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Analyzing EU Development Policy


S. Vanhoonacker, Group 2

F. Arab

Pigeonhole 537

Date: 23.11.08

Version: final

F. Arab



1. Introduction


2. Explaining and Applying Relevant Policy Theories


3. Conclusion




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1. Introduction

All our efforts to defeat poverty and pursue sustainable development will be in vain if environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated.

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, Nairobi, 14 July 2005

Today numerous policy theories exist, intended to shed light on the complex phenomenon of

policy making. Such theories are best defined as theoretical approaches, seeking to help

analyze and understand policy 1 . Adding to the complexity of the policy process is the sheer

amount of actors involved in it, ranging from individuals to governmental organizations. This

shifts even more purpose to such theories which essentially help make sense of what might

otherwise seem chaotic and complex.

This paper focuses on utilizing theoretical approaches in order to analyze the European

development policy thereby exposing advantages, disadvantages, opportunities and

limitations of employed theoretical approaches. European development policy is best defined

by the collective efforts of the members and institutions of the European Union to eradicate

poverty in developing countries through the promotion of sustainable development while

working towards the Millennium Development Goals.

2. Explaining and Applying Relevant Policy Theories

In this section the policy theories relevant for analyzing European development policy shall

be presented briefly allowing for a valid evaluation after their application to the European

development policy.

The theories of power focus on the power structure and exercise of power in society

and in the political system. Hence, theories of power focus on detecting concentrations and

dispersions of power. Particularly interesting in this context is the pluralist approach, which

assumes that there is a certain group of people, employed by the government, representing the

population as a whole. Robert Dahl, one of the most famous supporters of this view, favors

pluralism due to the reason that it it is a system in which “no group is without power to

influence decision-making, and equally, no group is dominant” (Hill, 2005, S. 29).

1 Policy: “A definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions.” (MDK12, 2008)

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In other words, according to the pluralist approach, each group has power to a certain extent while at the same time only a limited number of people is able to exert their power over certain key issues. Hence, while there is no equal distribution of power, it is nevertheless generously distributed amongst individuals.

Applying the pluralist theory to the European development policy reveals the importance of equal power distribution amongst the parties involved in achieving the common goal of aiding LDC’s to develop. Furthermore, as pluralist theory argues, a large number of actors are involved in shaping the final policy outcome. In the case of the European development policy those actors involved range from multinationals to environmentalists. Having mentioned the involvement of such diverse parties, the point made regarding power distribution comes in again: it is quite possible that in such a maze of different interest groups, certain parties are largely neglected. Stronger parties, as mentioned above, having the say about key issues, may in extreme cases even decide to exclude certain pressure groups. Of course the pluralist theory has limitations and disadvantages. One major drawback for example is the fact that the pluralist theorists deny the possibility of power being exercised in a disguised manner, dominating certain spheres, while influencing (or even manipulating) the behaviour and interests of certain groups.

The institutional theory on the other hand lends institutions a central role, while identifying them to be directly involved in the policy making process, including its result. An important point regarding this theory is that it merely provides policies with an appropriate framework, thereby defining the structure of a certain policy. Hence, it is not able to foresee the outcome of such a policy. Outcomes may be modified due to the fact that frameworks, established by institutions, are generally prone to externally emerging dynamics. This may explain the continuous alteration of the set of rules established by institutions. Therefore, due to the “garbage can model”, it is rather difficult to draw generalizations. This model “only allows for a description of what is happening; each event requires a new, individual description” (Hill, 2005, S. 90). Furthermore, international organizations like the UN are closely linked to the institutional theory via “policy transfer”. It implies how suggestions and ideas may originate outside the European institutions and then be transferred via this process into solid actions or an intervening factor, influencing final outcomes.

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Applying the institutional theory to the European development policy helps understand the role and actions of the involved institutions. As already mentioned in the introduction, next to the member states, European institutions play a major role in the European development policy. In this context the Commission plays a specifically important role as it is responsible for linking the Community’s development aid efforts with development programs already in motions within other member states (European Commission, 2005). Furthermore the institutional theory applies due to the fact that Article 179 (1) EC gives the Council and the European Parliament the right to employ co-decision procedure in the pursuit of European development policy related goals, as they are outlined in Article 177 EC. Article 179 (2) EC on the other hand includes the European Investment Bank as another actor from the institutional field. Hence, it is safe to conclude that institutions play a significant role within the European development policy, and that the institutional theory definitely applies. However, there are limitations disadvantages to the institutional theory. One of them is the fact that it is unable to predict the outcomes of policies. It only provides the mere framework, uncovering explanations related to the relationship between institutions and the policy making process and its result. Therefore the “garbage can model”, as outlined above, already implies the drawback that no generalization can be drawn due to the unique set of circumstances applying to each situation. Being unable to draw generalizations makes analysis difficult, requiring more original research in order to reach valid conclusions. Finally, rules prescribed by institutions cannot be considered stable as they are highly prone to change due to external factors rendering them ultimately unreliable.

Directly related to the pluralist theory is the rational choice theory, which focuses on explaining how rational behavior of individuals may determine collective processes and decisions thereby modeling economic and social behavior. Next to being the central paradigm in microeconomics, it also has a vital role in modern political science. The theory takes into account stable preference functions and constrains faced by individuals. Based on this, it is assumes that individuals choose the best action available to them. Limitations of the rational choice theory include the lack of empirical data, disregard of inequalities of power and the argument of it being a self-fulfilling prophecy (Hill, 2005).

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Once again, applying the rational choice theory to the European development policy reveals how it is possible that within the policy process it is possible that certain actors act on behalf of certain economic interest. For example, politicians might seek to acquire power by assuring certain economic benefits, which quite often are not necessarily beneficial for actors not involved (speaking of externalities in that sense). Another point applicable to the European development policy is the way in which policy decisions are made: the rational choice theory seeks to explain such a decision process in similar terms as it does in order to explain market choices. As Hill put it in familiar economic terms: “public bureaucracies tend to be monopoly providers of goods and services” (Hill, 2005, S. 58) Common criticism of the rational choice theory include the fact that it is often a self- fulfilling prophecy and that is does not take into account unequal power distributions. Furthermore, while each actor, from Commission to Member States, is acting rationally, very diverse interests emerge. In this context a common denominator needs to be determined in order for cooperation to work smoothly.



In conclusion it can be said that all theories mentioned do apply to the European development policy in one way or another. It would not be correct to exclude one of the theories, or simply regard one of them as irrelevant, since they are all related to a certain extent. In fact, they oftentimes complement each other going hand in hand while explaining the complex policy process and dynamics of the European development policy.

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European Commission. (2005, January 07). Europa.eu. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from http://ec.europa.eu/development/icenter/repository/Issues_Paper_EN.pdf

Hill, M. (2005). The Public Policy Process. London: Pearson Longman.

MDK12. (2008, June 18). School Improvement in Maryland. Retrieved Novemeber 22, 2008, from http://mdk12.org/instruction/ensure/MMSR/social_studies/glossary.shtml

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