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Municipalities and Länder in the Wake of European Multilevel Governance

Josef Esser

Municipalities and Länder in the Wake of European Multilevel Governance

1. The EU as an emerging social and political project
    1.1 The EU as a European economic and political zone
    1.2 Countercurrents to progressive Europeanization
2. The EU as an specific or unique political system
    2.1 Europeanization of public functions
    2.2 Governance in the European multilevel system
3. Role of Länder and municipalities in the European multilevel system
    3.1 German Länder in the fight against Europeanization
    3.2 Disabled municipalities in the European multilevel system


The European Union has been taking a qualitative leap since the early 1990s. A European economic and social zone is emerging and an autonomous European political system with a wide range of public tasks which are performed in a European multilevel integration mode has already established itself in member states. The article analyses this transformation of statehood in Europe from the perspective of the impact of this process on German federalism, i.e. on Länder, cities, towns and counties. The author concludes that German Länder are in a thus-far losing battle against the erosion of their powers and that German municipalities are increasingly having to adopt European directives and regulations without having any real say in their drafting.



The process of European integration began in the 1950s with the Coal and Steel Union (1951) and the European Economic Community (1957). However, it is realistic to speak of a qualitative leap in this integration only after the adoption of the Maastricht treaties in the early 1990s (Rhodes et al. 1997). Since these accords we have seen a dramatic and accelerating European shift, first in western, then in central and eastern parts of the continent. This new constellation is euphemistically dubbed the European Union. No one can say today where this transformation will end, although the debates on Europe's "finality" now fill entire libraries and are virtually unfathomable. The social sciences still do not have a convincing theory that would enable us to build a model of the form, functioning and democratic legitimation of this new EU entity. At any rate it is clear that this EU has transformed sovereignty as we have known it, that the political structure and governance in member states will also change profoundly, as will their various subpolities, such as the German Länder and municipalities, French régions, départements and communes and British counties and local authorities.

This article is intended to investigate how this transformation process influences German federalism, i.e. Länder, cities, towns and counties. This question can only be answered sensibly if we first analyse what the European Union really means as an autonomous political project (Section 1). Then we will take a closer look at public functions and the structures and mechanisms of consensus building and decision-making in this new political system and its (un)democratic bias (Section 2). This background should enable us to discuss the role of Länder and municipalities in this system and to ask what policymaking leverage German municipalities retain (Section 3).


1. The EU as an emerging social and political project

The EU is a book of seven seals - not only for common citizens. Policymakers and scholars are also far from finding a precise description or definition of the new entity. At least a consensus has been reached that the EU is neither a traditional confederation nor a federal state but rather a new species of international politiy, a political system sui generis (Wolf 1997). Granted, this lowest common denominator should not blind us to the fact that the operation and development dynamics of the EU political system are still the subjects of heated theoretical controversies and that widely divergent interpretations are vying for acceptance. Not only the political character of the EU remains undefined. The economic and social determinants of its existence and evolution are also controversial. (Cf. Beckmann et al. 2003)


1.1 The EU as a European economic and political zone

The most important feature of the EU has been justifiably identified as the European Economic Zone, or the ever-widening and deepening market and monetary integration. The founding of the European monetary system in 1979 was followed in 1985 by the establishment of an EC internal market policy. This preceded the policy of economic and monetary union adopted in 1989 and finally the integrated European financial market which has existed since 1998. This new economic zone now encompasses 25 countries. After the EU expansion southwards into Greece (1981), Portugal and Spain (1986), Sweden, Finland and Austria joined in 1995 and eight central and eastern European nations plus Cyprus and Malta acceded in 2004.

The economic market and monetary integration was constitutionalized step by step, politically and legally through the Single European Act of 1986, the Maastricht Treaty of 1991, the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 and the Nice Treaty revision of 2000. Finally, in October 2004, the EU heads of state and government signed a new Constitutional Treaty, which was previously elaborated by a special EU constitutional convention. This treaty changed the existing political and institutional power triangle consisting of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. However, this new treaty between the 25 member countries, often erroneously referred to as the European Constitution, must be ratified by each of them before it can enter into force (Asbach 2002; Höreth 2004).

There is some justification for maintaining that the process of economic reinforcement and expansion of the European Economic Zone and "giving it a political structure in its operating arena through treaties and institutions" (Beckmann et al. 2003, p. 8) is already creating a kind of "specific Eurocapitalist reproduction mode" (op. cit.). After all, the internal market and monetary integration and the accompanying regulations, directives and decisions serve to assimilate and integrate product, capital and loan markets. Currently 60 % of the foreign trade of EU states is already conducted within the zone. Moreover, transnational European supply, production and marketing networks have formed in many sectors. Cross-border mergers, takeovers and other alliances have already created European business structures. The terms of trade and currency rates are also nearly fully communitized by the economic and monetary union. In the wake of financial market integration, government and transnational company borrowing is no longer concentrated in national markets (Lütz 2002).

This already extensively developed economic zone has an inherent European regulation system which is still hampered by existing and functioning national regulations and is therefore contradictory and fragile, although the EU treaties have endowed it with certain powers that transcend national control. The far-reaching political decision-making authority of the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Parliament has established a European political system which is developing its own rationale above and beyond national interests and therefore has a very complex impact on governance in each of the member states. In addition, certain policy areas such as agriculture, regions, research, labour and the environment are either completely (agriculture) or partially "communitized." And policy areas which the EU treaties reserve for the member states or in which supranational powers are only embryonic - such as fiscal, labour and wage, social, education and infrastructural policy - are "increasingly coordinated in intergovernmental negotiations and tailored to the requirements of the integrated economy" (op. cit., p. 9). (Cf. Chapter 2.)

Finally, the initial contours of a European civil society are beginning to emerge (Bach 2000). We can see the European social and political process being debated by such diverse players as parties, management and labour associations, non-governmental organizations and social movements as well as powerful multinational concerns including their think tanks and panels of experts who still enjoy privileged access to European decision-makers.

We can therefore tentatively conclude that the very dynamic and effective integration thrust of the past 20 years has changed the relationship between the economy, society and politics to the extent that the term "European social and political project" has some merit.


1.2 Countercurrents to progressive Europeanization

However, this is only part of the truth. We must not lose sight of the existing countercurrents to Europeanization which constitute a challenge to this characterization and which explain why we are hard put to arrive at a precise modelling of this EU.

The first and most important countercurrent appears to be that the countries cooperating as EU members still exist as sovereign nations with their own national social and political agendas based on differing national balances of power and political alliances (Esser 1999). This "variety of capitalism" (Hall/Soskice 2001) demonstrates the persistence of different patterns in the economy, the welfare state regime, the politico-institutional constellation of political systems, some more central, others more federal, as well as of divergent political cultures within the EU. It is precisely this diversity which provides a counterweight to the convergence momentum fostered by European integration. The centrifugal forces constantly make it difficult to find common responses to current economic, social and political challenges such as recession, high unemployment, increasing social and regional disintegration and scission and environmental pollution. It is also lamented that communitization, intergovernmentalism and renationalization processes are taking place simultaneously (Pfetsch 1997).

The second significant countercurrent is the globalization of the economy, to be precise, the coopting of European enterprise by global capitalism. For one thing, current transnational production, trade and financial ties do not stop at the EU border but are globally oriented and embedded in the mainstream of the international capitalist economy, namely the so-called triad - Japan/Pacific rim, western Europe, United States. "Modern capitalism assumes this configuration as it enters the 21st century and it is therefore necessary to take this triadized capitalism into account if we want to make valid statements about Germany's or Europe's future (Esser 1993a, p. 411; cf. Esser 1993b). It is true that we can refer to this second countercurrent to interpret European integration as an attempt to erect a home-ruled European social and political undertaking within the triad in the context of global competition and thus to ward off U.S. hegemony. At the same time we should bear in mind that this project has thus far progressed so contradictorily because the powerful economic players in Europe are targeting the world market as well as European trade.

Summing up, we can therefore claim that, despite the to date quite successful processes of assimilation and convergence in market and competition policy, political reinforcement of integration toward European federalization is thwarted by the two countercurrents. Nevertheless, European government does operate in a European political system. What that means and how it works is the subject of the following section.


2. The EU as an specific or unique political system


2.1 Europeanization of public functions

We have already stated that Europeanization of public tasks of many kinds is a component of the EU project. The Treaty on European Union, which went into effect on 1 November 1993, cemented the community of European states, forging an overarching edifice of European integration with three pillars. The first pillar consists of all previous measures of the European Community in the domains of economic and monetary policy, the second contains all measures for common foreign and security policy, the third is a reformation of cooperation in particular areas of justice and home affairs. This mandate was further legitimized in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 (Pfetsch 1997; Schmidt 1999). While measures to implement economic and monetary policy are adopted supranationally by the Commission and the Council, i.e. cession of sovereignty by the member states to the communitized policy, policies under the other two pillars are decided on the basis of intergovernmentalism. Thus, a common platform can only be adopted if the majority of members are in favour.

As far as the efficacy of German Länder and municipalities is concerned, the measures taken under the first and third pillars have the strongest impact. Manfred G. Schmidt published a precise list (Schmidt 1999, Table 1, p. 390 f.). Its length suggests that, after the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), communitized policy has a long arm which in the meantime has touched most policy fields and has a firm grip on some (op. cit., p. 388). Schmidt maintains that even more precise measurements of the degree of Europeanization of individual policy areas have demonstrated particular integration advances in the last 50 years in the following sectors: external economic and agricultural policy, regulation of competition and handling of goods and services, regulation of capital transfer, mobility of individuals and labour, as well as monetary and fiscal policy, which were tightly reined in by orientation to the convergence criteria of the Maastricht Treaty and Stability Pact of the EU finance ministers to support the price stability policy of the European Central Bank. According to Schmidt, considerable progress in integration was subsequently made in many areas of economic and labour market policy, e.g. in competition and regional policy, in environmental protection, EU guarantees and industrial safety, the only social policy field with above-average communitization (op. cit.). Schmidt believes that Europeanization is sluggish in foreign and security policy, with the exception of external economic policy. He claims that little has been achieved in the core areas of domestic policy such as criminal law, penal measures and organization of the courts. Schmidt also suggests that the authority of national government in core areas of the welfare state has not been impaired, particularly in the fixtures of social security - old-age pensions, unemployment, illness, accidents and long-term invalid care. The EU is also said to have played hardly any meaningful role in employment policy until now, despite the employment chapter in the Amsterdam Treaty, which has given the EU neither new powers nor additional budgets for employment programmes. Schmidt concludes that employment policy remains predominantly under the autonomous control of the EU member states, with the reservation that the introduction of the euro has confronted the policy with a powerful uniform European monetary policy, further slanting the relationship between monetary and employment policy to the detriment of the latter (op. cit., p. 389).

If we study EU policies for their political and legal repercussions since the Maastricht treaties, we would hardly go wrong in rating the Community as a market liberalization community (Esser et al. 1997; Schmidt 1998; Eising 2000; Tsoukalis 2003) or as a component of the triad's functional free-market transnational bloc (Bieling 2003) based on a neoliberal "New Constitutionalism" (Gill 1998; Holman 2004). These notions reflect the majority conviction that, based on the ideological authority and politico-institutional decision-making power of neoliberalism, the revitalization of the European economy and improvement of its position in the triad-wide international market competition is only possible if the economy, society and politics are comprehensively liberalized, deregulated and flexibilized. Stephen Gill believes this new constitutionalism is an attempt "to separate economic policies from broad political accountability in order to make governments more responsive to the discipline of the market forces and correspondingly less responsive to popular-democratic forces and processes" (Gill 1998, p. 5).

This assessment is corroborated if we refer to the imbalance between "negative" and "positive" integration analysed by Fritz W. Scharpf (1999), categories first propounded by the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen (1965) in classifying the provisions of European regulation and its repercussions on the member states. "Negative integration is elimination of tariffs, of quantitative and qualitative trade restrictions and barriers to competition. Positive integration is defined as exercising economic policies and regulatory authority at the level of the larger economic system. While all negative integration measures should be classified as market creating, positive integration measures may be either market creating, e.g. if various national product standards are "harmonized" to remove existing non-tariff trade barriers, or market correcting, e.g. production-related and local regulations on working conditions and environmental protection. This second distinction marks the ideological boundary between neoliberal and interventionist (e.g. social democratic or Keynesian economists, political parties and interest groups" (Scharpf 1997, p. 49). Neoliberals accentuate negative integration and only accept positive integration if it serves to create markets. The European Commission and the European Court of Justice have nurtured the latter into an extremely effective tool, which has prohibited national restrictions on free exchange of goods, services, capital and labour and eliminated unfair competition. The legitimacy of this market integration policy is legally based on the primacy of the European Treaties which were concluded by all member state governments and ratified by their parliaments. However, as Scharpf reminds us, "the tools of negative integration (…) now also employed to liberalize and privatize a wide range of services and infrastructure provision, which were excluded from market competition in all member states at the time the treaties were signed and for decades afterwards. The substantive legitimacy of this European liberalization of public services, which we Germans like to call Daseinsvorsorge, is ultimately only founded on the authority of European and national legal systems - and on the leeway which these systems grant to jurisprudence which is not checked by democratically elected governments or parliaments" (op. cit., p. 169).

In contrast to this negative integration, efforts to promote positive integration have made little or no headway to date. Most attempts, if made at all, have been blocked in the process of harmonization between members since many of these measures still require unanimity or a qualified majority. We can therefore conclude that European integration creates an inherent imbalance "between a free market policy and a programme fostering social security and equality. Welfare state promotion at the national level is limited by market integration, liberalization and European competition law" (Scharpf 2002a, p. 1).


2.2 Governance in the European multilevel system

So far we have talked about the provisions of public services that have been Europeanized. Now we turn to political consensus-building and decision-making at the European level in the evolution of these functions. Over the last decade this "governance in Europe" has been thoroughly studied and theoretically very controversially assessed in the relevant fields of social science (for an overview see Scharpf 1999; 2002b; Hix 2001; Jachtenfuchs/Kohler-Koch 2003; Tsoukalis 2003: Kohler-Koch et al. 2004).

Despite all the controversy "Governance in the European multilevel system" (Grande 2000; Benz 2003) has been accepted as a useful working concept for this phenomenon. As far as institutions are concerned, consensus-building and decision-making at European level involves regional and local bodies as well as supranational EU organs and national governments. As far as functions are concerned, we have already seen that the European level handles "nearly the entire policy spectrum" (Grande 2000, p. 12). In addressing social issues, the concept suggests that European consensus-building and decision-making features participation of a broad spectrum "of public and private, individual and corporate players which attempt to exert influence on the European political process in any possible way and at any available level" (op. cit).

European multilevel interaction basically denotes various deliberation systems in which participants from European, national, regional and local political institutions try to reach a binding accord with private and non-government players on diverse issues. This type of governance (Benz 2004) on the European stage benefits from the following coordination devices: voluntary, reciprocal stakeholder accommodation on issues, intergovernmental agreements, either unanimous or qualified majority, supranational centralization through the EU channels on the basis of the EU treaties and with the participation of member states, and last but not least political interaction via established negotiation systems between the EU institutions and national governments in policy areas in which the responsibilities of the players are not clearly stipulated by agreements (Scharpf 2002b). Whether political coordination really takes place can only be determined by empirical investigations. However, political science and empirical findings authorize us to conclude that in most cases with no sanctioning (legal or political), regardless of how this may be defined, collective decisions at European level would be doomed. With other words: political decisions need the "shadow of the hierarchy" (Mayntz 1997; Esser 1999; Esser/Schamp 2001).

Investigators heatedly debate the issues of legitimacy and democracy in such deliberations ("kitchen cabinet sessions") which are generally rather untransparent with legally fuzzy rules of procedure, imbalances of power among participants, unequal opportunities for involvement and strategies to exclude poorer organized interests and dissident lobbies. And the least one can say is that this European multilevel governance is encumbered with "1. top-down management with insufficient consultation of citizens, 2. structural undemocratic bias, 3. creation and proliferation of an untransparent civil service and 4. gaps varying from country to country in implementing EU regulations, directives and rulings of the European Court of Justice" (Schmidt 1999, p. 392).(1) Mainstream scholarly literature on the EU's undemocratic slant, epitomized by Fritz W. Scharpf (Scharpf 1999, p. 16-46), so heavily accents technocratic reasoning that the "efficacy" of European governance, i.e. the problem-solving capacity (output democracy) comes out on top and its insufficient anchoring in popular sovereignty (input democracy), whose establishment is also doubted due to the absence of a European people, is shortchanged. German EU membership has thus notoriously aggravated the closed-circle, undemocratic, bureaucratic tendency of real-world politics as opposed to a direct, citizen-oriented form of government" (Schmidt 1999, p. 392). This can also be said for the political involvement of Länder and municipalities guaranteed by Germany's Basic Law.


3. Role of Länder and municipalities in the European multilevel system


3.1 German Länder in the fight against Europeanization

It was not so much German municipalities but rather the German Länder which realized at a very early stage what dangers for their political authority lurked in the new, post-Maastricht dimension of Europeanization. While the Bundesrat, the house representing the Länder, has a veto on federal legislation which impinges on Länder rights, the EU recognizes no veto right for constituent principalities or powers. The federal government gained the upper hand by arguing that the Maastricht accords empowered it to overrule the veto of the Bundesrat for the sole sake of foreign relations and European integration, even though Länder rights are affected. Whenever the federal government decided that certain issues were European matters, the Bundesrat was excluded from making fundamental decisions in these policy areas even if the Länder had to enforce derivative directives and regulations. Since the EU treaties lack a clear definition of the powers of "subdivisions", the legislation which the Bundesrat put its stamp on has been continually eroded by Europeanization (Sturm/Pehle 2001, p. 76 ff.).

Therefore the Länder subsequently made an effort to optimize their say at least domestically through the Bundesrat in European decision-making. They succeeded when the Maastricht Treaty was being ratified by amending the Basic Law with a new Article 23, defined in more detail in the Law on Cooperation of the Federal Government and the Länder in European Union Affairs of 12 March 1993. Article 23 specifies all Länder rights in European policymaking, namely the right to be informed, to express an opinion, to influence policy in the same manner as on domestic legislation, the respect of the opinion of the Bundesrat when exclusive Land rights are at stake and finally the possibility for the Länder to act as Germany's representative instead of the federal government in certain EU deliberations. The organ where the Bundesrat most frequently deliberates European policy is the European Union Committee, not the European Chamber which raised such great expectations (Kilper/Lhotta 1996, p. 215 ff.). An analysis of the work of this committee shows, however, "that fundamental issues take a back seat to problems of 'creeping' Europeanization in particular policy areas" (Sturm/Pehle 2001, p. 84). It views itself less as a "gatekeeper of Länder competences" than as a "forerunner of Europeanization" (op. cit.).

In general, empirical research available at this time on the new European role of the Bundesrat shows that "Europeanization of politics compels the Bundesrat to permanently 'cover its retreat' by forcing the federal government into a frequently hard-to-achieve and often-vague consensus" (op. cit., p. 85). Another conclusion is that the Bundesrat is "one of the losers of the Europeanization of the German political system" (op. cit.). The upper house's approach to European matters is described as reactive and it is said to have contributed few formative initiatives for European integration (Oberländer 2000).

The Bundesrat's limited say is no consolation to the Länder, whose powers have been further restricted by the Europeanization of policymaking. First, EU interventions affect the Länder directly although they have no representation in bodies that adopt the measures. Second, as we have already learned, European institutions, passing further legislation based on the European treaties, have relatively autonomously created a body of secondary European law which is binding on the Länder and severely limits their manoeuvrability. Above all, those European measures which refer to the protection of economic freedoms in the Single European Market are often used by European organs to justify interventions in fundamental Land powers, e.g. in education, the media and cultural promotion (Sturm/Pehle 2001, p. 87). Third, the efforts of the Länder to forge countermeasures against this creeping disempowerment can hardly be called successful. It is true that the formation of the Committee of the Regions (AdR) in 1994 has created an institutionalized lobby for Europe's municipalities and regions. But the AdR only has an advisory capacity and a right to be consulted. Moreover, this committee has no political clout due to the widely diverse regional and local conditions in the membership, which now consists of 25 countries. It is hopelessly outweighed by the institutional power triangle of Council, Commission and Parliament and cannot assert itself as an autonomous lobby for subnational interests (Greenwood 2003). Published accounts of the changed role of regions in European governance "are sobering if one uses a model of additional empowerment of regional authorities in relation to national governments and EG institutions as a yardstick" (Kohler-Koch 1996, p. 212). Investigators rate the capacity of regions to set policies as insignificant or modest. "And whenever their influence is classified as 'great' it is not a matter of politically sensitive, redistributive financial negotiations or of establishing the institutional framework of the European structural policy, but tends to be restricted to subordinate aspects such as programme planning" (op. cit., p. 213).

For this reason it easy to understand why the Länder, like many regional bodies in other member states, try to use other avenues to enter European multilevel policymaking, for example, by creating separate EU departments and EU coordinators in Land cabinets, by establishing their own offices in Brussels or employing other lobbying tactics. The Länder take this route to tap EU resources for their own ends as profitably as possible, to use the EU as a window of opportunity "through which not only funds, but also strategies and legitimacy can be obtained" (Kohler-Koch 1996, p. 215). Naturally these individual attempts to gain a say hamper the development of an autonomous and coherent regional European policy within Germany and, in conjunction with regional lobbies, in other member states. Only large, solvent and prosperous regions can successfully promote their own interests.

Many political scientists apply this assessment to eminent Land domains such as EU regional policy, the classic example of a European multilevel negotiating and decision-making system with the European Commission as the coach and the European Court of Justice as the arbitrator in routine policy (see, for example, Marks 1996; Voelzkow 1999; Knodt 2002). Other observers argue that European regions, including German Länder, occasionally manage to arrange numerous forms of regional cooperation outside the EU institutional system, principally thanks to the INTERREG resources the European Commission approved in 1990. For this reason the strategy of solving common problems through cross-border collaboration is touted as a possible design for constructing a "bottom-up Europe" (Raisch 1995; Miosga 2000). Its proponents have launched slogans such as "institutionalization of a third tier of government in the European multilevel system" (Nitschke 1999) and "parallel institutionalization in European regional policy" (Conzelmann 2002). However, little is known of any chances for implementing such designs.


3.2 Disabled municipalities in the European multilevel system

The Europeanization we have been talking about hits all German municipalities with full force. As far as the issues are concerned, we have to recognize that hardly any policy area remains unaffected by the European "liberalizing, deregulating and privatizing community." Since municipal operations are heavily regulated, they are required to transform many of the EU directives which are designed to foster the erection of the Single European Market. This is the case with trade promotion including municipal construction tendering and real estate sales as well as "for public utilities, water quality and waste management and freedom of competition for architects, attorneys, tax consultants and pharmacists, all independent professions that have long been municipal policy mainstays" (Thränhardt 1999, p.365). It is also true of mass transit, energy and water supply and for business subsidies. These fields, particularly public-service competition law, are areas in which municipalities as the targets of European law and European programmes are obliged to adapt their central decisions to the pressure to privatize or at least to bind their operations more closely to free-market, competition-oriented policies. Equally valid is the assertion that European regulations must be applied "even if they are not transformed by national organs before taking effect" (op. cit.). But even EU regulations on equality and reciprocal recognition of national standards and the opening of borders within the Community complicate municipal administration. "Danish, Spanish and Italian standards have an immediate impact on everyday life in Germany" (op. cit, p. 366).

Municipalities now have to cope with policies and institutions at three, rather than two, superordinate legislative and executive levels. Various planes share responsibilities unsystematically. This has considerably complicated the process of addressing issues, which we have already described as European multilevel interaction and which municipalities must undertake to promote their interests. Towns and cities now need more differentiated lobbying approaches. Their dilemma is aggravated by the fact that municipalities have no direct representation in the European political consensus-building and decision-making process. Thus they can initially only obtain access to the Council-Commission-Parliament power triangle via their Länder or the federal government. Furthermore, the municipalities are subject to rulings of the European Court of Justice like all other EU political units.

The municipalities are left with one strategy, lobbying in various ways, "both with representatives in Brussels and the other capitals and via the European Parliament and inside lobbying in the EU bureaucracy. This applies to individual municipalities and their regional associations as well as leagues of all German and all European towns and cities" (Thränhardt 1999, p. 369; cf. Rechlin 2004, p. 23 ff.). By now municipalities have concluded that such lobbying is vital in the light of the diverse support programmes in the area of European regional policy and have constructed individual promotional channels like the Länder. These include the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (RGRE), the organ of the municipal umbrella organizations in Brussels, and the network of cities. "EUROCITIES" (Schultze 2001).

However, in general, we must conclude that the multifarious, very divergent impact of the European Single Market policy on municipalities makes it extremely difficult for them to fuse their EU political activities into a common platform and even harder to develop a package of joint strategies that address several or all policy areas. This predicament is paradoxical when we consider that it is the municipalities above all who are called upon to bear the brunt of the diverse economic, social, political and cultural integration efforts to erect a European sociopolitical project and that elevated social and political burdens were imposed on towns and cities to pay for this, which continue to encumber them. Local authorities must do all this although no de facto democratic advice and consent in implementing this integration exists at the municipal level and they are always seen by their constituents as executors of programmes which are enacted "somewhere in Brussels" by invisible technocrats and have no local legitimation. As bottom-up organizers of European integration, these executors deserve a strategically central mediatory function in this European multilevel system. Such empowerment would, however, entail construction of their own institutions and procedures, beyond existing EU institutions, to discuss their vital, active, policymaking, and passive, executive roles in European governance and to develop common strategies. Analysts of the municipal-level debate on EU policy agree that towns and cities throughout Europe have not yet been able to assume this mediatory function. This failure makes it all the more important for them to redouble their efforts to construct their own common bottom-up policy of European integration as soon as possible.



(1) The full debate surrounding the structural undemocratic bias of the European Union is beyond the scope of this article, but this issue requires a more profound political hearing than it is getting to explore the opportunities and limits of local democracy in influencing the European multilevel system. The divergent evaluations of political scientists are satisfactorily summarized in Abromeit (2002); Höreth (1999) and Offe (1998). (back)



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