With the Treaty of Lisbon, EU institutions gained in competence and the legislative procedure now explicitly favors the majority rule instead of intergovernmentalism. Nevertheless, controversy persists, especially in the Council of Ministers. Justice and Home Affairs has proven to be a particularly controversial issue area for governments facing the conundrum of external pressure, e.g. migration flows, and internal pressure of populism and extremism. Focusing on the role of agency in EU institutions, this study contributes to the strand of literature advocating the need to look beyond structural factors and take actors and their influence seriously. Actor's strategies in legislative decision-making will be evaluated by first establishing a typology of strategies and then determining their conditions of application and success. The main goal is to open the "black-box" of the Council of Ministers, where national governments exploit the topic of migration, borders and security to respond to populist pressure. Using process tracing, qualitative content analysis and in-depth expert interviews, salient cases are analyzed, one where deadlock could be solved, "Schengen Governance Reform" (2011-2013), and one where negotiations were interrupted due to disagreements, "Smart Borders Package" (2013-on hold). Preliminary results show that state-interest strategies, for example arguing with domestic populist pressure, are unsuccessful in absence of a supporting coalition by influential states, non-coalition based strategies are generally unsuccessful. Between institutions, there is an increasing battle of competences, with the European Parliament challenging the Commission and the Council alike. Both within and between institutions, the most common conflict settlement strategy is resorting to informality, whereat conflict resolution is not necessarily political (concessions) or formal (ex. vote trading) or financial (ex. side payments) but often simply textual, for example adopting a general wording and leaving as much discretion as possible to states for implementation.
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