Speaking with forked tongues - Swedish public administration and the European employment strategy

Åsa Casula Vifell


The aim of this paper is to understand how decision making processes within the EU comes to affect the structures for national policy making within the employment field. The paper addresses the question of how the process of writing new employment guidelines for the EES – European employment strategy, has affected the work of the Swedish public administration. Through applying a neo-institutionalist perspective, it contributes to the understanding of effects that the increased embededness of states, often characterized as Europeanization, invoke on national administrations. I argue that the way the process has been managed can be analyzed from an organizational perspective where conflicting demands on the Swedish state has led to a certain organization of the work activities. On the one hand, Swedish representatives have to act according to the norms of the European cooperation in order to be seen as a legitimate actor. On the other hand, EU and European influence on Swedish employment policy is not a legitimate concept at national level. In order to satisfy these two seemingly incompatible demands the organizing principle of decoupling is being used to create space for maneuvering for the administration. However, through participation at EU-level organizational identities are partly transformed which in time leads to a situation where changed practices are not met by changes in formal structures. As a consequence the Swedish representatives are in a manner ‘speaking with forked tongue’ and obscuring the new way in which policy making is conducted thus introducing democratic shortcomings in terms of transparency and accountability.


administrative adaptation; public administration; open coordination; organisation theory; Europeanisation;legitimacy; sociological institutionalism; employment policy; soft law; Sweden

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