The article, “The Strategic Nature of Compliance: An Empirical Evaluation of Law Implementation in the Central Monitoring System of the European Union,” by Thomas König and Lars Mäder, appears in the January 2014 issue of the AJPS. Here, Thomas König provides a summary of its content:
How does a central monitoring agency affect compliance in a multilevel system of governance, in which the lower level actors must implement the policy goals decided at the higher level? Do these implementers strategically anticipate the ability and willingness of this agency to enforce compliance? And what about the agency’s enforcement decision – does it strategically anticipate enforcement success and sanctioning costs? Using the example of the European Commission for a central monitoring agency, our study models and tests the strategic interaction in the compliance game of the European Union.
The member countries of the European Union are obliged to implement the policy goals of directives in a correct and timely manner, which is monitored and can, in case of non-compliance, be enforced by the European Commission. Even though this process establishes several interdependent implementation and enforcement decisions, the previous literature has studied separately the implementation from the enforcement stage. In a strategic game, however, the decision to implement can also be influenced by the anticipated decision to enforce compliance, which we thus integrate into a single strategic compliance model. This model postulates that a compliance conflict is determined by the probabilities for enforcement success and costs of sanctioning, which is statistically confirmed by our structural estimation model.
Although the central monitoring system of the European Union is praised for effectiveness, our findings reveal that the monitoring agency refrains from enforcing compliance when the probability of success is low and the sanctioning costs are high – promoting the outcome of a compliance deficit. The European Commission accordingly preselects non-compliance and only takes action against non-complying countries in situations, in which the probability of an enforcement success is high and/or the costs of sanctions are low. This finding might also explain a well-known puzzle in compliance research, according to which the European Commission is almost always successful in front of a court.