Decoupling practical and legal compliance: Analysis of member states’ implementation of EU policy

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Despite the vast literature on policy implementation, systematic cross‐national research focusing on implementers’ performance regarding different policy issues is still in its infancy. The European Union policies are conducive to examining this relationship in a comparative setting, as the EU member states need to implement various EU directives both legally and in practice. In this study, a first attempt is made to analyse the relationship between legal conformity and practical implementation and the conditions for practical deviations in 27 member states across issues from four policy areas (Internal Market, Environment, Justice and Home Affairs and Social Policy). In line with existing approaches to EU compliance, it is expected that the policy preferences of domestic political elites (‘enforcement’) affect their incentives to ‘decouple’ practical from legal compliance. Instead, administrative and institutional capacities (‘management’) and societal constraints (‘legitimacy’) are likely to limit the ability of policy makers to exert control over the implementation process. The findings suggest that practical deviations arise from policy makers’ inability to steer the implementation process, regardless of their predispositions towards internationally agreed policies. The results have strong implications for the effective application of international rules in domestic settings, as they illustrate that political support for the implementation of ‘external’ policy does not ensure effective implementation in practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2016

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