Organising Soft Governance in Hard Times – The Unlikely Survival of the Open Method of Coordination in EU Education Policy

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Table of Contents: I. Introduction. – II. Theories of organisational change and survival. – II.1. Functional imperatives: organisational survival “on delivery”. – II.2. Power perspective: survival as political battle. – II.3. Institutionalisation and survival. – II.4. Institutional perspective – Survival by riding a fashion wave. – III. The OMC in time and context. – III.1. The birth of OMC education: the European Commission’s administration as facilitator. – III.2. Dealing with Member States’ sensitivity and the politics of education policy. – III.3. Change and reorganisation. – III.4. Soft governance as practices without a label. – IV. Conclusions: why is OMC education an unlikely survivor?

Abstract: The introduction of the OMC brought a new template for organising EU governance and EU social and economic policy coordination. This Article looks into how the OMC template for organising governance became practice and developed over time in the education sector. Soft governance under the label OMC has had considerable impact on the approach to common decision-making in EU education policy. The OMC template enabled European level policy makers to enter into issues that had largely been off limits to the EU. The actors, especially the Directorate General Education and Culture (DG EAC), used the OMC format to work around the considerable national sensitivity of education. This way of organising governance was normalised as an appropriate approach to cooperation. The substantive effects on Member States’ policy and policy output are, on the other hand, limited. Hence, the functional effectiveness cannot explain the survival of the OMC education. Yet, the soft coordination organised under the heading “Education and Training 2010/2020” survived because the practices incrementally gained legitimacy and became routine. The organisation of governance based on the OMC also became the platform upon which the sector could defend and profile its contribution to European integration. Despite the fact that the OMC label was no longer considered a fashionable and effective organisational template on the EU governance scene, the education sector upheld these governance arrangements.

Keywords: governance – open method of coordination – education – European Union – organisational change – institutionalisation.

European Papers, Vol. 3, 2018, No 1, pp. 235-255
2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/211

* Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo,


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