Multi-level (or multilevel) governance is an approach in political science and public administration theory that originated from studies on European integration. The concept of multi-level governance was developed in the early 1990s. The theory resulted from the study of the new structures that were put in place by the EU (Maastricht Treaty) in 1992. Multi-level governance gives expression to the idea that there are many interacting authority structures at work in the emergent global political economy. It "illuminates the intimate entanglement between the domestic and international levels of authority".


THE CONCEPT | conferences 'Multilevel Governance' (2013 and 2014)

'Multilevel governance' is a recent concept, having first entered the lexicon of political science around fifteen years ago as comparativists became re-acquainted with European integration and discovered that authority was shifting not only from central states up to Europe, but also down to subnational authorities.

The first efforts to understand this were descriptive, spawning concepts that have generated an extensive literature. Multilevel, polycentric, and multi-layered governance emphasize the dispersion of decision making from the local to the global level. In recent years these concepts have cross-pollinated subfields of political science including European studies and decentralization, federalism and international organization, public policy (e.g. environmental policy, health policy) and public-private governance, local governance and transnational governance.

The study of the European Union has been characterized by two different theoretical phases: 1. studies from the field of international relations; 2. these studies were revised and insights from among others, public policy were added.

The most straightforward way of understanding this theoretical shift is to see it as a move away from treating the EU as an international organisation similar to others (e.g. NATO) to seeing it as something unique among international organisations. The uniqueness of the EU relates both to the nature and to the extent of its development. This means that in some areas of activity the EU displays more properties related to national political systems than to those of international organisations.

The theory of Multi-level governance belongs to the second phase. Multi-level governance characterizes the changing relationships between actors situated at different territorial levels, both from the public and the private sectors.

The multi-level governance theory crosses the traditionally separate domains of domestic and international politics and highlights the increasingly fading distinction between these domains in the context of European integration. Multi-level governance was first developed from a study of EU policy and then applied to EU decision-making more generally.


An early explanation referred to multi-level governance as a system of continuous negotiation among nested governments at several territorial tiers and described how supranational, national, regional, and local governments are enmeshed in territorially overarching policy networks. The theory emphasized both the increasingly frequent and complex interactions between governmental actors and the increasingly important dimension of non-state actors that are mobilized in cohesion policy-making and in the EU policy more generally. As such, multi-level governance raised new and important questions about the role, power and authority of states.

No other international form of cooperation is characterized by such far-reaching integration as the European Union. This becomes evident by the number and scope of policy areas covered by the European Union and the way policy is developed. The European Union can be characterised by a mix of classic intergovernmental cooperation between sovereign states and far-reaching supranational integration.

The combination of communal decision-making with the wide area of policy areas results in a deep entanglement of the member states’ national policy levels with the European policy level. This entanglement is one of the basic principles of the Multi-level governance theory. The multi-level governance theory describes the European Union as a political system with interconnected institutions that exist at multiple levels and that have unique policy features. The European Union is a political system with a European layer (European Commission, European Council and European Parliament), a National layer and a Regional layer. These layers interact with each other in two ways: first, across different levels of government (vertical dimension) and second, with other relevant actors within the same level (horizontal dimension). The "vertical" dimension refers to the linkages between higher and lower levels of government, including their institutional, financial, and informational aspects. Here, local capacity building and incentives for effectiveness of sub national levels of government are crucial issues for improving the quality and coherence of public policy. The "horizontal" dimension refers to co-operation arrangements between regions or between municipalities. These agreements are increasingly common as a means by which to improve the effectiveness of local public service delivery and implementation of development strategies.

There has been an intensification of research on the consequences as well as the character of multilevel governance. The concept was developed as a tool of pure research, but it now motivates policy makers.

From the late 1990s the European Commission began to refer to its own mission as one of achieving multilevel governance, especially in cohesion policy. In 2001, the Commission set up a committee on multilevel governance to contribute to its White Paper on governance.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, claims that ‘the multilevel system of governance on which our European regional policy is based provides a key boost to the Union's competitive edge’ and that, in the current economic crisis, 'multilevel governance must be a priority'.

In an October 2008 resolution, the European Parliament called on the member states ‘to develop as quickly as possible the practical measures set out in the First Action Programme with a view to strengthening multilevel governance’. In 2009, 344 representatives of elected regional and local authorities across the EU approved a resolution on a 'European Union Charter for Multilevel Governance', which would bring localities and regions into European democratic decision making.

For more than two decades, institutional reform and interaction has been one of the most hotly debated issues within the European Union (EU). Ever since the Treaty of Amsterdam, “institutional left-overs” about the future composition and competencies of the EU institutions and their mutual interaction have been served time and time again.

The Lisbon Treaty has also not provided a final answer to these questions. Although it has upgraded some institutions and has even foreseen the creation of new bodies, it is unclear how this affects the mechanisms not only of intra-institutional coordination but also how this impacts on the relations across institutions and levels of governance. It is against this background that universities, think-tanks and high level officials all share a long term interest in a better understanding of the functioning of institutions in the European system of multi-level governance.


  conferences on 'Multilevel Governance

AIELP (Austrian Institute for European Law and Policy) is an institute that organizes a permanent conference on European Democracy EUDEM. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the fundamental value of 'democracy' enshrined under Article 2 TEU has, at level of European Union, been given a new framework (Articles 9-12 TEU). Dealing with the implications of this new legal framework, is an interdisciplinary challenge not only for lawyers of different disciplines (International law, European law. national constitutional law), but also for political scientists, economists, EU decision makers and top executives, or eDemocracy and- eParticipation-related computer scientists. Additionally, input is needed, not only from the academic sphere, but also from practitioners in goverments, parliaments and other public institutions, at union as well as national and regional levels and selected stakeholders from civil society.

On 5 and 6 May 2014, AIELP organized in Strasbourg (Palais de l'Europe and the university) the conference 'Multilevel Governance - from local communities to a True European community. Discussed was the future of multilevel governance in Europe, or multilevel governance is a way to increase democratic legitimacy of the judiciary, position of European-wide networks of independent institutions (as of Ombudsman, ECB on Human Rights), the role of regions and municipalities and policy perspectives. The many presentations and perspectives from 10 different European countries gained, gave good insight in the value of the approach to obtain more cohesion in order to convere to a true European community.

Österreich Journal, LH Pühringer wrote: During an added initiated by Austria EuDEM conference in Strasbourg is discussed long about the right governance and a adapted to the demands of today's multi-level governance democracy two days. High-ranking guests, including the Upper Austrian Josef Pühringer, consider current issues and try to present solutions.

The Conference on European Democracy (EuDEM) will this year for the third time by the Chancellor's Office - Department of State organization and management reform - and organizing the Austrian Institute for European Law and Politics. In the two-day event this year, the status quo of democracy and "good governance" in Europe is discussed. Key questions about the future developments are examined from different perspectives by Expert / inside. This conference dealt with the issue of democracy at all levels one of the key priorities of the Austrian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers. In addition to the important issue of Internet governance Austria has set itself the task of promoting the democratic participation of society at all political and social levels.

Governor Josef Pühringer underlined the importance of community-based structures, referring to federalism as the organization of the Democratic Party of the State of Austria. Politicians / students should reforms, view as a continuous task, which is part of the lived political culture. To act as close as possible to the citizen has the advantages that actions can be performed faster, more efficient and more cost effective for both sides.

The European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly extreme concerns about the democratic accountability of the EU and its Member States during the financial crisis and criticized at the same time the lack of social cohesion. On Behalf of the General Secretary of the
Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, explained Claudia Luciani recent activities of the Council of Europe (as part of the newly formed Committee for Democracy and Governance (CDDG), while Jean-Claude Frécon as Vice-President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe whose important role emphasizing the coherence of the continent.
In a second round discussed Thomas Markert (
Venice Commission of the ER), Peter Huber (German Federal Constitutional Court) and Josef Azizi (former judge of the Court of First Instance of the EU), moderated by the former ECHR judge Franz Matscher the exciting and hitherto almost taboo question to what extent the jurisdiction could be comprehended under the terms of democratic legitimacy and "Multi-level governance" and what modifications were needed in order not to jeopardize their independence.

The institute launched the following Charter for Multilevel Governance in EUROPE:


Given that many competences and responsibilities are shared between the various levels of governance in the European Union, we recognise the need TO WORK TOGETHER IN PARTNERSHIP to achieve greater economic, social and territorial cohesion in Europe. No single level can deal with the challenges we face alone. We can solve citizens’ problems on the ground by COOPERATING better and running JOINT PROJECTS to tackle the common challenges ahead of us.

We stand for a multilevel-governance Europe ‘based on coordinated action by the European Union, the Member States and regional and local authorities according to the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality and partnership, taking the form of operational and institutional cooperation in the drawing up and implementation of the European Union’s policies". In this endeavour, we fully respect the equal legitimacy and accountability of each level within their respective competences and the principle of !oyal cooperation.

Aware of our INTERDEPENDENCE and ever seeking greater EFFICIENCY, we believe that great opportunities exist to further strengthen innovative and efficient political and administrative cooperation between our authorities based on their respective cornpetences and responsibilities. The objective of this Charter, drawn up by the Commiittee of the Regions of the European Union, is to connect regions and cities across Europe, whilst promoting MULT-ACTORSHIP with societal actors such as the social partners, universities, NGOs and representative civil society groupings.

In line with the SUBSIDIARITY principle which places decisions at the most effective level and as close as possible to the citizens, we attach great importance to co-creating policy solutions that reflect the needs of citizens.

It is precisely through our commitment to the flindamental VALUES, PRINCIPLES and PROCESSES underpinning muitilevel govemance that we believe new modes of DIALOGUE and partnership will emerge across public authorities in the European Union and beyond. Multilevel governance strengthens openness, participation, COORDINATION and JOINT COMMITMENT to delivering targeted solutions. It allows us to harness Europe’s diversity as a driver for capitalising on the assets of our local areas. Making full use of digital solutions, we are committed to increasing TRANSPARENCY and offering quality public services easily accessible to the citizens we represent.

MULTILEVEL GOVERNANCE heips us to leam from each other, experiment with innovative policy solutions, SHARE BEST PRACTICES and further develop PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY, bringing the European Union closer to the citizens. We believe that embracing multilevel governance contributes to deeper EU integration by further strengthening the ties between our territories. and overcoming the administrative hurdies in regulation and policy implementation and the geographical frontiers that separate us.


We commit ourselves to respecting the fundamental processes that shape multilevel governance practices in Europe by:

  • developing a TRANSPARENT, OPEN and INCLUSIVE policy-making process;

  • promoting PARTICIPATION and PARTNERSHIP involving relevant public and private stakeholders throughout the policy-making process, including through appropriate digital tools, whilst respecting the rights of all institutional partners;

  • fostering POLICY EFFICIENCY, POLICY COHERENCE and promoting BUDGET SYNERGIES between all levels of governance;

  • respecting SUBSIDIARITY and PROPORTIONALITY in policy making;

  • ensuring maximum FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS PROTECTION at all levels of governance.


We commit ourselves to making muttilevel governance a reality in day-to-day policy-making and delivery, including through innovative and digital solutions. To this end, we should:

  • PROMOTE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION in the policy cycle;

  • COOPERATE closely with other public authorities by thinking beyond traditional administrative borders, procedures and hurdles;

  • FOSTER A EUROPEAN MIND-SET within our political bodies and administrations;

  • STRENGTHEN INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY BUILDING and invest in policy learning amongst all levels of governance;

  • CREATE NETWORKS between our political bodies and administrations from the local to the European levels and vice-versa, whilst strengthening transnational cooperation.

11-10-2013 Fondation Universitaire: dissemination colloquium inter and intra institutional cooperation in the EU system of multi level governance

INCOOP, a multi-disciplinary Initial Training Network (ITN) on Inter-institutional Cooperation in the EU (INCOOP) brought together Universities, professional organisations and high-level officials that all share a long-term interest in a better understanding of the functioning of institutions in the European system of multi-level governance. The participating universities were Maastricht University (coordinator), Cambridge University, Fondation nationale des Sciences Politiques Paris (Sciences Po), University of Loughborough, University of Mannheim, Université de Luxembourg and University of Osnabrück. To be able to better understand the functioning of institutions in the European system, they kicked off its work on the 1st of January 2010 and organised the conference:

Inter- and Intra-institutional Cooperation in the EU System of Multi-level Governance

Key questions included:


What are the formal and informal mechanisms through which players - within and across institutions and levels - coordinate and cooperate? How has the Treaty of Lisbon affected this process?
What are the main factors that foster or hinder cooperation?
What are the implications for the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the system of European governance?

Effective cooperation between the national and the European levels is crucial for the functioning of the European Union. This inter-level cooperation, however, is challenged by centrifugal and centripetal dynamics. In addition to tensions resulting from diverging and converging interests of the various EU and Member States actors, contrasts between a necessary cooperation and a persisting degree of competition impact on the policy-making process. Managing these various tensions requires an efficient communication between the different actors. Inter-level cooperation needs to occur for internal policies within the legislature, the judiciary and the administration, as well as for external policies in foreign relations.

This task is however rendered more difficult in the face of a deepening integration and recent changes introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. The emergence of new actors (e.g., strengthened role of national parliaments, increased attention from NGOs for EU affairs) in newly covered policy fields (e.g. the expanding legislation in the area of Justice and Home affairs) entails several consequences. Notably, it has reshuffled the playing field and led to new conflict lines. As a result, a number of policies and legal frameworks within Europe suffer from problems of ‘coherence’ across the vertical boundaries that characterize the Union’s multilevel context. Furthermore, citizens are growing increasingly sceptical and critical, feeling detached from “those in Brussels”.

Several specific challenges in different areas of inter-level cooperation are identified, namely the legislature, the judiciary, the administration as well external relations. In this respect, certain case studies have been conducted for an in-depth exploration of the challenges in specific contexts. Based on these findings, the policy brief then presents potential solutions and policy recommendations.