The Politics of Indicators in EU Employment Policy: Evidence-based Policy-making and Establishing Dominion in the European Semester

Rachel Minto

Indicators have been a feature of European Union (EU) employment policy since the early days of European activity in this area. However, since the launch of the European Semester system in 2011, EU employment indicators have been strengthened markedly, and their profile increased. Specifically, a Joint Assessment Framework was established in 2011, comprising a large database of performance indicators across 11 policy areas, shared by the Commission and the Council. Also, more recently, in 2013, a Scoreboard of key employment and social indicators was adopted. These tools contribute variously to identifying key employment and social challenges, to supporting member states' progress in function of the Employment Guidelines, and to raising the visibility and profile of employment and social issues. Taking the increased prevalence of indicators as a starting point, this paper interrogates the development of these governance tools in the European Semester, with particular reference to the surrounding institutional and political contexts in which these tools were developed, and the gap between their purported role and actual use. This paper argues that the strengthening of indicators was not solely a reflection of EU efforts to improve evidence-based decision-making. Instead, beyond this, their development can be understood as a result of strategic decisions by actors keen to secure their position within the European Semester system. Through documentary analysis of policy texts and semi-structured interviews with EU policy actors (December 2015-January 2016), this piece of research provides new insight into the politics behind the creation of employment indicators in European governance.

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