Multi-level governance

Multi-level governance

Multi-level governance is a public administration theory that originated from studies on European integration. The authors Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks were the first to develop the concept of multi-level governance in the early 1990s. Their theory resulted from the study of the new structures that were put in place by the EU (Maastricht Treaty) in 1992. Multi-level governance gives expression to the idea that there are many interacting authority structures at work in the emergent global political economy. It illuminates the intimate entanglement between the domestic and international levels of authority.


Multi-level governance and the European Union

The study of the European Union has been characterized by two different theoretical phases. The first phase was dominated by studies from the field of international relations; in the second phase these studies were revised and insights from among others, public policy were added. The most straightforward way of understanding this theoretical shift is to see it as a move away from treating the EU as an international organisation similar to others (e.g. NATO) to seeing it as something unique among international organisations. The uniqueness of the EU relates both to the nature and to the extent of its development. This means that in some areas of activity the EU displays more properties related to national political systems than to those of international organisations.

The theory of Multi-level governance belongs to the second phase. Multi-level governance characterizes the changing relationships between actors situated at different territorial levels, both from the public and the private sectors. The multi-level governance theory crosses the traditionally separate domains of domestic and international politics and highlights the increasingly fading distinction between these domains in the context of European integration. Multi-level governance was first developed from a study of EU policy and then applied to EU decision-making more generally. An early explanation referred to multi-level governance as a system of continuous negotiation among nested governments at several territorial tiers[1] and described how supranational, national, regional, and local governments are enmeshed in territorially overarching policy networks.[2] The theory emphasized both the increasingly frequent and complex interactions between governmental actors and the increasingly important dimension of non-state actors that are mobilized in cohesion policy-making and in the EU policy more generally. As such, multi-level governance raised new and important questions about the role, power and authority of states.

No other international form of cooperation is characterized by such far-reaching integration as the European Union. This becomes evident by the number and scope of policy areas covered by the European Union and the way policy is developed. The European Union can be characterised by a mix of classic intergovernmental cooperation between sovereign states and far-reaching supranational integration.

The combination of communal decision-making with the wide area of policy areas results in a deep entanglement of the member states’ national policy levels with the European policy level. This entanglement is one of the basic principles of the Multi-level governance theory. The multi-level governance theory describes the European Union as a political system with interconnected institutions that exist at multiple levels and that have unique policy features. The European Union is a political system with a European layer (European Commission, European Council and European Parliament), a National layer and a Regional layer. These layers interact with each other in two ways: first, across different levels of government (vertical dimension) and second, with other relevant actors within the same level (horizontal dimension).

Vertical and horizontal dimension of multi-level governance

The “vertical” dimension refers to the linkages between higher and lower levels of government, including their institutional, financial, and informational aspects. Here, local capacity building and incentives for effectiveness of sub national levels of government are crucial issues for improving the quality and coherence of public policy.

The "horizontal" dimension refers to co-operation arrangements between regions or between municipalities. These agreements are increasingly common as a means by which to improve the effectiveness of local public service delivery and implementation of development strategies.

Criticism on multi-level governance theory

Many of the problems associated with multi-level governance revolve around the notion of levels. The very idea of levels and levels of analysis is imbued with hierarchical implications. However, different levels or social spaces often interact or cut across with one another in complex ways that are not strictly hierarchical. To what extent can 'levels' be identified at all? The notion that international bodies constitute a discrete level of authority and governance is contestable. International regulatory networks may not be separate sources of authority but instead represent the reconstitution of state authority and the pursuit of state-level governance by other means. While territorial levels make sense when we are referring to public forms of authority, they seem less compatible with private and market forms of authority.

Another criticism on the theory of multi-level governance is that it's not really a proper theory, rather that it is an approach. The main difference between multi-level governance and other theories of integration is that it gets rid of the continuum or grey area between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism and leaves in its place a descriptive structure. This theory does not address the sovereignty of states directly, but instead simply says that a multi-level structure is being created by subnational and supranational actors. One of the main questions of integration theory, namely, the transfer of loyalty and sovereignty between national and supranational entities and the future of this relationship in the EU is not specifically addressed in this theory.

The identification of partial political measures and general macroeconomics is divided on diverse decisional levels. National governments maintain an important decisional role but the control unlocalizes at supranational level. Individual national sovereignty is dilated in this decisional process and the supranational institutions have an autonomic role.

Multi-level governance of climate change in cities

Global climate change is being contributed to by ever increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions emanating from decisions and activities of individuals and organisations at local, regional, national and international levels [3]. Cities are suggested to contribute up to 75% of global carbon dioxide emissions, reflecting the increasing proportions of global populations living and working in cities [4]. As we know, tackling climate change is an extensive, time-consuming and costly task, a task that cannot be achieved solely through the policy implementation and regulation from central governments and bodies alone. It has become increasingly clear that nation-states will be unable to commit to and meet international targets and agreements for offsetting climate change without engaging with the activity of sub-national and local action [5]. Hereby, warranting the extreme importance of multi-level governance of climate change within cities.

Forms of governance at multi-levels have taken off increasingly at the local scale, building upon the notion of ‘think global, act local’, in cities in particular. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stem from certain activities that originate from specific places, bringing about thought that the local scale is the most appropriate political scale to produce necessary offsets in emissions[6]. Cities are exemplary of such specific places in which local governance action can and will help reduce GHG emissions. The levels of governance authority handed down to local governments within cities has been perceived to out-do policy goals within the national and international arena [7], with some local governments taking on their own initiatives for tackling urban climate change. This sets an important stance to which the local scale of multi-level governance is important for tackling global climate change within the urban arena.

Four distinct modes of governance exist within the dynamics of climate change in cities. Each stems from the local level with the ability of being implemented on multi-scales to mitigate and adapt to urban climate change. Self-governing is the capacity of local governments to govern its own activities [8] such as improving energy efficiency within a designated city, without the burdening pressure to meet targets of increased energy efficiencies set by national governments. A form of self-governing within multi-level systems is horizontal collaboration where cities may collaborate with regions demonstrating multi-levels of governance to tackle urban climate change[9], imperative to the success of city climate change policy. Governing through enabling is the co-ordination and facilitation of partnerships with private organisations by the local government [10]. National governments also implement this mode of governance to implement policy and action within cities. Governing through provision, a form of vertical collaboration along with governing through enabling, applies itself to the multi-levels of governance. Climate change in cities is tackled here through the shaping of and delivery of services and resources, with additional support aided to local governments from regional and national authorities[11]. Lastly, another form of vertical collaboration, is governing through regulation. Such regulation characterises traditional forms of authoritative governance, exemplifying local to nation-state relations[12], almost nearly covering the entirety of the multi-level governance scale.

Cities for Climate Protection program

The Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program is one example of multi-level governance of climate change. Roles and responsibilities are shared within different levels of governance, from state actors to non-state actors (Betsill & Bulkeley, 2006). Membership consists of 40 large cities worldwide (Large_Cities_Climate_Leadership_Group), with local governments often working in close connection with national governments. However, the CCP can overlook the activity of nation-states giving local governments the opportunity to amend positions of policy implementation and regulation for offsetting urban climate change, which may be of a controversial nature to national governments [13]. Thus illustrating even though climate change in cities can be addressed and governed at local, regional, national and international levels, it does not always follow a hierarchical order.


  1. ^ G. Marks, 'Structural policy and Multi-level governance in the EC' in: A. Cafruny and G. Rosenthal (ed.) The State of the European Community: The Maastricht Debate and Beyond (Boulder 1993) pp.391-411
  2. ^ I.Bache, Europeanization and Britain: Towards Multi-level governance? Paper prepared for the EUSA 9th Biennal Conference in Austin, Texas, March 31–2 April 2005
  3. ^ Bulkeley, Harriet; Kristine Kern (2006). "Local Government and the Governing of Climate Change in Germany and the UK". Urban Studies. 12 43: 2237–2259. 
  4. ^ Bulkeley, Harriet (2010). "Cities and the Governing of Climate Change". The Annual Review of Environment and Resources 12: 141–159. 
  5. ^ Betsill, Michele; Harriet Bulkeley (2006). "Cities and the Multi-level Governance of Global Climate Change". Global Governance 12: 141–159. 
  6. ^ Betsill, Michele; Harriet Bulkeley (2006). "Cities and the Multi-level Governance of Global climate Change". Global Governance 12: 141–159. 
  7. ^ Betsill, Michele; Harriet Bulkeley (2006). "Cities and the Multi-level Governance of Global climate Change". Global Governance 12: 141–159. 
  8. ^ Kern, Kristine; Gotelind Alber (2008). "Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems". Conference on Competitive Cities and Climate Change. 
  9. ^ Kern, Kristine; Gotelind Alber (2008). "Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems". Conference on Competitive Cities and Climate Change. 
  10. ^ Kern, Kristine; Gotelind Alber (2008). "Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems". Conference on Competitive Cities and Climate Change. 
  11. ^ Kern, Kristine; Gotelind Alber (2008). "Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems". Conference on Competitive Cities and Climate Change. 
  12. ^ Kern, Kristine; Gotelind Alber (2008). "Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems". Conference on Competitive Cities and Climate Change. 
  13. ^ Betsill, Michele; Harriet Bulkeley (2006). "Cities and the Multi-level Governance of Global Climate Change". Global Governance 12: 141–159. 
  • Baker, Andrew, David Hudson, and Richard Woodward (2005). Governing Financial Globalization: International political economy and multi-level governance. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge/Ripe. 

See also

  • Environmental governance

External links

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