Migration and health policies in Europe

My most recent research project seeks to shed light on different reactions of a selection of EU member states to the increased numbers of asylum seekers, and migrants more generally, in recent years with regard to health policy. It compares how comprehensively and efficiently the arriving persons’ healthcare could be – and was intended to be – guaranteed in different types of national healthcare systems. This includes a discussion of the motives driving policy-makers’ actions at different levels (European, national, regional, communal) with regard to the adoption and interpretation of health policies under the influence of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. Moreover, this project studies the role played by the involved migrating persons in these processes. Initially, the research project will focus on the cases of Sweden and Germany, but I intend to extend it to further European healthcare and welfare systems in the mid- to long term. 

The institutional evolution of the European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) holds significant powers in today’s European Union. Yet it was not intended to be more than a consultative assembly at the founding of the European Communities in the 1950s. As a result, most scholars have thus far largely ignored the EP’s role in European policy-making processes prior to its significant legislative power gains through the Single European Act (1986) and the Maastricht Treaty (1992). This research project, however, has revealed that the early EP must not be considered a powerless ‘talking shop’. Instead, the EP was much more influential in shaping Community law and policy-making already in the 1950s to 1970s than either the founding Treaties or existing scholarship would allow. Long before the Parliament was assigned formal powers, Members of the EP (MEPs) – delegates from the national parliaments at the time – succeeded in gaining institutional and political influence by interpreting narrow Treaty provisions to their broadest possible extent. Through the MEPs’ supranational-level activism, the EP thus developed gradually but lastingly into a powerful co-legislator even prior to its first direct elections in 1979.

This research project demonstrates that this supranational-level activism was driven first and foremost by MEPs’ shared ideas of ever closer integration, and was facilitated further by the growing willingness of the other Community institutions and member state governments to accept the EP’s increasing involvement. Such growing willingness, in turn, was based on the successful positioning of the EP as the sole guarantor of democratic legitimacy for Community policy-making. Moreover, a range of exogenous developments such as crises, technological and societal developments provided fertile ground for MEPs’ endeavours to promote closer integration and enhance their institution’s influence. Hence, the EP’s gain in formal power from the late 1970s and 1980s was the result, not the beginning, of institutionalisation processes within the EP that eventually led to increasingly formalised and institutionalised parliamentary influence.

The informal construction of Europe

Informal dimensions of European integration have received limited academic attention to date, despite their historical and contemporary importance. Particularly studies in European integration history, while frequently mentioning informal processes, have as yet rarely conceptualised the study of informality in European integration, and thus fail usually to systematically analyse conditions, impact and consequences of informal action. This research project, which I coordinated together with Lennaert van Heumen (Radboud University Nijmegen), shows through both successful and failed examples of informal action how informality has impacted the functioning of the European Communities and later the EU, as well as other European and transatlantic organisations, such as the WEU, the G7 and NATO. In addition to specific case studies which we assembled, we have developed a concise research guide to the study of informality. Reflecting the diversity of studies within this burgeoning field of research, we brought together scholars approaching the informal dimensions of European integration from different disciplinary, methodological and thematic angles.

The activism of EU supranational institutions

While long present in studies of the Court of Justice of the EU, ‘activism’ has rarely been examined systematically in the context of analyses of other supranational institutions. This research project, which I coordinated with Prof. David Howarth (Luxembourg University), brought together scholars from the areas of political science, legal studies and history, who traced in a series of case studies the activism of a wide range of EU supranational institutions in the past and present. Based on our combined research results, we developed a concise definition of ‘supranational institutional activism’, examining its analytical usefulness in relation to other concepts such as ‘entrepreneurship’, and through the lens of a number of political science and EU integration theories and analytical approaches. This new conceptualisation of supranational-level activism can contribute to a more systematic and comprehensive understanding of the contribution of the involved actors to EU policy making and European integration.

With this research project, we did not seek to join the choir of those predicting an unstoppable process of ever closer integration, nor did we aim to depict the development of supranational institutions as an eternal teleological gain of power. The aim here is to offer a correction to the increased academic focus of late on the important role of member state governments in EU policy making, especially in tackling the recent financial, sovereign debt and migration crises, and other difficulties facing the EU. The rise in anti-EU populism, the Brexit vote and the impending UK departure from the EU create a direct challenge to European integration and the role and influence of supranational institutions. However, none of these developments necessarily undermines the reality of ongoing supranational institutional activism. This research project seeks to familiarise scholars with a range of approaches and conceptual tools with which to explore the role of supranational institutions in the EU policy making process.

The development of EU social policy

The EU’s social policy differs in many respects from conventional definitions of (national) social policy, being principally regulatory and to a significant extent governed through soft-law mechanisms, whereas the power to decide upon distribution schemes remains at the member state level. Over the first decades of the European Communities’ existence, decision-making power on almost any aspect of social policy remained firmly in member state government hands. Nevertheless, the Communities’ social dimension expanded significantly already in the 1950s to 1980s, notably through different soft-law mechanisms such as action programmes and recommendations, and through the supranational activism of, amongst others, the Commission, the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament.

This research project studies the emergence of a European social dimension from a sociological institutionalist approach, with a special focus on the ideas influencing actors’ behaviour: the area of social policy provided a stronger ideational dimension than any other Community policy area at the time. Through the promotion of European social policy measures, especially (but not only) the Communities’ supranational institutions sought to present European integration as a project with a palpable positive impact on people’s lives. They hoped thus to increase public support for closer European integration (as well as their own related political actions), and to convince the member states’ citizens that the Communities were more than a mere technocratic, market-oriented construct.

The EU discourse on atypical employment

An increasing number of persons in the EU member states are working in forms of employment that are considered atypical, i.e. occupations without clearly determined employer-employee relations, working hours, working place, wages, social-security coverage, or effective protection by labour law. Particularly since the economic and financial crisis of 2007-2008, and with an increasing digitalisation of the labour markets, new forms of atypical work have evolved, and the number of people working in existing forms of atypical employment grows. This research project analyses how the EU institutions and member states with the highest impact on EU legislation in the field of employment and social policy have come to define atypical work and have attempted to regulate it, and how their notions of atypical work have changed over the last ten years. The project points out the incoherence of these notions, and the resulting inter- and intra-institutional tensions as well as their impact on EU legislation. Based on a large collection of documents, the most important internal and external factors are studied that have an impact on the different understandings of ‘atypical work’ at EU level, and on the involved actors’ connected behaviour.