Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author and editor-in-chief Iva Kopraleva.
When we think about political science theories we generally regard them as tools which help us make sense of a complex social reality. Samuel Huntington offers a suitable metaphor in this regard by comparing theories with maps. Both simplify reality in a way which highlights some aspects of it and obscures others. Ultimately, the fact that reality is represented in a selective way is what turns both maps and theories into useful navigation instruments. Nevertheless, in the domain of political science, there is another aspect we should consider. Theories can also have influence over the social reality which they are designed to explain. And sometimes this influence could translate in political practice.
From this perspective, an interesting puzzle can be observed in the domain of EU governance, namely the creation of the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC). OMC was defined as an instrument of the Lisbon strategy in 2000. It is used in areas which fall within the competence of the member states (and not the European Union), such as employment, social protection, social inclusion, education, youth and training. The Method provides a new intergovernmental framework for cooperation between EU’s member states, whose national policies can thus be directed towards certain common objectives. OMC is based principally on jointly identifying and defining objectives to be achieved; jointly established measuring instruments (statistics, indicators, guidelines); and finally, benchmarking, i.e. comparison of the member states’ performance and exchange of best practices. The member states are evaluated by one another thus creating peer pressure, with the Commission’s role being limited to surveillance. What is distinct about OMC is that the European Union cannot impose sanctions to the member states which do not comply with the objectives.
From a political science point of view, it is hard not to associate OMC with constructivism. Firstly, the fact that member states jointly decide on objectives and measuring instruments clearly points to a process of socialization. Moreover, as all member states form part of the decision making process, it would be inappropriate for individual countries not to comply with the decisions. Reliance of the ‘logic of appropriateness’ can be seen also behind the peer pressure mechanism which relies on a name and shame tactic. In other words, the peer pressure coupled with a certain level of socialization is expected to force each member state to comply with the objectives set by OMC even though there is no sanction mechanism through which compliance can be guaranteed.
Another interesting feature of OMC, also clearly related to constructivism, is that member states exchange good practices. By doing this the less successful member states can learn from the more successful ones and, hopefully, manage to use this knowledge in order to improve their own performance. This learning process has certain limitation since not every good practice is transferable from one country to another. Nevertheless, the exchange of ideas is considered a useful tool for encouraging progress. Turning back to the link with political science theory, the assumption that social actors (or, in this context, states) can learn from each other is at the very core of constructivism.
Normally when we analyse political science phenomena we are confronted with the question: Which theoretical framework best explains a certain development? From everything discussed above, however, it becomes clear that OMC incorporates the ideas of socialization, ‘logic of appropriateness’ and social learning. Therefore, in this case a more appropriate and, arguably a more interesting, a question we can ask would be: Were the policy-makers which created this political practice thinking in constructivist terms? Or in other words, did political science theory managed to influence political practice?
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