The Delors’ Myth, or Europeanisation in Numbers

It is a question that became salient again during the European elections; how much of national legislation originates in Brussels. Typically, a high percentage gets thrown around during the debate, as if factual and well-known, but there is little concrete data and certainly not a known percentage, according to the literature.

“in ten years, 80% of the legislation related to economics, maybe also to taxes and social affairs will be of Community origin.”

In a speech in 1988, Jacques Delors made the prediction that “in ten years, 80% of the legislation related to economics, maybe also to taxes and social affairs will be of Community origin.” This is often the figure quoted when the subject comes up, mostly by Eurosceptic politicians trying to emphasise the impact of the EU upon their domestic politics. In academic circles, it has become known as ‘the Delors’ myth’.

However, a study by  CEPS in 2011 concluded that giving a precise EU-wide figure is impossible. The author noted that in case of Bulgaria 29% of all new laws adopted in the first legislative year of the current legislature (2009/2010) originate from the EU, while in Sweden the figure was 23% for 2009. The German Bundesrat considers that about 36% of all laws it adopted between 1980 and 2005 had their source in the EU. In the case of Denmark the figure for 2007 was only 10%, and British calculations suggest that about 15% of the laws adopted there come from the EU during the period 1987-2009.

‘The Europeanisation of Domestic Legislatures: The Empirical Implications of the Delors’ Myth in Nine Countries’, Brouard, Sylvain, Costa, Olivier and König, Thomas (ed.) (2012), tested the Delors myth through comparative analysis of the Europeanisation process during the period 1986-2008, focusing on case studies of eight Member States and Switzerland. The study concluded that Europeanisation of national legislation is limited to 10 to 30% of laws.

Annette Elisabeth Töller, on the LSE blog, pointed out that such assessments have always been used for political purposes, and that studies in this area are often far from providing a reliable picture.

She reviewed the research on Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark, and concluded that these studies showed rather low shares of Europeanised national legislation: 15.5% for the UK, 14% for Denmark, 10.6% for Austria, between 3% and 27% for France, between 1% and 24% for Finland, and around 39% for Germany.

Her research on the methods used for measuring the Europeanisation of national legislation revealed a lack of unified methods and measures. As concluded by the author “not only do they display some flaws in how they measure the Europeanisation of legislation, but the results of these diverse studies are by no means comparable.”

What’s more, she argues that these figures can tell us very little about the impact of EU-policy-making as it depends on the particular policy field. Therefore, the statistical approach should be further extended and incorporate a more qualitative evaluation of the effect of EU output, yet still capable of providing a comparable analytical tool across various Member States and different policy areas.

However, as argued by Töller in 2010 in the Journal of Common Market Studies, ‘there is a need for a method to measure quantitatively the Europeanisation of national public policies, meaning the scope and extent to which national policies are shaped by European law and policy’.

A study by the British House of Commons Library came to the similar, rather uncomfortable conclusion that the number of laws based on EU laws ranged from 6% to 84% in different Member States; in other words, it all depends on how you calculate, and no, there is not a single handy figure for politicians to quote in soundbites. Meanwhile, the querelle on that by-now old remark by Delors is but a side-product of a more respectable line of enquiry in EU studies, that of Europeanisation. But this is for a future post…

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