Devolved administrations play a greater role in influencing European policies

02/07/05

The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales (and Northern Ireland) have already established a strong bargaining position for their territorial interests in the development of European policy, particularly in agriculture, which is likely to affect how the United Kingdom handles issues such as rural policy and Common Agricultural Policy reform in the future.

This is one of the key findings in a new study by researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Their research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through its Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme.

The UK government is responsible for all EU policy, and the extent to which they involve the regions and territories is still decided centrally. Each devolved administration has an office in Brussels, as does each English region, where they lobby for their own interests and work with the UK's Permanent Representative to the European Union.

"What has happened since devolution is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have acquired greater policy-making resources of their own and a clearer sense of priorities with which to influence EU policy in their territorial interest," explains Martin Burch, Professor of Government at the University of Manchester.

"But they may also find themselves at a disadvantage in that their civil servants are somewhat more outside the informal Whitehall network which has an important role to play in UK policy formation. However, while the Scottish and Welsh offices always had full access to the Whitehall network in the past, it is doubtful that they had the resources or priorities to make full use of it."

Nevertheless, the devolved administrations are better placed in these new arrangements than English Regional Assemblies and Development Agencies. "We have found growing concern with European issues in the RDAs and the Assemblies" adds Prof Burch.

"This is particularly true over EU structural funds, which support regional development, but it is also increasingly the case with rural and trade policies. However, most English regions have far less impact in Brussels than the better resourced offices set up by the devolved administrations. And, at home, they find themselves having to lobby Whitehall to influence the UK's approach to EU issues, too."

In place of the old Whitehall network, the researchers found that four new networks of influence had developed:

  • A formal, exclusive Whitehall network, as before
  • An evolving network between the devolved administrations and Whitehall
  • A network between the devolved administrations, without Whitehall
  • A more diverse network linked to the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels

    Devolution has started to change the details of the UK's EU policy, and its influence is likely to increase. "It takes time for policies to change," adds Prof Burch. "There have already been changes in agricultural and rural policies, reflecting the interests of the devolved administrations, and there has been some input to environmental and fisheries policies. So far, such examples are limited, but they are likely to increase, and this could have a significant impact on the UK's approach to the Common Agricultural Policy and on rural development policy. "

    There has, however, been little sign of any change in the assumptions and values underlying European policy at a UK-wide or devolved level, though this may reflect the fact that Labour dominates in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff.

    "The current relationships reflect the fact that the administrations share a broadly similar approach to the European Union, and that, as a result the UK government seems happy to allow the devolved administrations to have the input they do," concludes Prof Burch. "But what happens if there are changes in the parties in power in some of the parliaments and assemblies, and that trust starts to break down? That could prove a real test of the strength of the relationships between the devolved administrations, Whitehall and Brussels."

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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