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‘Designing a race in which all must have prizes’. The governing dynamics of Council decision making on the Western Balkans

Sandrino Smeets
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Sandrino Smeets
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Open Panel

Abstract

For many outside observers decision making in the EU’s Council of Ministers mirrors Lewis Carroll’s famous depiction of ‘the Caucus race’. Among the abundance of overlapping and contradictory initiatives of member states to steer the negotiation process into a favourable direction, it is often hard to answer a simple question: “But who has won?” In fact, the well known Culture of Consensus in the Council induces member states to design the race in such a way so that anyone can claim that he is bringing home the bacon. This paper’s goal is to characterize the governing dynamics of Council negotiations. It tries to explain challenges and changes to the status quo policy line in the issue area of the Western Balkans (2000-2010). By means of participant observations, studies of internal reports of meetings and in-depth interviews with key players, it explains how and why some member states where more successful than others in using and adapting the Brussels’ ‘sausage making mechanism’ to their advantage. ‘Rhetorical action’ is elaborated on as the key theoretical concept with which to understand power and influence disparities in the Council. This paper aims to sneak a peek behind the veil of consensus and explain how the words or ‘argumentative frames’ of some made it into the rhetorical commonplaces (‘agreed language’) of all.