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Heinkelmann-Wild, Tim (June 2018): Blame Shifting in the European Union. European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Standing Group on European Union (SGEU) Conference, Paris, 13. - 15. Juni 2018.

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Whom do EU institutions and member states blame for contested EU policies in the public? Existing research either focusses on policy actors’ motivation to deflect blame or the EU’s institutional design. This paper develops a synoptic explanatory framework that integrates institutional opportunities within the EU’s multi-level system as well as policy actors’ preferences: First, policy actors communicate strategically in public and thus refrain from attributing blame to themselves. While member states shift blame to each other and the EU level, EU institutions prefer to target the national level. Second, while the EU’s complex decision-making structure opens scope for strategic communication, the latter is not always unconstrained. If EU policies do require active implementation, blame shifting by EU institutions and member states is shaped by the governance level entrusted with its execution. To check the plausibly of these conjectures, blame shifting by EU Institutions and member states is examined in three cases of contested EU migration policies with varying implementation structures: (i) border control, (ii) the distribution of asylum seekers according to the Dublin system, and (iii) so-called welfare migration facilitated by the ‘freedom of movement’ principle. The coverage of eight quality newspapers from Austria, Germany, Ireland and the UK is examined. The analysis corroborates that blame shifting is shaped by both policy actors’ preferences as well as the structure of policy implementation: (i) member states and EU institutions both assign blame to the EU for EU border controls, albeit the latter to a lesser degree; (ii) both blame the member states for problems concerning the distribution of refugees; (iii) regarding welfare migration, EU institutions and member states blame each other. Thereby, the paper contributes to the theoretical clarification of the relationship between policy actors’ motivations and the EU’s institutional design and provides the first comparative analysis thereof.

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