Blog Political Science and Public Administration

Jacint Jordana (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Andrea Noferini (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)


European cohesion policy has triggered the Europeanization of domestic regional policy across EU member states. From the introduction in the 1988 reform of Structural Funds of the partnership principle until the recent regulation for 2014-2020 Cohesion policy, this new policymaking architecture is today framed under the multi-level governance perspective. In public policy terms, multi-level governance environments contemplates administrative and political processes whereby public authorities and social actors work out strategic development plans, define operational programs and monitor their implementation in special committees, on the basis of participatory and consensual policymaking procedures. 


By focusing on the policy process stemming from European cohesion policy at the regional level and at its programming stage (which precedes the implementation phase), the article aims to explain how the formally introduced EU ‘partnership’ principle and rules work in practice in different political environments. In this article we demonstrate that the EU partnership principle, as a set of formal rules, does not always work in practice as expected. Our point is that the principle of partnership may be seen not as a one-size governance device but as an institutional incentive that, under certain social capital conditions, improves cooperative links between public and non-public actors within the regional arena. We found, indeed, that only when the actors involved share a certain level of trust does it produce and reinforce the expected pluralist and deliberative contexts for decision-making. In fact, EU partnership rules contribute to making policymaking more transparent and better procedurally organized by essentially sorting out the social capital resources already possessed by public and private actors involved in the policy network. 


This suggests that investing in the creation of social capital for regional elites might significantly improve the current EU institutional design of regional policy. More generally, we argue that partnership designs that provide stronger incentives for political and social elites to build their own social capital resources could make the implementation of decentralized regional policies more effective.


Relying on social network analysis as its main methodological tool, the article presents empirical evidence drawn from two Spanish regions, expecting to compare two most-similar cases. We employ the concept of policy network to refer to a structure or complex of actors and organizations that are connected by relations of interdependence and that involve authorities from different levels of government as well as non-public actors. We have chosen Galicia and Murcia, both regions qualified as ‘Objective 1’ since the beginning of the European cohesion policy, which show quite similar levels of socioeconomic development. However, this apparent similarity between the European cohesion policymaking processes in the two regions, should not mask the fact that the partnership principle works differently in each case. Whereas most respondents in Murcia considered social organizations and interest groups to be influential, in Galicia more than half of respondents considered such organizations to have hardly any influence in the decision-making process. In addition, especially in Galicia, some actors complained that participation is basically rhetorical (that is, it is of a merely consultative nature), while decision-making power remains concentrated in the hands of regional governments. These opinions appear to be quite consistent with the features of the policy networks observed in each region and, moreover, with the characteristics of social capital found among regional policy actors.