Events & News


Driving forces behind change and stability in the EU budget

Mr Jan Seifert, PhD student, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

29 Mar 2011

SR3-4, Level 3, Manasseh Meyer, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 469C Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259772

4.15pm – 5.15pm


Mr Seifert’s talk was based on his paper presented at the conference 2011 Asian Workshop on the EU Study – The Future of European Integration and EU-Asia Relations, held at the National Taiwan University in Feb 2011. His lecture centred on the questions of when and how changes occur in the EU budget, and of particular interest to the audience, the implications such changes may have for Asia.

In a nutshell, the puzzle was what determines change? Measuring budget change entailed looking at the number, type and frequency of changes in budgetary formations, alongside power shifts between institutions and the shift of funds between programmes. Budgetary developments since 2005, under the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as policy/programme level changes were used as case studies, alongside constitutional changes.

He approached the budget changes using two theoretical frameworks, the first of them being Paul A. Sabatier’s Advocacy Coalition Framework (1988), which asserts that advocacy coalitions – actors from a variety of backgrounds who share a set of policy beliefs, either advance or prevent change. Applying this framework, it is assumed that depending on the power of these coalitions, changes in the EU budget are likely or not. This concept allows for policy learning, leading to some adaptations, though it does not explain the three recent revisions of the MFF which might be better explained as a result of Commission leadership.

The second theoretical framework applied is Incrementalism (Lindblom, 1959 & Wildavsky, 1964), which assumes that change might happen, though it is slow and to happen at the margins because of persisting power constellations and risk-averse behaviour of decision-makers that prevent the ideal solution from being adopted. This theoretical framework helps explain the broader evolution of the MFF, in which he saw little deviation as well as the status quo bias in the EU budget. Smaller deviations rather than big changes are expected as they bear less risk for legislators, and because assumptions of rationality cannot be expected, taking into consideration the resources and expertise of legislators, and lastly because of institutional constraints.

Changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty that might have wider implications are the decision to grant the European parliament full co-decision powers alongside the Council over all expenditures, as well as the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which the European Parliament (EP) has attempted to influence with its budgetary powers. He explained that because of these changes, the budgetary influence is now more accessible to Asian interests, and much can be done to change in agricultural policies, bilateral initiatives, as well as foreign policy and aid instruments.

Mr. Seifert argued that while Asia has been an indirect actor in budget negotiations, with the “Asian challenge” influencing the Europe 2020 program, thus far, Asia has had no direct influence on the EU budget, and does little lobbying. He questioned whether the strengthened role of the EP might make the budget more accessible for specific Asian interests especially as food security becomes more important for Asia. As the Common Agricultural Policy takes the largest share of the budget, it might make the MEPs a more relevant target for lobbying. The next area of interest for Asian influence through the budget would be in foreign policy. Finally, the more advance economies should have an interest in technological and research cooperation through EU-funded schemes.

In summary, there have been few serious attempts to change the EU budget due to the historical dominance and prevalence of powerful actors. However changes do take place, but they are slow and happen at the margins. The two theoretical frameworks explain much stability and change in the budget but fall short in explaining executive-led changes, such as the three revisions of the MFF. Asia has thus far played a small role, but this is understandable given the little significance the EU budget has for Asian governments. Mr. Seifert postulated that because of constitutional changes in the EU and strategic concerns of Asian governments, Asia should probably play a more active role in influencing the budget in the future.