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Contested Legitimacy: Expertise and Modes of Learning across EU Policy Arenas

European Union
Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Public Policy
Claire Dunlop
University of Exeter
Claire Dunlop
University of Exeter
Claudio Radaelli
European University Institute
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Abstract

Experts and expertise feature prominently in the policy process of the European Union (EU). And so do controversies and contestation of their legitimacy. To understand the politics of expertise, we need to draw explicitly and systematically on a theoretical lens on the policy process. In this paper, we use policy learning as theoretical lens to explore the dimensions of the crisis of legitimacy of expertise. Specifically, we go for a granular approach and start from two variables: the social certification of actors and the tractability of policy problems. We then further decompose the ways in which expertise operates in EU policy arenas with the aid of explanatory typologies. We end up with different modes of epistemic learning, some normatively attractive, some unattractive, and the scope conditions under which the modes are more or less legitimate. We find that the problem is neither one of technocratic challenges to democracy nor one of politicians not listening to truth and science. It is instead a problem of what role the expert has and should have, in relation to what level of problem tractability, and with what kind of social certification of expertise and science. A key variable is the prevalent mode of learning: the same role can be legitimate in a hierarchical, compliance-driven policy arena but not suitable in an arena dominated by the logic of bargaining. Since EU policy arenas differ on this dimensions (role, problem tractability, social certification, and prevalent mode of learning) we expect to find variability across EU policies. The same applies to solutions: if we want more legitimate usages of expertise, we cannot go for a one-size-fits-all solution but we need to legitimize expertise by tweaking different types of policy arenas. The paper is conceptual with illustrations from case studies of EU public policies.