “Amazon”:

This book isn’t aimed at a general audience – it’s clearly written to be read by people who are interested in the inner workings of the European Union, or in theories of institutional choice, most of whom are going to be academics. But for those people, this book does some important and interesting things. It demonstrates exhaustively how traditional academic ways of thinking about the European Union are wrong, or at least badly misguided, and it furthermore makes some substantial methodological and theoretical advances in understanding how processes of institutional choice and institutional change are likely to work.

Traditional political science debates on the EU have revolved around battles between two schools of thought – neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism. Neofunctionalists argue that EU integration is driven by forces which are beyond the control of the European Union’s member states, and typically suggest that the European Commission and the European Parliament have both an interest in more European integration, and the ability to sidestep member state controls in order to push the integration process along. Intergovermentalists (most prominently represented by Andrew Moravcsik’s formulation of liberal intergovernmentalism) suggest that the member states are in more or less complete control of the integration process. Moravcsik suggests that the key factor determining the extent of integration is the preferences of member states, which respond to external economic factors. While these arguments have been displaced to some extent in the last ten years by more specific debates about this or that feature of EU politics, they continue to play a role in shaping the field of argument. Many rationalists (such as Geoffrey Garrett and George Tsebelis) agree with intergovernmentalists that external factors and state choice is the key determining factor that shapes the institutions of the EU. Many historical institutionalists and constructivists disagree, pointing to internal institutional dynamics as evidence of processes that member states don’t want and can’t effectively control.

What Jupille does is to show how neither neofunctionalism nor liberal intergovernmentalism provides good explanations of the internal workings of the European Union. Actors such as the European Parliament and European Commission aren’t engaged in a blessed plot to expand EU competences; they have strongly divergent interests over many issues. Nor, however is EU politics the simple result of externally driven member state preferences. Instead, it is to a quite considerable extent driven by internal factors – what Jupille calls ‘procedural politics.’

Jupille starts with some simple assumptions (which he later tests to see whether they actually predict what is going on). First – that the collective actors of the EU are influence maximizers; that is, that the European Commission would like to maximize its influence over legislation and policy, the European Parliament would like to maximize its influence, and so on. Second, that different legislative procedures will have different implications for the influence of actors. That is, if legislation is passed using procedure x, the Parliament will have considerable influence over the final product, as will the Council of member states, although the Commission will only have moderate influence, while if it is passed instead under procedure y, the Parliament might have no effective influence at all, so that the Council and the Commission are the only actors with real influence over the outcome. Finally, that there is some ambiguity over which procedure should be applied when. Here, the European Union Treaty texts allocate different procedures to different areas of policy making, so that, for example, very different procedures are associated with decisions made over agricultural policy, and decisions made over market integration. But obviously, many items of legislation are going to fall between these areas – they could reasonably be dealt with under any of several policy headings, each of which may have its own procedure attached to it.

Under these conditions – influence maximization, different consequences of different procedures for influence, and frequent ambiguity over which procedure should be applied – we can expect procedural politics to start playing out. The key actors in the EU legislative process – Commission, Parliament and Council – will often have different preferences over which procedure should be chosen – each will use all the means at their disposal to ensure that the procedure that allows them the greatest degree of influence is the one that is chosen, at the expense of other procedures that might favor other actors. This is not only a plausible model of EU decision making – it appears to be supported by the facts. Jupille constructs measures for jurisdictional ambiguity, and shows how procedural disputes, with each actor favoring procedures that maximize its own influence, tend to flare up in ambiguous situations. Interestingly, disputes are far more likely when the European Parliament, which has traditionally seen itself as hard done by, faces a procedure that it doesn’t want than when the Council is in the same position (Jupille’s model works significantly less well at explaining the Council’s behaviour than at explaining the Commission’s and Parliament’s). Jupille’s statistical findings are supported by a wealth of qualitative information. When it’s likely that a procedural dispute is going to end up in the European Court of Justice, the actors involved fight over the legislative preamble, which has no material effects on the legislation, but which often affects ECJ decisions over whether a particular piece of legislation belongs under this or that procedure. In one case that Jupille discusses, the Commission and Parliament baldly switched their preferred wording for the preamble from a pro-environment to a pro-market basis, because Treaty changes in the interim made the procedures for market integrating legislation more favourable to them. Moreover, Jupille provides some initial evidence that these procedures feed into later Treaty changes. Areas that have high levels of ambiguity are more likely to be addressed in later Treaty revisions than areas that don’t.

These are important results. They suggest that simplistic forms of neofunctionalism, which posit an alliance between the Commission and the Parliament to push the integration process forward, don’t really work. Where the Commission and the Parliament have clashing preferences over which procedure should be applied (which is quite often) they work against each other, rather than with each other. Rather than pro- and anti- integration forces lining up against each other, Jupille’s work suggests a world of shifting short term alliances, where the Parliament and Council may have shared interests on this item of legislation, and opposing interests on that one. But intergovernmentalists of the Moravcsik variety are out of luck too – Jupille’s work suggests that not only are there processes of change where the member states (as represented by the Council) often lose, but that these processes may feed back into later revisions of the Treaty text. Moreover, Jupille’s arguments have wider implications for arguments over the politics of institutions. The EU is a somewhat weird entity, in that it links legislative procedures to substantive issue areas. The particular kinds of procedural politics that we see there aren’t likely to crop up in different systems. But we may still expect to see different versions of this dynamic play out, depending on the incentives for institutional politics that a particular system offers.

This said, I do think that the book ducks one important issue. Jupille says in his conclusions that his results are most obviously consonant with the growing body of rational choice literature on how EU politics works. This is true to the extent that he himself adopts a broadly rational choice perspective. But it seriously underestimates the ways in which his arguments (and, as I read it, more or less decisive evidence) undermine some of the basic assumptions that this literature makes in order to render EU politics tractable. Game theorists such as Tsebelis assume that EU political decision making occurs under institutions that can’t be changed by the actors that themselves make law – instead, the member states act as a sort of collective Unmoved First Mover that set the laws of the legislative universe into motion. This allows them to insulate problems of institutional choice from the behavior of actors within institutions. Jupille provides evidence that you just can’t treat these processes as insulated from each other without doing violence to the empirics. If actors really are influence maximizers, they’re playing in the long term to change the rules of the game that they are operating within. Thus, their behaviour is going to be strategic – but it isn’t going to be predicted by the neat little one-shot game models that Tsebelis and others employ. Instead, it’s much more consonant with rat-choice friendly varieties of historical institutionalism, such as the one offered by Paul Pierson. If this is an important book, and I think it is, it to some extent undersells its importance, by claiming its compatibility with a set of arguments that it really, as I understand it, challenges in a quite fundamental way.



David Weman 10.11.06 at 11:21 am

I think I need to buy this book.


la deutsche vita 10.11.06 at 11:47 am

Reading your excellent review reminds me of the idea of “venue-shopping”. Just as companies tend to choose a country with a favourable legal system for filing a law suit, EU actors try to choose those legislative procedures that best fit their interests. Both theories seem to be in line with rational choice approaches. What distinguishes them from game theory is not so much the idea that the institutional framework can be changed in the course of a “game”, but rather that prior to the game, actors in some political systems have a choice between different institutional frameworks. This may not challenge game theory, but it certainly shows that game theory does not cover the whole political process and may even miss the most important part of it.


Henry 10.11.06 at 2:03 pm

deutsche vita – exactly right on forum shopping and JJ’s current work tries to extend these arguments to international forum shopping (together with Duncan Snidal). But I’m not seeing how these choices, as you describe them, are necessarily impossible to model with game theory – if the institutions are ‘chosen’ beforehand, surely this can be modelled by extending the game back one stage? I think that the internal change problem is a much more tricky one …


la deutsche vita 10.11.06 at 4:45 pm

You are of course right that game theory could model forum shopping by extending the game back one stage. But does it? I’m not up to date with game theory, but I get the impression that at best game theorists add this as some kind of ex-post explanation when their predictions are not supported by the empirical data. The internal change problem is of course tricky because it would turn simple models into very complex ones which are difficult to handle. But besides these methodological problems, I don’t really understood why it should be so difficult to conceive of actors being bound by institutional rules and at the same time successfully changing them.


trane 10.12.06 at 1:15 pm

Interesting review, thank you.

(On the notion of ‘forum shopping’: This is widely used also in the literature on Legal Pluralism. Originally, the term as it is known here, was coined by Keebet von Benda-Becakmann in a 1981 article called “Forum Shopping and Shopping Forums”)

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