Against the odds. The Open Method of Coordination as a selective amplifier for reforming Belgian pension policies

Bart Vanhercke


Tackling pensions' problems means engaging with what Pierson (2001) has called 'immovable objects'. Additionally, the EU competence for drafting specific legislation in this area remains unfulfilled potential, while EU legislation in other policy areas creates indirect pressures on national pension policies. Under such circumstances it seems that the room for an effective European intervention in the domain is limited, especially for "soft" modes of governance such as the Open Method of Coordination on Social Protection and Social Inclusion (SPSI). The pension's strand of the SPSI OMC is often referred to in academic writings as a bureaucratic nightmare which only involves experts and technocrats, even if some cognitive effects have been acknowledged. I take issue against the view of the OMC as mere window dressing. This chapter argues that OMC is "effective" in that it provides opportunities to create policy windows of opportunity which EU and national policymakers use in their efforts to discuss, manage and reform pension systems. Building on John Kingdon's (1995) theoretical framework and applying it to both the EU level and the (most likely) case of Belgium, I conclude that the pension OMC influences, against the odds, three core streams of the policy formation process. First, OMC influences the acceptance of compelling problems so that decision makers pay serious attention to them; secondly, OMC brings about changes in the political stream; and thirdly OMC makes certain ideas 'take hold and grow', so that they matter (more) in the policy soup. The core mechanisms through which OMC operates are puzzling, through deliberate learning and de facto socialization, and powering, through usage of the OMC architecture and peer pressure as a result of comparisons with others.


open coordination; social policy; soft law; European social model; trade unions; participation; agenda-setting; governance; ideas; Europeanization; policy learning; benchmarking; Belgium; political science

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