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Policy instruments as seeds of (radical) change. Empirical evidence from European renewable energy policies

Aurélien Evrard
Sciences Po Paris
Aurélien Evrard
Sciences Po Paris
Open Panel

Abstract

Peter Hall’s seminal work represents a crucial turn in the analysis public policy change. On the one hand, it situated instruments at the heart of his analysis of this political process. On the other hand, it also contributed to the fact that policy instruments are most often associated with incremental and/or minor changes (first and second order changes). Other empirical studies however came to the opposite conclusion: the creation and/or the modification of a policy instrument may serve to reveal a more radical change in public policy – in its meaning, in its cognitive and normative framework, and in its outputs. This paper proposes a new methodological perspective in order to better understand the role of instruments in policy change. Following recent neo-institutionnalist works (Pierson, 2004; Streeck and Thelen, 2005), it argues that “time matters” at least for two reasons. Firstly, we need to analyze policy change from a long term perspective in order to take slow moving processes into account. Secondly, we need to characterize policy change as the outcome of different and interdependent temporal dynamics. These theoretical assumptions will be based on empirical evidence from the renewable energy in the electricity sector. In such a path-dependent policy sector, the choice and modification of instruments may be a factor of radical change in the combination with windows of opportunity. Thus, comparing case studies from Denmark, Germany and France, the paper will conceptualize policy instruments as “seeds of change” in renewable energy policies.