by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Fourteen: Multilevel Governance

Chapter Notes

  • Multilevel governance (MLG): multiple tiers of government, plus the involvement of relevant interest groups, produces a network that is difficult to command. However, the resources of each player continue to influence decisions. Decision-making (or not) within the European Union as an example of MLG.
  • Federalism: sharing sovereignty between two entrenched levels. Exclusive, concurrent and residual powers. The weakness of confederations. The danger of asymmetric federalism.
  • Origins of federations: usually a voluntary compact between states seeking the military and economic advantages of scale. Coming together e.g. USA vs. holding together e.g. Belgium. Free trade areas as a modern alternative without sovereignty issues. Ethnic federations.
  • Federal-state relations. Dual federalism as imagined in the USA. Cooperative federalism as practiced in Germany. The principle of subsidiarity. Growing interdependence and its causes. The growing power of the centre until the final decades of the twentieth century. Fiscal federalism: the importance of financial flows. Assessing federalism: to diffuse or concentrate power? .
  • The European Union: for and against a federal interpretation. Comparison with the USA. Confederation as a possible compromise notion for labelling the EU.
  • Unitary government. Not always centralised and becoming less so. Deconcentration, decentralization and devolution. The expansion of the regional level (mesolevel) within unitary states. The evolution of some regions from administrative to elected institutions. Encouragement of the regional level by the EU.
  • Local governance. The problem of combining small scale with efficiency. Greater status in Europe, especially the North, and when in possession of general competence. The pragmatic character of local government in the new world. Council, mayor-council and council-manager systems. The growing appeal of elected mayors. The enabling authority. Relationships with the centre: dual systems (e.g. UK) and fused systems (e.g. France).
  • The problems of governing cities; they (and their linked suburbs) do not match traditional boundaries, creating a need for coherent metropolitan governance. The failure of some federations such as Australia to achieve this objective. How world cities become semi-detached from their national moorings.
  • Authoritarian states. Limited significance of local government under communism and fascism. Centre and periphery linked through patronage, not institutions. Local areas as personal fiefdoms. China’s unitary structure. The power vertical in Russia, the formality of federalism notwithstanding.
  • In competitive authoritarian regimes, the dominance of the ruler leads to a focus on national rather than local politics. But often combined with considerable decentralization in practice. Patronage as a link across levels. Post-communist Russia: from deconcentration under Yeltsin to reconcentration under Putin and the rebuilding of the power vertical.

Figures and tables


Multiple choice questions


Essays and term papers

  1. Which is the more accurate judgement on federalism: a historical curio or a model of modern governance?
  2. Define multilevel governance and evaluate its usefulness in understanding the European Union.

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch.14.

I. Bache and M. Flinders, Multi-level Governance
M. Burgess, In Search of the Federal Spirit: New Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives in Comparative Federalism
M. Cini and N. Perez-Solorzano Borragan, European Union Politics
J. Hesse and V. Wright, Federalizing Europe?
L. Hooghe and G. Marks, Multilevel Governance and European Integration
D. Karmis and W. Norman, Theories of Federalism: A Reader
D. McKay, Designing Europe: Comparative Lessons from the Federal Experience
A. Menon and M. Schain, Comparative Federalism: The European Union and the United States in Comparative Perspective
G. Smith, Federalism: The Multiethnic Challenge
R. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems


  • Centre for Studies on Federalism – promotes scientific research, information and diffusion of knowledge, documentation and education in studies of federalism.
    http://www.csfederalismo.it
  • Forum on Federations – the global network on federalism and devolved governance
    http://www.forumfed.org/
  • Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Queen’s University - research on federalism and intergovernmental relations in Canada and beyond
    http://www.queensu.ca/iigr/
  • International Association of Centers for Federal Studies - an association of centres for federal studies
    http://www.iacfs.org/
  • Committee of the Regions, European Union - provides local and regional authorities with a voice in the European Union. Includes online studies
    http://www.cor.europa.eu/
  • United Cities and Local Governments – the global network of cities, local and regional governments
    http://www.uclg.org/

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