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Bureaucracy may be the solution, rather than the problem, for issues of European governance

Lodge, M. & Wegrich, K. (2014) “Bureaucracy may be the solution, rather than the problem, for issues of European governance“, LSE EUROPP, 24 April.


The European Union is often criticised from the perspective that it has created a layer of bureaucracy or ‘red tape’ which has a damaging effect on European governance. Martin Lodge and Kai Wegrich write that while it is particularly common for political parties to make these arguments in the run up to European elections, legitimate and effective administration is at the heart of addressing the key governance challenges European countries must face in the future. They argue that any meaningful discussion about bureaucracy should focus on the question of ‘why’ certain interventions seem to work, and not simply on ‘what’ initiatives have previously worked in other contexts.

European Parliament elections offer politicians and national electorates the opportunity to voice their concerns about ‘Brussels bureaucracy’, ‘red tape’ and many other perceived forms of mis-government that are invariably attributed to the European Union. If, however, we have learned one thing about the financial crisis, then it is that EU governance matters, not just in terms of the intricate decision-rules that occupy EU-watchers day and night. Instead, it is a question of how governance can be organised in systems where power is widely dispersed, not just between the EU and national jurisdictions, but also among varied forms of public and private bureaucracy. Furthermore, this dispersion takes place in a context of a high degree of interdependence: if financial regulation in one setting fails, then other national regulatory systems will bear the consequences. Similar problems occur elsewhere, such as in food safety or migration.


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