Customizing Europe

posted Jul 23, 2015, 12:41 AM by Eva Thomann   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 6:10 AM ]
The European Union (EU) was created to reconcile far-reaching economic integration with legitimate differences in national preferences. Research on the adoption of EU law by member states has typically focused on the question of (non-)compliance, but neglected the more fine-grained differences between countries. However, even if compliance is given, then countries still differ considerably in the degree to which they adopt more and stricter rules than the EU. The adoption of divergent domestic policies, tailor-made to domestic circumstances, is an intended, widespread and neglected aspect of the European experience. This phenomenon, which I call "customization", is distinct from and has different explanations than compliance. A large-N study of customization patterns in 27 member states and two policy sectors shows that customization patterns are highly sector-specific and follow specific regulatory logics of EU policies. When only looking at patterns of (non-)compliance, we miss important variation in how member states interpret and adapt EU law. EU policies are rarely traced down the full implementation chain. We still hardly know, for instance, whether and how EU food safety policy actually matters for preventing or reducing antibiotic resistance.
In my research  I am interested in the implications of customized policies for how common policy problems, such as food safety in the European single market, are jointly, yet differently resolved in the EU. For example, I seek to understand whether transposing countries act in rational and opportunistic manners, according to institutionally embedded habits, or both when customizing EU law. Furthermore, how and why do functionally integrated non-members such as Switzerland customize relevant EU directives, as compared to EU countries? And how does how does the customization of EU food safety policy affect its successful implementation into practice?
I explored these questions in my postdoctoral research project "The customization of European Union directives: an international comparative inquiry",  funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. I am now expanding on this research and broadening it to more policy fields and member states in another SNF-funded project titled "Policy Implementation in the Regulatory State: Assessing the problem-solving capacity of the European Union". This project entails a number of collaborations, including Ellen Mastenbroek, Asya Zhelyazkova and Sandra Mantu from Radboud University Nijmegen, and Jale Tosun from Heidelberg University. In Spring 2017, I spent four months at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence to work on a  single-authored monograph on the customization of EU food safety law in four member states and Switzerland, that is forthcoming at Palgrave Macmillan editorial house.
European integration implies a loss of sovereignty for nation states. The customization phenomenon relativizes the extent of this loss of control. It highlights similarities of member state implementation in the EU with other multilevel systems such as Switzerland, and paints a differentiated and realistic picture of European integration in practice. This research generates useful insights for Switzerland, which is closely integrated in the European single market and must ensure the exportability of its products.

Read the blog post "Beyond legal compliance in EU multilevel implementation" to find out more about the related special issue in the Journal of European Public Policy, co-edited with Fritz Sager !

Related publications
Thomann, E (2015). Customizing Europe: Transposition as bottom-up implementation. Journal of European Public Policy 22(10): 1368-1387.

Thomann, E. and A. Zhelyazkova. 2017. Moving beyond (non-)compliance: the customization of European Union policies in 27 countries. Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2017.1314536.

Thomann, E. and F. Sager. 2017. Moving beyond legal compliance: Innovative approaches to EU multi-level implementation. Journal of European Public Policy, DOI:10.1080/13501763.2017.1314541.

Thomann, E. and F. Sager. 2017. Toward a better understanding of implementation performance in the EU multi-level system. Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2017.1314542.

Sager, F., Thomann, E., Zollinger, C. and C. Mavrot. 2014. Confronting theories of European integration: A comparative congruence analysis of veterinary drugs regulations in five countries. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice 16(5):457-474.