Project in details

toroENLIGHTEN’s approach is based around mapping European institutions and expert networks and differentiating modes of governance in fast- and slow-burning crises. These types of crises differ in how they affect the legitimacy of European input, output, and throughput processes in established and emergent modes of governance.

Our basic conceptualization is that in fast-burning crises interests are quickly formed and ideational and resource battles ensue over how to coordinate policy ideas, what institutions should be engaged, and communicating these changes to the public. We suggest that networks in fast crises are composed of defined groups seeking to protect or carve out their interests. In slow-burning crises interests are less obvious and the key task is often how to define the issues involved and who should address the problem. Here networks are commonly composed of experts who battle over how issues should be defined, as well as the boundaries on how coordinative and communicative discourses are articulated.

We contend that how European modes of governance engage with fast- and slow-burning crises reflects the institutions and networks engaged in governance. We suggest that institutions and networks will generate different modes of governance from fast- and slow-burning crises because of political conflict in the former to address immediate legitimacy problems, while the latter are characterized by professional and expert competition over issue definition and discourse construction.

Study object

Three aspects of European governance legitimacy will be investigated from an economic, political and sociological perspective:

Modes of Governance

European modes of governance have been changing in response to the crisis. In search of new modes of governance, the European institutions are trying to develop a new discourse supported by norms and principles shared by other international organisations, and adapted to the current challenges facing the Union. These new modes of governance present the advantage of being less hierarchical and less formal. They involve domestic and international actors in sharing best practices, indicators, goals and definitions, as well as agreeing upon standards, guidelines, benchmarks, indexes and indicators to consolidate the rule of law and to establish appropriate instruments of public policy. By contrast, these new modes of governance allow transnational actors to circumvent dissenting legislatures and to contribute to the empowerment of non-state actors giving rise to serious transparency and accountability problems, and therefore legitimacy problems.

The ENLIGHTEN project will map, differentiate and articulate how these modes of governance are linked to the fast- and slow-burning crises under investigation in core issue areas of concern to European integration and the European project as a whole. These modes of governance are not simply the institutions that dominate them but also the expert networks that surround and often work through institutions.


Answers to how EU institutional actors have sought to generate innovative ideas and legitimating discourses in response to crises must be explored in light of these actors’ very different institutional configurations, modes of governance, mandates, and frameworks for legitimation.  The uptake of ideas and the production of coordinative and communicative discourses vary a great deal among the institutions. To reveal more about why this is the case we stress the importance of distinguishing input and output processes, referring to institutional responsiveness to citizens’ concerns and the effectiveness of policies, respectively. On top of input and output are ‘throughput’ processes that refer to the quality of the policymaking process. Of course institutions carry particular mandates and are tasked with particular duties, which the ENLIGHTEN team will identity. The project team will also identity where there are legitimate and efficient institutional complementarities between different institutions, as well as where they compete and harm potential solutions to crises. To address fast- and slow-burning crises the EU needs ‘output’ policies that are more effective and ‘input’ politics that are more responsive to citizens, along with ‘throughput’ processes that are more balanced and carried out with greater efficacy and accountability. The institutional context also depends on how actors within institutions engage expert networks.


ENLIGHTEN highlights the importance of European networks during periods of fast and slow-burning crises. In fast-burning crises the networks that gather around official institutions are primarily of the political sort. Many of these actors are easily identified from the media and from speeches as they proclaim solutions that institutions should adopt in the protection of their own interests. The project team will identify these actors, particularly in periods of fast-burning crises, as well as the ‘issue professionals’ who have clear incentives to endorse politically pragmatic decisions in order to have a long-term career in their area of concern. We are also interested in investigating the role of professional and expert networks in Europe.

We are particularly interested in how expert networks are engaged in issue definition for slow-burning problems where there is no European political consensus on what is to be done and how best to address the problem. There is some excellent recent work on how activist and expert networks are able to generate policy change within Europe, as well as on how, in some policy issues, a ‘hegemonic network/community’ becomes dominant.  We also recognize that in slow-burning crises it is not only experts who have time to organise over problem definition but also corporate interests who may have a preference for the most for ‘quiet politics’.


Fast and slow burning crises

Differentiating what modes of governance are appropriate for dealing with them is a crucial step for bolstering the legitimacy of European integration and the European project more generally.  The ENLIGHTEN project suggests that an understanding of temporal issues is crucial to dealing with ‘hard times’ and for the legitimacy of the European project overall. In contrast to existing approaches, ENLIGHTEN proposes a comparative perspective on Europe’s crises. Instead of focusing exclusively on how European modes of governance have dealt with the most prevalent and immediate crises of recent years, ENLIGHTEN distinguishes between Europe’s ‘fast-burning’ and ‘slow-burning’ crises and sets out to compare the ways in which EU policy actors have attempted to deal with them.

Fast-burning crises are those most obvious to us, such as the recent banking crisis, the austerity programs or sharp spikes in youth unemployment. Fast burning crises are moments and ongoing events characterized by alarm and an urgent demand for political action. These intense crises raise immediate legitimacy problems for Europe. Fast-burning crises increase frustrations with the inadequacy of the EU’s governance architecture and their associated modes of governance, raising questions about structural reform from politicians, policy elites, the media,

and the general public. The ENLIGHTEN project argues that Europe’s fast-burning crises have indeed threatened the legitimacy of European institutions and modes of governance, but that these challenges must also be viewed in a longer-term frame.

Slow-burning crises extend beyond normal political and business cycles within Europe. They include issues such as the financial sustainability of Europe; how governments can continue to provide public services to their population; and the political, social, and economic consequences of chronic unemployment and underemployment. In slow-burning crises politicians are less vocal in raising alarm than during fast-burning crises and it is professionals in expert networks, rather than politicians, that point to problems and prompt the European governance architecture to address them.

Meeting ENLIGHTEN’s objectives requires the research team to investigate the short and longterm dynamics of stability and change in ideas, the forms of knowledge applied to fast- and slow-burning crises, and what discourses have emerged to address fast- and slow-burning problems within Europe’s crisis-hardened governance architecture.

The analysis will range from the inception of the financial crisis in 2008, through the sovereignty crisis of 2010 and the putative stabilization of the European economy from 2013 onward. It will also consider the structural imbalances that continue to weigh on the EU’s long-term socio-economic health.


In methodological terms, we propose to examine how institutional actors coped with the crisis both quantitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative part of our approach combines content analysis of policy documents and interview transcripts, sequence analysis of the careers of those involved in institutions and networks, network analysis of how actors interact and relate to each other, and event history analysis which models the relationship between events (survival) and time to understand the effect of the policies on the European public. The combination of these methods will explain why some ideas and/or knowledge prevailed while others receded in the background, as well as how actors’ institutional positions and resources shape the fate of crisis resolution scenarios.

In addition to these methods, the qualitative methods employed concentrate on discourse analysis and process tracing, including semi-structured interviews with key individuals in the different institutions and expert networks about their changing perceptions of the crisis, of the policy responses, of whose ideas mattered over time as well as their perceptions of whose ideas mattered and why. The interviewees will be selected based on the results of the network analysis, which will identify the central nodes of the policy networks that governed the crisis.