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Modelling a Policy Process for Sustainability: A Reconsideration of Cycles and Stages Models in the Context of Transnational Multi-level Governance

Robert Ackrill, Adrian Kay

Sustainability is the locus classicus of transnational policy making. Much of the policy response globally continues to take place across sectors at the national level, but with growing efforts to develop multinational policy responses. A further dimension to this multi-level narrative is provided by the EU, active domestically and globally as a energy and climate policy leader. The argument of this paper is that, with domestic (national and EU) policy arenas increasingly being sources of policies with transnational reach, it is appropriate to reconsider policy processes where stages or cycles may be an over-simplification of actual policy dynamics in play for sustainability. Notably, it suggests that we need to move beyond conceptualising transnational policy-making as the improved coordination of already existing policy, across levels and sectors, to a view that puts transnationalism the core of a novel model of the policy process. Agenda-setting for domestic policies will be influenced by external factors - such as energy and climate concerns. Decision-making will primarily be an internal process, influenced by external factors such as trade rules. Policy implementation, however, may require the active participation of non-governmental actors in other territories. This introduces the additional issue of whether the relationships between actors in different territories are hierarchical, or network-based. In this multi-level and multi-territorial setting, traditional cycle or stages models of 'the' policy process may not capture key aspects of a policy process, whereby locating certain parts of a policy process in other territories, possibly at different governance levels, might simply not fit with sequential notions of policy developed initially for a domestic setting. We illustrate our arguments with reference to the implementation of EU biofuels sustainability criteria. This case illustrates the emerging governance challenges for transnational policies, in areas such as climate and energy.

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