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Political Research Exchange

All Bark and No Bite? Technocracy, Politicization and the Enforcement of the EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure

Comparative Politics
Decision Making
Policy Implementation
Reinout van der Veer
Department of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Reinout van der Veer
Department of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Under what conditions do technocrats become responsive to political context? With the emergence of technocratic governance structures across all Western polities, public authority is increasingly delegated to unelected and seemingly independent expert bodies which promise to deliver stable and effective regulatory responses with major societal consequences to complex and politically contested problems. But while such strategies of intentional depoliticization have long kept technocrats concealed from the public eye, the emergence of a new transnational cleavage structure and the resulting backlash against experts and elites increasingly force technocrats to deal with politicized “hot potato” issues. In this paper, I investigate when and how politicization affects the behavior of technocratic executives by examining a case of technocratic politics in EU economic governance: the enforcement of the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) by the European Commission. This procedure, which is backed by pre-defined debt and deficit thresholds and serious financial sanctions, should ensure the sustainability and health of the European economy and the fiscal positions of its member states. Simultaneously, the Euro crisis fundamentally challenged the legitimacy of the EU and its EU’s system of economic governance, which imposes unpopular austerity on member states and their publics. In practice, the EDP’s convergence criteria are ambiguously interpreted, deadlines are not enforced and sanctions are not applied. I employ a signaling approach to examine Commission responsiveness to signaled political opposition to EU intervention by domestic publics, national parliaments and member state governments. Using Bayesian Mixed Markov models, I present findings from an original large-N dataset covering decision-making on the EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) with observations for all EU member states for the period of 2005-2017.
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