The policisation of EU Energy Policy: Instances of Instrumental Re-framing by the European Commission

Ciambra, Andrea (2013) The policisation of EU Energy Policy: Instances of Instrumental Re-framing by the European Commission. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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Over the last fifteen years, the energy policy of the European Union (EU) has changed significantly. It has become more cooperative and integrated across the borders of EU Member States and less preoccupied with the state-centred discourse of energy-supply security. The European Commission, in particular, has policised EU energy policy by re-framing it as a complex patchwork of many energy-related policy interventions. This shift took place in the aftermath of several critical events that affected Europe’s energy supply and jeopardised its energy security. Energy policisation occurred, in other words, when it was reasonable for EU Member States to securitise rather than integrate their energy policies. The core research question of this thesis addresses this apparent paradox: to what extent has EU energy policy become more integrated, and why has this change occurred when it was least expected? This study argues that the shift towards energy policisation has been discursive. The European Commission has been able to harness unprecedented windows of opportunity created by recent crises to re-frame energy policy according to its overarching understanding of EU integration and public policy-making. The Commission has promoted—for over forty years—a vision of energy policy that spans energy security, market competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and energy efficiency. Based on a bibliometric test, this thesis identifies the type of discursive ‘vehicles’ used by the Commission to diffuse its policy ideas and create consensus about its policy agenda. This thesis also argues that the Commission has been able to use diverse discursive tactics to challenge the prevailing energy policy narrative of the Member States and drive the policy-making process towards more integration. The two case studies analyse two instances of instrumental energy policisation. The case of the wind-power offshore grid projects developed in the North Sea during the last decade shows how the Commission managed to socialise other energy policy stakeholders into its own policy agenda and urge national governments to adopt a more integrated perspective on the issue at stake. The case of the Energy Efficiency Directive negotiations, ended successfully in late 2012, shows that the Commission has also been able to challenge the governments’ state-centred discourse more ‘frontally’. The Commission re-told the story of EU-wide energy cooperation as being so necessary as to force Member States to back away from their resolve, approve the Directive, and accept the binding constraints it contains. Ultimately, this thesis tells a story of continuity and change in EU energy policy. There has been continuity in the decades-long Commission’s advocacy for a more complex and integrated EU energy policy and in its guiding belief that public policy in Europe is, under all circumstances, best made at the EU rather than at the national level. There has been change in the sudden and unpredictable effect that crisis and shocks have had on the preferences of policy actors. By telling a story of variation in EU energy policy and successful discursive re-framing by the Commission, this thesis contributes to the on-going debate on the impact of non-material factors such as ideas, meaning, goals, and visions on the outcomes of policy-making. By combining bibliometric, process-tracing, and discourse analysis techniques, this thesis has sought to provide a more reliable and replicable operationalisation of ideational elements and has expanded the prospective agenda for more cross-policy research in EU studies and public policy analysis.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:International Studies
PhD Cycle:XXV
Subjects:Area 14 - Scienze politiche e sociali > SPS/04 SCIENZA POLITICA
Repository Staff approval on:14 May 2013 11:42

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