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Analysing the complexity of European policy A large body of European Union regulations and directives has accumulated over time, which is regularly added to with new proposals, while the content of policy is itself growing increasingly complex. The question then arises of how these proposals can be processed and implemented efficiently, a topic at the heart of Dr Steffen Hurka’s research. The policy issues

that the European Union deals with have become progressively more complex over recent decades, as the organisation has expanded and assumed responsibility for a wider range of regulations. New proposals are being added to an already dense web of existing law, raising important questions about the functioning of political institutions. “How can these complex legal proposals be processed efficiently by existing political institutions?” asks Dr Steffen Hurka, an Assistant Professor of Politics based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU)

EUPLEX Coping with Policy Complexity in the European Union Dr Steffen Hurka Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich Geschwister-Scholl-Institute of Political Science Chair of Empirical Theory of Politics Oettingenstraße 67, 80538 Munich E: W: T: +49 (0) 89 2180 9038

Steffen Hurka is an assistant professor of political science at LMU Munich. He earned his doctoral degree at the University of Konstanz in 2015. Hurka’s work mainly focuses on the legislative organization of the European Parliament and the dynamics of policy-making, both in the EU and at the national level.


in Munich. This question is at the heart of Dr Hurka’s work as the Principal Investigator of the EUPLEX project, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). “We’re interested in how the complexity of a policy proposal changes, once the European Commission has introduced it into the legislative process. How strongly do different EU institutions contribute to the complexity of EU law?” he outlines. A large data-set of different pieces of legislation from between 2004-2019 is being assembled within the project, which will provide the foundation for Dr Hurka and his colleagues to draw comparisons between different EU regulations and directives, covering a wide range of areas. The legislative process in the EU is described by what is

interacts with existing laws, adding up to a complex picture. “Once you propose a new policy, that policy interacts with an increasing amount of already existing policies. So, we suspect that the amount of policy complexity has increased markedly over time,” outlines Dr Hurka. This is not necessarily a problem, as to some extent policy complexity is the result of technological and societal progress. “As societies progress, they make more complex legislation. The question is, do our political institutions match this? We aim to identify the optimal degree of policy complexity. So, the amount of complexity at which the political system functions as efficiently as possible,” continues Dr Hurka. This research is ongoing, with Dr Hurka and

We’re interested in how the complexity of a policy proposal changes, once the European Commission has introduced it into the legislative process. called the ordinary legislative procedure, which is the focus of Dr Hurka’s research. “Usually the European Commission makes a policy proposal, then sends it to the European Parliament and the Council. These two institutions then negotiate with each other on amendments to the proposal, then they either adopt it or reject it,” he explains. The proposal itself may be extremely complex in nature, often relating to the integrity of the single market and the harmonisation of standards. “We’re looking at the question of how this complexity affects the political process, and the nature of negotiations,” says Dr Hurka. The European Commission itself is a vast bureaucracy home to great knowledge and technical expertise, yet its proposals must be passed by the Parliament and the Council before they become law. A new policy also

his colleagues currently working on a paper on how the complexity of the Commission’s proposals affect the length of negotiations in the EU. Researchers have found that different types of complexity have very different effects on the efficiency of the legislative procedure, which could hold importance in terms of how institutions function. “When the EC produces a certain policy proposal, we can make a good estimate of how long the negotiations will take,” explains Dr Hurka. In the longterm this could help to improve efficiency and strengthen the democratic legitimacy of European institutions. “Institutions are better able to organise their resources once they know how complex a certain proposal is. That should enable European institutions – the Parliament, Commission and the Council – to organise themselves better,” says Dr Hurka.

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