Polanyi in Brussels as a Consumer

Katinka Clausdatter Worsøe

Student thesis: Master thesis


This master thesis challenges the neo-pluralist claim that business interests are privileged in interest mediation. Applying a neo-polanyian framework, it is shown that the Commission is in the process of re-embedding the single market at EU level. Whereas the earlier applications of Polanyi in Brussels have been focused on social policy and the rulings of the ECJ (most prominently Caporaso and Tarrow,2009), in this thesis Block’s neo-polanyian framework (2007), which emphasises the importance of mediation in the process of embedding, will be applied to consumer policy. It is argued, that consumer policy can be seen as a branch of social policy, and forms an important part of the institutions embedding role. Hence it is held, that the Commission can contribute to re-embedding the single market at EU level by mediating successfully between the interests in the field of consumer policy, which at the same time will increase its legitimacy. In this connection, successful mediation is defined as mediation where influence becomes independent of power. Whether the Commission has been able to mediate successfully is tested on the formulation of the proposals on contract rules for online sales published by the Commission 9th of December 2015. Although it is recognized, that the European Parliament has gained strength after the Treaty of Lisbon, and that the Council is an important co-legislator, the focus is on the Commission’s mediation in the early policy formation phase. This phase is non-transparent and not well researched, even though it is a general rule among lobbyists, that it is vital to represent interests as early as possible (Interview1;Interview2;Interview4; van Schendelen,2002; Dür,2008). By testing the hypothesis in this phase, it is tested in an environment, where it according to neo-pluralists should be least likely to be confirmed. To test the mediation capacity of the Commission a two dimensional analytical space is developed, which resembles the double mediation pressure the Commission is performing under. On the one axis the level of re-embeddedness in EU law is measured, reflecting the different types of cooperation forms, and thereby the classical European integration debate. On the second axis the level of consumer protection is measured, reflecting the different “Varieties of Consumerism” and consumer conceptions the actors advocate for. In this space the relevant business and Polanyi(in(Brussels(as(a(Consumer(( ( Katinka(Clausdatter(Worsøe( 2016( ( Page 3 of 140( consumer actors is mapped. Within this landscape of interests, the development of the Commission’s proposals is traced by mapping the Commission at three point in time, corresponding to the dates, where the Commission presented draft proposals to the stakeholder group. This analysis yields the interesting findings that consumer interests have, overall and on three out of four legal rights, been at least as influential as business interests. It is thereby concluded, that the Commission has performed a successful mediation, and the long-standing assumption that business interests are privileged is challenged in the field of consumer policy. Reinterpreting Fuchs’ (2007) definitions of power, this puzzling finding is explained. It is argued, that the rise of behavioural economics has increased the consumer actors’ ability to provide information of value to the Commission, whereby their instrumental power has been raised. Furthermore, it is underlined, that consumers are structurally important to the EU economy, as it is demand and consumption driven. Hence structural power is not exclusive to businesses as often argued. Finally, it is shown, that the consumer organisations in Brussels, focusing on the financial and numerical superiority of the business lobby, have been effective in shaping a discourse, where they are seen as the weak party. As consumers are voters, and the Commission is aware, that its proposals need backing from the (directly) elected EP and Council, this discourse is severely constraining the Commission’s ability to side with businesses and gives consumers significant discursive powers. Overall, this means that consumers and businesses start out at a more even level of power than traditionally assumed, which eases the Commission’s task of performing successful mediation. Finally it is argued, that the Commission’s ability to perform successful mediation and the use of a broad stakeholder group throughout the entire policy formulation process has increased its input and throughput legitimacy, by insuring support for its action in the field from both consumer representatives and business representatives. Nevertheless, it should not be disregarded, that the member states still have different Varieties of Consumerism, and that some national embedding forces have been trumped during this process. There is therefore a limit to how long the re-embedding at EU level can go. It is going to be interesting to see, if this limit has been crossed by these proposals, or if they will pass EP and Council.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages140