CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1In 1998, in an unexpected move, four ministers issued a call to all European countries – EU members or not – to join them and build a European higher education area around a common frame of reference, the two-cycle degree system. Some ten years later, 47 European countries have coordinated their national policies to create the European Higher Education Area, and this process, now famously known as the “Bologna Process”, is widely perceived as the sector’s most powerful impetus for change in the last few decades.

2This history, which will here be approached from the angle of the emergence and the institutionalisation of a European governance arena for higher education, cannot be understood without meticulously analysing the development of the instrument of coordination at the heart of the process. This history is admittedly not only about policy instruments: as I have shown elsewhere, it is also about the crystallisation and the swift diffusion of a public policy vision, based on polysemic objectives enabling contradicting interpretations and uses, but also on a universe of meaning that is intelligible and easy to legitimise, as its justifications tie into discourse on a knowledge-based economy and society. [1] While focusing on the cognitive matrix appears to be the most appropriate approach to account for the macro-sociological mechanisms institutionalising the Bologna Process into the Europe of knowledge, the instrumental approach, [2] or the study of the instrumental matrix, [3] allows us to reconstruct the meso-and micro-sociological mechanisms of constraint and involvement in an initially voluntary and non-binding process. Accordingly, this paper does not aim at analysing the dynamic of the launch and the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process as a whole – which would entail studying the links between cognitive and instrumental matrices; [4] rather, it proposes a cross-sectional viewpoint and focuses on instrumentation autonomously.

3This paper has a double purpose. First, it seeks to answer two interdependent questions. The first and most central one is the following: how does a flexible, non-binding European coordination device end up exerting constraint on the stakeholders? I make the hypothesis that the Bologna Process is steered by its instruments, and that consequently the mechanisms of constraint can be revealed by carefully studying the development of the set of tools and procedures devised to ensure the coordination of national higher education policies around common objectives. This first question brings forth a second one, on the ambivalent relation of the Bologna Process to the European Union (EU). This coordination device was developed on the margins of the EU; it is a case of European coordination alla Bolognese, which raises a question that is seldom, if ever, discussed in the literature on European governance: to what extent do European states actually need the EU framework, and particularly the European Commission, to initiate and maintain coordination processes? Here I posit that European coordination on the margins of the EU is possible, which suggests reconsidering the role often attributed to the European Commission in the literature. Beyond the analysis of the Bologna Process itself, I intend to contribute to the debate on the instrumentation of public policy, recently revitalised by the work of Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès, [5] by identifying certain features of this approach that my case study can discuss and deepen.

4This article draws on substantial empirical material, combining two types of data collection. [6] For the purposes of this study, I have conducted and analysed 85 semi-directive interviews (between 2003 and 2007) with stakeholders in the genesis and the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process: governmental actors or other key actors of higher education policy (Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Portugal, Czech Republic, UK); members of the European Commission and the Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Education; European experts; high-ranking members of the European University Association (EUA) and of the European Students’ Union (ESU, formerly ESIB). I have also collected and systematically analysed the personal archives of actors involved in the process (working notes, meeting notes, correspondence) and institutional archives (official Bologna Process declarations and communiqués, meeting minutes of the follow-up units, reports from governments and various stakeholders).

5My analysis is a three-step one. First, I provide a few contextual elements concerning the Bologna Process and refine the two sets of questions raised above in the light of existing research. Then, I will focus empirically on the instrumentation of the process between 1999 and 2005. Lastly, based on the results of my analysis, I will reconsider the questions initially raised and specify the contribution of this case analysis to the study of the instrumentation of public policy.

The instrumentation of the Bologna Process, the shaping of constraint, and the ambivalent relationship to the EU

How the Bologna Process fits into the paradoxical history of European construction and higher education [7]

6The European Higher Education Area did not appear out of the blue: the long and winding road towards the development of this project can be retraced within the long-term process of European construction. There were very few initiatives from the European Community (EC) until the late 1990s. This history begins with a missed opportunity: when, in 1957, the founding treaties defined jurisdiction over research and vocational training, higher education was neglected. [8] During an initial period, early forms of European cooperation and the first conventions on degree recognition were developed in the Council of Europe.

7A second period began in the 1970s, when the EC started addressing issues related to higher education within the framework of its policy on education and vocational training. These initiatives however were limited to the setting up of structures for information and informal cooperation, and the development of student mobility programmes. [9] They did not affect the regulation of national higher education systems, and were developed under the general “education policy” label. Therein lies the paradox of these early EC initiatives: though they were among the driving forces of the education and vocational training policy (some programmes, particularly Erasmus, even became emblematic of it), they did not result in the formulation of a genuine European policy on higher education.

8This paradox endured during the third period, as higher education was a minor theme in the “Europe of knowledge” project developed in the 1990s. As this project was formalised as part of the March 2000 Lisbon Strategy, higher education remained watered down, between the “education” sector redefined around the principle of lifelong education, [10] and a “research” sector increasingly focused on research and development as well as innovation. Paradoxically, the emergence of the Europe of knowledge in the late 1990s confirmed the invisibility of the higher education sector at European level. The impetus for a new direction eventually came from where it was least expected, in other words from the states themselves, which had until then fought tooth and nail to protect their prerogatives in this area, but now made the most surprising suggestion: harmonising degree systems, the mere mention of which had up to that point brought any attempt at a European project to a standstill. [11]

9The process of the construction of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was launched in May 1998, when the relevant ministers from Germany, France, Italy and the UK signed the Sorbonne Declaration, which stated the necessity of building the Europe of universities by facilitating mobility and the international recognition of degrees thanks to the introduction of a shared European structure – the two-cycle degree system. The four ministers committed themselves to promoting this common frame of reference in their respective countries, and called on the other countries, EU members or not, to join them. [12] Though initially the Declaration elicited few favourable reactions, their call was eventually heard. The following year, ministers from 29 European countries met in Bologna and signed the now famous declaration in which they committed themselves to coordinating their national policies around six common objectives. [13]

10After the Bologna meeting, the ministers of the signatory countries met every two years to assess their progress towards the creation of the EHEA, welcome new participants and define new lines of action (Prague 2001, Berlin 2003, Bergen 2005, London 2007 and Leuven 2009). With this process came the emergence and the institutionalisation of something that had not existed until then: a European governance arena for higher education. Progressively, a follow-up structure and instruments of coordination were set up and formalised. This arena now acts as a hub for the European coordination of national higher education policies.

Explaining the shaping of constraint through instruments

11Despite its apparently juridical nature, [14] the Bologna process initially had no formal status. The Declarations and Communiqués that are constantly referred to at national level are not binding agreements; they are merely declarations of intent from the ministers, aiming at coordinating their policies. Their implementation is therefore not a legal obligation: participating states that fail to comply with common objectives cannot be punished, even less excluded. Yet powerful effects can be observed everywhere across Europe. Admittedly, as studies of national systems have shown, the reforms engaged in the name of “Bologna” are diverse and should be analysed in their interaction with national and local issues. [15] The tempo, the extent and sometimes even the direction of these reforms differ, and beyond the formulation of key objectives in a shared language, this process has not resulted in the obvious convergence of the contents of national policies. [16] Yet the fact that 40 European countries have adhered to it remains striking: today, it no longer seems possible to devise a national higher education policy that goes against Bologna objectives. Past agreements have become an “obligatory point of passage” (following the meaning given to this concept by Michel Callon, expressing the result of a shared “problematisation”). [17]

12Despite the fragile nature of the initial structure for cooperation and the absence of formal constraint, participating states became progressively bound by their voluntary engagement in a flexible process of coordination. How, then, was this European constraint, devoid of legal value and enforcing mechanisms, formalised so that it became increasingly inevitable for the actors involved?

13Three answers to this question can be put forward. [18] First, in studies on the Europe of higher education, two interpretations contribute to accounting for the shaping of constraint. According to one explanation, which focuses on ideas and relies on discourse analysis, Bologna objectives make sense because they fit with the dominant discourse on the knowledge-based society and economy, thus appearing legitimate to governments and higher education actors. [19] A second explanation of the shaping and acceptance of constraint focuses on the interests and strategies of national governmental actors. Studies on the implementation of Bologna objectives have shown how the latter are used in effect to justify domestic reforms, thus echoing research by intergovernmentalist authors, who argue that governments are rational actors and accept European integration-related constraints only insofar as they may expect national benefits, [20] and studies on the strategic uses of Europe. [21] These are two interesting perspectives, but alone they are insufficient to explain the shaping of constraint. The ideas-based interpretation does a convincing job of showing that the reference to the knowledge-based economy and society makes Bologna objectives intelligible and legitimate to the actors involved, but it does not account for the specific form that this coordination process assumed. On the other hand, the interests-based interpretation tends to overestimate the rationality of the ministers and their ability to anticipate the effects of the Bologna Declaration: when they signed it in 1999, there was no “Bologna Process” to speak of yet – the project was very fragile and its consequences quite uncertain.

14A third approach – the one I will adopt here, and that, surprisingly, is used very little in studies on the construction of the EHEA – is an instruments-based one. It analyses the construction of constraint through the emergence and progressive development of instruments which allowed the collective dynamic to materialise and take shape. Since Christopher Hood’s seminal book, [22] the idea that government (the activity of governing) can be analysed through its instruments has come to be accepted. The shift from government to governance has then shown that political regulation no longer relies (only) on traditional hierarchic modes of government, but (also) on alternative modes of government, often networks, bringing together public and private actors in the formulation of public policies; they determine behaviours through influence (which does not preclude power), more than through authority legitimised by the capacity for coercion. [23] Thus, if government can be understood through its traditional instruments, or “command and control” instruments, governance can be studied through the lens of its alternative instruments, which essentially differ from those of traditional government in the nature of their relation to the law and to constraint. This reflection on instruments intersects with studies on “soft law”, which, put shortly, refers to a type of norm that is not legally binding, but may be constraining in other ways. Indeed, in those modes of regulation that are not based on legislation, or only marginally so, the mechanisms of constraint are essentially to be found in the instruments.

15Therefore, it appears pertinent to analyse the formation of this “obligatory point of passage” as a flexible and voluntary process by retracing its instrumentation, i.e., recounting the choice and the use of the instruments, characterising their intended and unexpected effects, and shedding light on the meanings these instruments contain. [24]

European coordination without the EU?

16In a case of a process like Bologna, i.e., inter-governmental European cooperation that was not initiated by the EU, a second question is raised: that of the possibility of European coordination without the EU.

17The focus on instrumentation has been particularly productive in research on “new” European governance. [25] Since the 1990s, European integration has entered a new phase. The development of Community public policy in new areas where national sovereignty applies (social and employment policies, education and vocational training…) has not resulted in a transfer of competence towards the supranational level; the states have retained their prerogatives. European policy-making in these domains no longer follows the classic Community method; [26] it consists in the setting up of instruments, tools and procedures to structure cooperation between member states around common objectives, not by prescribing national policies to implement, but by encouraging the identification of good practice and learning.

18Studies of this evolution have analysed it in terms of “new modes of [European] governance” (NMGs), described as more flexible and participative. Though NMGs and instruments are not entirely homologous, I argue that the questions raised in this body of literature can be connected with those addressed in the literature on instruments and the instrumentation of public policy in general. [27] Indeed, it provides a pertinent and precise conceptual method to analyse the tools and the procedures for the organisation of cooperation between member states. The literature on NMGs, initially focused on the specific features of these techniques, has gone on to yield interesting and more distanced studies showing how these instruments probably complement, rather than replace, the traditional Community method. [28] While they produce effects that should not be overrated, [29] they are certainly less democratic and participative than their promoters would have us think. [30]

19On the other hand, little attention has been devoted to the relationship between the EU and European NMGs. Admittedly, NMGs are not specific to the EU, and can be observed at various levels in different political systems. But systematic comparison with NMGs developed in other contexts remains exceptional. [31] Moreover, the possibility that NMGs might appear at European level, but independently from the EU is never clearly addressed. As the example of the Bologna Process will show here, this possibility nevertheless raises a question: Why shouldn’t European states decide to get together and set up a system of European coordination with no connection to the EU?

20While the question is not explicitly advanced, it is possible to pinpoint in this body of research three reasons why the development of non-EU-related European NMGs remains unlikely. The first one is the argument of institutionalisation: the EU is understood as a complex of “governance arenas”, the spaces in which European governance takes shape and within which actors interact and are socialised. [32] Once these arenas and rules are institutionalised, they become frames for action and representations, and are no longer questioned by the actors, who seldom imagine the possibility of forms of European cooperation outside of them. A second reason relates to the “shadow of hierarchy” argument put forward by Fritz Scharpf. [33] He makes a distinction between the formal hierarchical structure and the actual hierarchical direction and observes that hierarchical direction is rarely used but awareness of its presence in itself exerts a form of pressure and therefore informs the behaviour of actors. In this perspective, a hypothetical non-EU-related European NMG would be flexible, but would not benefit from the “shadow of hierarchy” of the EU institutional framework, and as a result would have less legitimacy and be less effective in governing. The third reason relates to the necessity of the presence of a third party in coordination devices. The literature tends to show that, in European NMGs, the Commission often plays that role. The actors of that institution, despite their initial concerns that their powers could be reduced by the shift from the Community method to new governance, [34] subsequently acquired discrete and progressive competences in domains that remained formally weakly integrated. Their role was thus redefined rather than weakened: several studies, echoing the Commission’s own representations, emphasised its new functions – managing coordination, organising networks and guaranteeing (good) governance. In the case of a non-EU European NMG, who could be the third party in charge of guaranteeing such a process?

21To answer these arguments concerning the possibility (or lack thereof) of a system of European coordination without the EU, the instrumentation-based perspective appears as a relevant one. By meticulously retracing the choice and the reappropriation, the uses and the effects of the instruments of the Bologna Process, I will highlight, at each stage, how this coordination device relates to the EU, and reassess each of the arguments concerning the improbability of the emergence of a non-EU-related European NMG.

The structuring and the instrumentation of the Bologna coordination device in three phases

22First, a clarification on what I mean by referring to the Bologna Process as a “coordination device”. This notion covers both the progressively formalised institutional structure and the instrument, the tools and techniques used. Indeed, I argue that studying the instruments of the Bologna Process necessarily entails analysing its institutional structure. As institutional structures and rules can themselves be studied as instruments, so may instruments be considered as institutions. [35] This comprehensive instrumental perspective is particularly useful when addressing flexible and non-binding modes of regulation. They may not have a formal legal character, but they do not operate in an institutional vacuum either. The Bologna Process is an interesting case because it is the history of the emergence of an institution, in which the creation of a structure and its instrumentation are closely embedded.

23As in everyday language, the notion of “coordination” refers to the arrangement or the organisation of elements and/or actors with a view to achieving a specific result. Studying a case of coordination thus entails identifying the elements or actors coordinated, the modalities of the ways in which they are arranged, and the common goal pursued. In this instance, in relation to the elements brought together, it is a question of coordination between national policies, in an effort to shape European public policy while refusing to delegate jurisdiction to a supranational authority developing its own policies; of coordination between actors within an emerging socio-political group, i.e., actors representing national governments, involved in higher education policies and in the relevant international organisations; and of coordination between tools of public policy, as we will see, in an intense and not necessarily orderly development of tools and procedures – what I call the “instrument” effectively refers to the device that brings these tools together. Lastly, the common goal openly pursued by the actors is the construction of an EHEA; the definition and the ensuing institutionalisation of the modalities of coordination will be addressed in the following pages.

24The setting up of the EHEA’s structure and instruments of coordination was progressive and iterative. The coordination device was not negotiated when the project was launched. In 1998-1999, there was no “Bologna Process”; only common global objectives and the eagerness of four ministers to cooperate. In 2005, only seven years later, a relatively sophisticated coordination device was operative. The instrumentation of the Bologna Process can be retraced through three phases.

Phase 1 (1998-1999): the construction of a provisional follow-up structure, not yet equipped with tools

25As mentioned above, the Sorbonne Declaration was a call from the German, French, Italian and British ministers to all European countries – but not to EU institutions – to join them and build an EHEA together. This text outlines general goals (facilitating employability and mobility for European students, and making the European system of higher education more attractive globally) and proposes a key measure: [36] the introduction of a two-cycle degree structure (Bachelor/Masters). [37] The Declaration is somewhat defiant towards the EU, disregarding or only alluding to the Community initiatives on higher education since the 1970s and neither envisioning nor asking for any kind of cooperation with EU institutions, particularly the European Commission, in developing this EHEA project. But the document does not introduce any method or instrument for the steering of this intergovernmental project.

26Understandably enough, the European actors who had worked for more than 20 years to develop EC initiatives in the field of higher education did not react well to this call, which explicitly provoked them. Though several non-EU European countries quickly expressed their interest, the document also elicited mixed reactions from national European governments. Several ministers resented the lack of collaboration in the launch of this initiative by four ministers from “big” countries, self-appointed as legitimate leaders. Against a background of protest over the tactlessness of the way the “four greats” had launched their project, the central objective of the project itself ultimately, and surprisingly, failed to elicit much discussion, although the construction of an EHEA based on a common degree structure had up to that point been a very sensitive issue.

27While the ministers who had initiated the project, for reasons essentially related to national political agendas, held back, a small group of actors, who had not been initially involved in the Sorbonne meeting, formed around the Austrian minister of higher education, as Austria held the presidency of the EU for the first time. They were assisted by an expert from the European organisation of rectors. [38] These actors took ambivalent stances. On the one hand, they condemned the way the Sorbonne initiative had been undertaken, but on the other, they suggested investing in the EHEA project, which they saw as promising.

28They set up the provisional Sorbonne Follow-Up Group (SFUG), in order to organise a second conference involving all interested countries (a suggestion made by the Italians). The SFUG was in charge of handling contacts with participants at this second conference, drafting a new declaration and offering logistical support to the Italians for the organisation of this new event in Bologna. As far as the group’s composition was concerned, there was no actual debate, as the actors settled on the first satisfactory solution: although another institutional design could have been envisioned, they defined a structure that was clearly inspired by the cooperation structures to which they were accustomed at EU level. The SFUG thus included representatives from the European troika and the Commission. [39] Their attitude towards the Commission was more nuanced than in the Sorbonne: the Bologna organisers wanted the conference to remain independent from the EU, but did not turn down the contributions of the Commission to the organisation of the event. Moreover, some of the exchanges concerning this project of a new conference took place at the margins of EU meetings (Council of Ministers and Committee for Higher Education).

29The SFUG was not a genuine coordination device, but rather a provisional and relatively rudimentary entity, created to bring new actors into the game, to steer the organisation of an upcoming event (the Bologna conference) and prepare the drafting of a new text. This episode was a decisive one, as the future “Bolognese” culture started taking shape, through a “translation” process. Seeds were sown for the development of a Europe of universities, distinct from the EU. It was also established that the “big” European countries could not make progress on their own in this project by claiming to show the way forward to “small” countries. These principles, from which subsequent working rules were derived, also related to identity. They were formulated during the pre-history of the device and later provided fodder for the Bologna myth (that of a flexible process, based on the will of the states, and controlled neither by the European Commission nor by the bigger countries) and made the emergence of a form of constraint acceptable for all participants.

Phase 2 (1999-2003): the formalisation of the follow-up structure and the increase in the number of tools

30In June 1999, 29 countries signed the Bologna Declaration. The 25 new signatories were not suddenly convinced that it had become urgent to build an EHEA and that the two-cycle structure was the best response to the problems they were facing at national level. Instead, their rallying can be explained by a combination of several factors. First, the objectives mapped out in the declaration were sufficiently vague and ambiguous to encompass contrasting, or even contradictory interpretations. [40] They were thus potential levers: the ministers joining the process could use them as ways to legitimate domestic reforms. The ministers also anticipated the coordination effects of the potential generalisation of the common degree structure, and did not want to risk having their national degree system become “incompatible”. Lastly, since the Bologna Declaration (and the Sorbonne Declaration) had no formal status and the subsequent steps of the EHEA project remained uncertain, most ministers assumed that signing the text did not commit them to much.

31The Bologna Declaration set common goals (it mainly validated the objectives outlined in the Sorbonne Declaration) and introduced the notion of coordination. But the document still said extremely little about how coordination was supposed to work: it only stated that ministers would “pursue ways of intergovernmental co-operation” and “meet again within two years”. Once its mission was accomplished, the SFUG was disbanded in July 1999 and talks began on the constitution of the Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG). The choice of a two-group structure quickly prevailed: the principle of a system with a small steering group and a larger group conceived as an assembly of the Bologna Process, including representatives from all signatory countries and stakeholders, would subsequently not be called into question. But the negotiation of the definitive institutional arrangement took nearly four years of design and redesign, to define the composition of the steering group, establish the respective mandates and attributions of each of the groups, and specify conditions for the accession of new countries to the Bologna Process.

32The affirmation of the BFUG as the public outlet of the Bologna Process was also very progressive: during the initial phase of its existence, between 1999 and 2001, as its activities were focused on the organisation of the 2001 Prague conference, most actors within higher education in Europe were unaware that this structure even existed. The BFUG was only made official in the Prague Communiqué (May 2001). The definitive follow-up structure was then stabilised in 2003. It was made up of a large group bringing together representatives from signatory countries and stakeholders, a bureau (constituted from the EU troika and three elected members from the Bologna Process) and a secretariat, run by the country hosting the next conference.

33The BFUG was not an empty shell. More and more activities were organised between the ministerial conferences for governmental and higher education actors (follow-up meetings, thematic seminars, etc.). Alongside the process of formalisation of an institutional arrangement, there was a concentrated movement towards the development of tools. There were various types of tools: for external communication (creation of a logo and of an official Bologna Process website); for internal communication and organisation (progressive creation of templates and of a referencing system for the increasingly numerous internal documents); and for information on the progress of Bologna objectives and the development of the EHEA (drafting of reports). The latter type is crucial to my analysis of the development of a coordination device.

34Here, again, the modalities for reporting were neither negotiated nor agreed upon when the ministers initially committed themselves in 1999. The principle of producing reports for each conference was only gradually established. The first reports produced were those of the BFUG; they were meant to allow members of the follow-up structure to account for their activities to ministers. But as the BFUG had no specific capacity to produce information on the progress of reforms, the information it provided was increasingly complemented by reports drafted by stakeholders. Thus, the European University Association (EUA) produced reports on “Trends in learning structures in higher education in Europe” (generally known as “Trends reports”). The “Trends I” (1999) and “Trends II” reports (2001) addressed the reform of the national higher education systems; from 2003 onwards, reports were focused on the reception and the effects of Bologna on universities. From 2003, the European Students’ Union also drafted a report entitled “Bologna with students’ eyes” for each ministerial conference.

35But the most interesting reports for the purposes of this analysis are undoubtedly the national reports submitted before each ministerial conference on progress made at national level and the next stages in the implementation of Bologna objectives. These reports have changed a lot since 1999, both in terms of how systematically they are submitted and of how precise they are formally. In the Bologna conference, no report or any other kind of document was requested from the signatories; nor were they asked about their plans for the implementation of common objectives. Only the “Trends I” report (drafted by an expert from the European University Association with support from the Commission) provided information on the national situations of 15 out of the 29 signatories (members of the EU and of the EEA). In June 2000, for the first time, the BFUG bureau asked national representatives to deliver a short oral presentation on national developments during an interim meeting (however, only 11 out of the 29 signatories submitted a short report). For the 2001 Prague conference, participating countries were this time formally requested to draft a written report; but this request was not recognised as binding (19 countries out of 29 submitted a report). All short (the longest ones are seven pages long), these texts are extremely different in their approaches: some present the situation for each of the six Bologna objectives (i.e., the implementation of the two-cycle structure, of the ECTS credit system, of the Diploma Supplement, etc.) after a general (or not) introduction on the national context; some only discuss one of the objectives (generally the key one – the introduction of the Bachelor/Masters structure); yet others present the national higher education system without mentioning Bologna objectives at all. As a whole, these 2001 national reports attest to an effort of promotion of national action rather than a real willingness to make a self-assessment of the respective systems.

36Between 2001 and 2003, as the BFUG and its functioning were formalised, it became more difficult for governments to ignore requests for reports: in the 2003 Berlin conference, all countries submitted one. The fact that these reports were now available online on the official Bologna Process website reinforced this sense of obligation. Compared to the 2001 reports, the 2003 reports are longer (10 to 20 pages) and more thorough. Most of them provide information on national context, developments related to Bologna objectives, and the creation of a “Bologna committee” acting as a relay at national level. However, these documents remained very different in their structure and the types of information and data mobilised were still fairly heterogeneous. In summary: around 2003, governments felt obligated to submit a report and, insofar as the report would be freely available online (and therefore accessible not only for other European states, but also for all national actors and observers eager to see how their ministry presented the national situation), it could become uncomfortable for a ministry to produce an altogether too blatantly self-promoting report. Nevertheless, because these reports remained so different in content and structure, and because they emphasised national specificities so much, the possibility of direct comparison between the countries remained out of reach.

37At this stage, a loose consensus was consolidated and it was assumed that, in this voluntary project, while countries were free to go their own way to achieve the common goals, it had become necessary to collect information on national developments in order to ensure the continuity of the process. But beyond this consensus, there was no clearly thought-out relationship between the various reporting activities. How these different reports contributed to the coordination and the follow-up of the process was not clearly defined. The reports were arguably more about legitimating the actors and defending their position in the follow-up structure rather than about providing relevant information to ensure the steering of the process. To some extent, these reports were outlets for a symbolic competition between the participants, through which the European University Association sought to assert its legitimacy as the representative of universities, and governments showcased their proactive attitude in the implementation of common objectives in the eyes of their European counterparts and of national actors.

38As this second phase ended, the institutional structure had been formalised, but this took nearly five years and much time was devoted to negotiating this institutional arrangement. The BFUG progressively defined its composition, its boundaries, and its main operating rules, and developed skills for structuring interactions between member countries or aspiring members, organising the conferences and negotiating the communiqués. Information tools became ever more numerous, but their development was not orderly. The structuring and the instrumentation of the Bologna Process system experienced some progress, but the coordination device remained incomplete: there was no leader, nor a real ability to encourage or incite participants to implement common objectives, let alone in a coordinated way.

Phase 3 (2003-2005): the rationalisation of the coordination device

39Things changed in 2003-2005. Various factors, related to both the enlargement of the Bologna Process and its mid-term agenda (the creation of the EHEA by 2010), called for a rationalisation of the Bologna Process’s governance. Since 2001, 32 countries had been involved and accepting new participants meant pushing the borders of the EHEA far beyond the borders of the EU, and of its candidate states, or of the European Economic Area. The conditions for joining the Bologna Process – which had until then been quite vague – were redefined and formalised: to become a member, the candidate country must have signed the European Cultural Convention, state its commitment to achieving Bologna objectives, and present a national plan for the implementation of these objectives. Signatory countries did not have to meet this condition in 1999 and 2002. There was no formal procedure for the evaluation of national progress and no request for future plans. As a result, BFUG members had little legitimacy to ask candidate countries to comply with a discipline that they were not following themselves: the establishment of stricter and more formalised criteria for accession came with the formalisation of the criteria for the evaluation of participating countries. The dynamic remained iterative.

40During this period, the Bologna Process entered a new phase. The next conference was held in 2005, i.e., halfway to the 2010 deadline set for the construction of the EHEA. The impetus of the process was heightened as the date neared. But while the overall direction was already determined (to build an EHEA around common objectives) and the institutional machinery had emerged and begun to stabilise, both the pilot and the dashboard were still missing.

41In 2003, the BFUG had a wealth of data on progress in the implementation of Bologna objectives from several types of reports (BFUG, Trends, European Students’ Union, national reports), and information from various sources such as Eurydice, [41] NARIC, ERIC (the EU and the Council of Europe’s networks of information about academic recognition) and ENQA (the European Network on Quality Assurance in higher education). But this information, although abundant, was too heterogeneous to provide a global overview of progress on the process and enable comparisons.

42All of this led the BFUG to conclude that it was necessary to create a common template for national reports, and introduce a crosscutting instrument to compile the existing scattered data in order to produce a systematic evaluation of national changes. In 2003, the ministers asked the BFUG to undertake a “stocktaking exercise” for the next ministerial conference, i.e., a review of recent evolutions on the three key objectives for achieving the EHEA: the introduction of the two-cycle structure, degree recognition and quality assurance.

43An ad hoc working group was set up within the BFUG. [42] In 2004, during an initial phase, the group worked at identifying sources and collecting data. It was clear from the start that stocktaking was not about producing new data, but about compiling, cross-referencing and synthesising existing information with the help of a template, which specified the information to be collected on each priority (through a series of questions) and the relevant source (for each). For instance, regarding the first priority identified in the Berlin Communiqué, the introduction of the two-cycle structure, the template included two sub-objectives: 1. Progress in the implementation of the two-degree cycle; 2. Progress in the development of a national qualification framework (see Figure 1 for an excerpt from the template, introducing sub-objective 1 with a number of questions).

44The first stage of data collecting consisted of specifying and reorganising data. The template defined for the first time the status and the functions of the existing information tools. This implied that the actors had to adapt their reports to provide the information required. The drafting of reports ceased to be merely an exercise of legitimisation, and became a more pragmatic process. Indeed, participants had to stick to BFUG instructions as closely as possible. This evolution is particularly striking in the case of the Commission, which quickly adjusted the information produced by its structures in order to assert its authority: the 2005 edition of the Eurydice study was thus extended to all Bologna Process participants – including those not involved in Socrates programmes; and items were added to the questionnaire sent out to national Eurydice agencies in order to match template questions.

Figure 1

Template on collecting information for the stocktaking (excerpt)[43]

Figure 1

Template on collecting information for the stocktaking (excerpt)[43]

45In January 2005, a second phase began: the definition and the development of a methodology for the synthesis and comparison of results. For these purposes, an independent expert [44] was brought in to work with the group, advising on the construction of stocktaking categories and the drafting of the synthesised report. The members opted for a methodology relying on scorecards. The principle was simple: a performance scale was defined, and scores on national progress for each priority were attributed. The group archives show that the definition of the Bologna scorecard drew inspiration from two sources. The first came from the private sector, with the so-called “Balanced scorecard approach” measurement method, a strategic business management approach developed in the early 1990s by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. Combining the measures of financial and operational performance, it became a widespread management method in the mid-2000s, and was extensively taught academically. It consists of “a set of measures that gives top managers a fast, but comprehensive view of the business […] The balanced scorecard [is like] the dials and indicators in an airplane cockpit. […] Managers [are] able to view performance in several areas simultaneously.” [45] The balanced scorecard was devised both as a measurement and a management tool: it is meant to work as an organising framework and to incite managers and employees to adjust their behaviours. [46]

46The second source of inspiration for the Bologna score-card was the Lisbon scorecard, which, despite what its name may suggest, was not developed at Community level within the framework of the Lisbon strategy. The Lisbon scorecard was devised by a UK think tank, the Centre for European Reform (CER, founded in 1996 by Economist journalist Charles Grant). Its methodology is rather crude, and left mostly unexplained in CER publications: without explaining the criteria used and pointing only to Commission or OECD documents for information on sources, the CER approach asserts its ideological bias and its subjectivity; identifying “heroes and villains” and giving marks (from A to E) on the national performances of member states in key sectors. It is therefore not for its methodological sophistication or academic recognition that this tool served as an inspiration for the Bologna scorecard; this can rather be explained by the fact that such tools were then somewhat “trendy” (the Lisbon scorecard was often mentioned in the international press [47] and in the debates on the Lisbon strategy).

47It is interesting to note the absence of the various scoreboards developed at Community level since the late 1990s. A scoreboard on the implementation of the internal market had been in existence since 1997. In the field of innovation, a scoreboard had been available since 2000 to assess the performances of member states within the framework of the Lisbon Strategy. Though it could be assumed that these Community tools inspired the working group for the Bologna scorecard, this was not the case.

48Inspired by the balanced scorecard approach and the Lisbon scorecard, and advised by the expert, the working group defined a structured range of criteria, no longer devised as items of information to locate and collect (as in the initial phase of the group’s work in 2004), but considered as performance evaluation criteria. Each of the action lines identified in 2003 matches a criterion, and each criterion matches benchmarks. The scores were subsequently colour-coded. [48] Using the colour chart was seen as a “soft way of grading, as opposed to the use of numerical indicators”, and therefore considered more acceptable.

49Based on the information collected in the reports, the working group thus attributed scores according to the scale, and represented these scores in national scorecards, and then in a general scorecard (see excerpt in Figure 2). Though the introduction of the stocktaking report claims that the scorecard “is not designed to make comparisons between countries”, the reader may be sceptical: since the beginning of the process, not only was this the first time that an evaluation of national situations had been conducted, but also comparison had never been easier: “good” and “bad” pupils and their weaknesses could be identified in a few seconds. Stocktaking and the scorecard thus reinforced the mechanism of naming and shaming, which had existed previously as the reporting activity developed, but less blatantly so. With such a measurement and representation of national situations, governments became afraid of being singled out as “bad pupils” among their European counterparts and in the national political arena. These fears were far from unjustified: the scorecard was explicitly devised to attract attention from national media. Handing out “red cards” to a government for failing to implement a given priority is certainly not a “soft” way of handling things… Moreover, stocktaking does not make it possible to consider scores in relation to the national contexts (the original situation, the specificities and traditions of the national system, the degree of Europeanisation in other policy fields, etc.).

50With the introduction of stocktaking, a ramping up of the coordination device’s hold on Bologna Process participants can be observed: when national reports were set up, they agreed to account for their progress; when these reports were made available online, access to them became public; when the template was introduced, they had to accept the possibility of a comparison between countries; and with the scorecard, they had no choice but to apply a simplified coding of national situations, which were thus made immediately comparable but without any data on progress and context.

Figure 2

General scorecard (excerpt)[49]

Figure 2

General scorecard (excerpt)[49]

51Why, then, did national governments not put up more of a fight against the implementation of stocktaking and its effects? First, the stocktaking exercise includes a procedure for challenging the results (scorecards are initially submitted to national representatives, who may object to them if they are able to provide complementary data that contradicts results approved by the working group). Second, this pressure may be understood as the price for acquiring a highly effective lever in legitimating domestic reforms. With participation in the Bologna Process, a mechanism of cognitive convergence also developed and the objectives and methods of the BFUG were increasingly recognised as legitimate. Lastly, these mechanisms were also reinforced by the “Bologna myth”.

52During this third phase, a rationalisation of Bologna Process governance can be observed – it materialised with the introduction of a crosscutting instrument: stocktaking. Stocktaking synthesised existing information tools and transformed their informative function into one of across-the-board evaluation. Formally, there was still neither a pilot for the Bologna Process (a “Mr” or “Mrs Bologna”) nor any obligation for participants to comply with common objectives and implement reforms. But by giving the BFUG a mandate to conduct the stocktaking, ministers effectively sanctioned the institutionalisation of a system of information and of multilateral surveillance, and the emergence of informal penalties following a process of naming and shaming. The BFUG and its working group in charge of stocktaking became the Bologna Process watchdogs. [50] The initial “soft” cooperation based on voluntary participation established in 1999 progressively turned into a monitored coordination device. [51]

Concluding remarks

53In retracing the structuring and the instrumentation of the Bologna Process coordination device, I have addressed the question of the shaping of constraint in an initially soft, non-formal public policy process. In this conclusion, I will now deal with my second question, that of the possibility of European coordination without the EU, and discuss the contribution of this case study to the debates on the instrumentation of public policy.

On the possibility of European coordination without the EU

54Specialists of NMGs developed within the EU will undoubtedly be familiar with the type of developments I have just related. Specifically, there are correspondences between my results and those from research on the most studied NMG: the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). First, there are clear similarities in the discourse promoting both methods (emphasis on novelty, voluntary and participative dimensions); secondly, in the ideal-typical sequence, i.e., the formal succession of the stages of the Bologna Process (definition of common objectives and of an agenda in the Bologna Declaration, national implementation, definition of criteria and benchmarks with the introduction of stocktaking, evaluation and comparison of national performances) and of the OMC (definition of guidelines and of an agenda for achieving short-, mid-and long-term objectives set by member states; establishment of indicators and evaluation criteria; translation of European lines of action into national and regional policies, regular follow-up and evaluation). [52] Lastly, for the actors involved in the Bologna follow-up system, developing and using tools, and using a specific vocabulary in meetings and seminars produced effects of cognitive convergence that may be likened to those observed in the OMC in “their assessment of causal mechanisms at work in policy areas, definitions of desirable and unacceptable policies, and beliefs about how policies work”. [53]

55Yet the Bologna coordination device differs from the OMC in terms of its position in relation to the EU. Initiated and institutionalised outside of the EU framework, it includes 47 participants, while the EU has 27 members. It is admittedly not entirely disconnected from the EU – as it includes representatives of the Commission and the troika – but it has developed a distinct institutional structure, set of rules, tools and different working methods.

56Let us now reassess the arguments from the literature on NMGs that hold the development of a non-EU NMG to be unlikely. According to the first argument, with the institutionalisation of EU governance arenas, it has become more difficult for actors to envision European cooperation outside of the EU. The data presented in this paper suggests a more ambivalent picture. In 1998, it appears that the Bologna actors’ experience of European cooperation had an impact: they opted for a structure that resembled what they knew at EU level for the SFUG’s institutional design. However, in 2003, when they developed the crosscutting stocktaking instrument, their approach was directly informed by private management methods – not by the OMC or the EU scoreboards. More generally, this case demonstrates that the institutionalisation of EU governance was not an obstacle to the strategic use of EU opportunities and resources (funds, skills, etc.) to develop a process that remained deliberately outside the EU.

57The second argument pertains to the importance of the “shadow of hierarchy”: a non-EU European NMG lacking the shadow of hierarchy is assumed, in turn, to lack political legitimacy. Yet, in the case of the Bologna Process, I have, on the contrary, observed that the absence of the shadow of hierarchy was actually crucial in launching the dynamic. In 1999, one of the reasons why numerous countries joined the project was precisely the absence of an EU connection, as it was presented as a voluntary and non-binding initiative freely adopted by European ministers. The emergence of a form of constraint then occurred with the structuring and instrumentation of the coordination device, and the actors eventually found that their initial commitment was far more binding than they had thought. Paradoxically, the launch of the Bologna Process without the shadow of hierarchy has probably made it more powerful and legitimate: the states feel bound by a coordination device that they have themselves built, and supervised by an institution to which they have given this mandate.

58The third argument concerns the necessity of a third party to handle coordination and the fact that, in the case of European NMGs, this third party is generally the European Commission. Some have argued that, although the Bologna Process is not directly connected to the EU, the Commission is actually its hidden pilot. Here again, my results call for a more nuanced interpretation: the relationship between the governmental actors of the Bologna Process and the Commission actors can be termed one of “vigilant cooperation”: [54] they accept limited participation from the Commission, but remain extremely vigilant in containing the latter’s ambition to control the process. The role of the Commission representatives in the coordination device is an important one: they have been involved since 1999 and have had to establish their position. To do so, they are better endowed with financial resources, expertise and information than other participants, but they also have to consider the strategies of governmental actors. Arguing that the Commission pulls the strings of the Bologna Process does not do justice to the political skills of these actors.

59The case of the Bologna Process thus seems to confirm the possibility – left largely unexplored in the literature – that coordination devices may develop at European level without answering to the EU directly. In light of my results, it is certainly not possible to argue that this European coordination device was developed entirely without the EU, but it was clearly institutionalised outside of the EU institutional framework, which is one of its distinctive features. The question remains whether this relative autonomy of the coordination device observed in the phases of emergence and formalisation will endure over the long term, or if the phase of institutionalisation will induce a normalisation and an expansion of EU policy-making in this field.

On the contribution of the Bologna Process case to the study of the instrumentation of public policy

60Ultimately, I argue that the contribution of the instrumental perspective is the conceptual equipment it provides to answer the question “who governs when nobody governs?”, [55] or perhaps more accurately “who steers when no one is steering?” in soft governance processes. By retracing the structuring and the instrumentation of the Bologna Process, I have shown how initially scattered tools emerged, and were subsequently gradually formalised and made to work together, shaping an increasingly rationalised method for the steering and monitoring of the coordination of national policies. In short, this study demonstrates how much the Bologna Process is steered by its instruments.

61Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès’s concept of instrumentation helps us leave behind a static perception of the instrument to consider the process of its development and the constant interaction between actors and instruments throughout this process, while keeping in mind that instruments have a life of their own and also produce specific effects. Yet, in light of this case study, it is also possible to debate their approach on several grounds. First, on how instruments are introduced: the Lascoumes/Le Galès approach remains quite similar to Hood’s idea of “picking” a tool from the toolbox [56] – it consists of “choosing one instrument over another”. [57] The case of the Bologna Process has shown that the introduction of an instrument consists of a process of reinvention and adaptation rather than just selection. The sources of inspiration, the context of this reinvention, and the motivations of the actors involved cannot be overlooked when analysing the career of an instrument that is never “picked up” and introduced as is. We have seen how the recourse to the stocktaking instrument and the scorecard tool derived from a complex process, inspired by existing blueprints, but reinventing a logic and a methodology specific to the issue at hand.

62Next, while Lascoumes and Le Galès’s definition rightly calls attention to the original and unexpected effects of instruments, this perspective should not steer us away from analysing their functionality. Admittedly, when studying the instrumentation of public policy, one assumes that instruments do not (only) exist to solve problems, and that their functions extend far beyond those assigned by their promoters. But the history of the instrumentation of the Bologna Process shows that, in order to understand an instrumental dynamic, their functions should not be neglected – including the functions assigned by the promoters of the instrument. First, an instrument is not static; the functions attributed by its promoters are not immutable. In some cases, an instrument can be put in place even when the actors have not really settled on how it should be used. They may discover the functions they attribute to it during the course of its development, or adjust its functions to the “instrumental landscape” in which it is inscribed. Functions change, adjust according to each instrument’s specific dynamic, according to its technical properties, but also according to its interactions with other available tools. The actors can be very creative in anticipating and appropriating the instruments’ specific effects: a specific effect can become an explicit function. Hence, in the case at hand, when the very first national reports were submitted in a 2000 follow-up group meeting – less than a year after the Bologna conference – it would be an exaggeration to clam that they were requested for purposes of control. Yet introducing reporting amounted to creating the possibility of this control; and subsequently BFUG reports became progressively more constraining. National reports gradually shifted from an information function to assume a performance assessment function; this shift was very explicit for the actors. Thus, when studying processes of instrumentation, the malleability of the instruments must be taken into account. In relation to Lascoumes and Le Galès’s typology of public policy instruments, this amounts to stating that in the course of its institutionalisation, an instrument can shift from one type to another: the story I have just recounted is that of the transformation of a set of tools pertaining to the “informational and communicational” category into an instrument – stocktaking – pertaining to the category of “norms, standards, and best practice”. And just as the typology may change, the type of legitimacy on which these instruments rely also changes: we have moved from a situation in which explanation of/for decision-making and the accountability of the actors prevailed, to one in which a measure of scientific and technical legitimacy is evident, with a mechanism of pressure and competition weighing on the actors. This case study thus shows that Lascoumes and Le Galès’s typology can be useful not only to characterise and compare public policy instruments, but also to study the career of a given instrument and its evolution from one type to another.

63Lastly, the instrumental perspective aims to “grasp” public policy “through its instruments”, which act as “indicators of changes in public policy and a means to analyse the transformations of the contemporary state”. [58] In the case at hand, we may nevertheless wonder if, beyond the two main questions I have addressed (the shaping of constraint and the possibility of European coordination without the EU), the dynamic of the Bologna Process can be entirely “grasped” through its instruments. I have emphasised the fact that instruments do not materialise in an institutional vacuum, and argued in favour of a definition of instrumentation that encompasses the institutional structure of the formal system within which they produce their effects. I also wish to point out that instrumentation does not happen in a cognitive vacuum either. To address this cognitive dimension, Lascoumes and Le Galès claim that instrumentation entails an “implicit political theorisation” because “each instrument is a condensed form of knowledge on social power and on how to exert it”. [59] But the concrete mechanisms of this “condensation” remain quite elusive: how, exactly, can meaning be “condensed” into an instrument? Are the actors responsible for this “condensation” process, or involved in it? Or is it related to the life of the instruments and their meanings, on which the actors have no influence? Does meaning change in this “condensation”, as this physical metaphor seems to suggest?

64A shortcut for interpreting the “condensed meanings” arguments could of course consist in describing – denouncing? – the importation of private management techniques in equipping the Bologna institutional structure, and in analysing it as an example of the hold of market-based logic on European higher education policy, with the Commission’s blessing. While this study of the instrumentation of the Bologna Process does not contradict this hypothesis, it does not entirely confirm it either. The entire meaning of a policy is not contained in the meanings carried by the instruments. Attention to meanings supposedly condensed in the instrument should not lead us to disregard the meanings outside of/around the instrument. In other words, when studying a public policy process, focusing on the condensation of cognitive elements in an instrument should not justify doing without the analysis of the relation between the instrumental and the cognitive matrix. In the case of the Bologna Process, the study of the development of the stocktaking instrument, effectively derived from private management techniques, has proven highly relevant to explain the shaping of constraint. However, in order to explain the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process and the imposition of its principles as an “obligatory point of passage”, I argue that it is necessary to go beyond the mere identification of the managerial inspiration of the coordination device to analyse the ambivalent nature of this political project, between regulation and competition. [60]

Methodological appendix

65This paper relies on data collected and analysed during my doctoral research between 2003 and 2007. Written material should be distinguished from oral sources; the evolution of the combination and use of both types of sources reflects the dynamic of the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process.

66Written sources

67I have collected and conducted in-depth analysis of a wide range of written material.

68This corpus of course includes the official Bologna Process declarations and communiqués. This Process is effectively first and foremost a set of texts containing a vision and objectives for higher education in Europe. The advantage of these texts is that they are easily accessed – which might explain the popularity of the discursive approach in research on the Bologna Process. Yet they are in no way sufficient to understand its institutionalisation, particularly relating to the structuring and the instrumentation of the follow-up system: references to this system are actually only validations of institutional innovations made in the two years preceding each conference. The second type of written material I have used is a number of personal archives, and documents that were not produced collectively and thus not institutionally archived (correspondence, meeting notes, working notes, drafts of reports or declarations, which I collected from interviewees). Cross-checking these sources and the interviews has proved particularly interesting and helpful to tell fact and storytelling apart. I have also conducted cross-checking between these personal archives and other written sources (the definitive versions of the declarations and reports). The third type of source I have used in my research is a corpus of documents referred to as “reports”. They can be broadly defined as the written contributions of various Bologna Process actors: national progress reports on the implementation of Bologna objectives submitted by participating states in each conference; reports made for the ministers by the follow-up group presenting their activities and propositions; the EUA’s Trends reports, which analyse the implementation of Bologna objectives from the universities’ perspective; the “Bologna with students’ eyes” reports made by the European Students’ Union (ESU, formerly ESIB); and of course the stocktaking reports discussed extensively in the paper. I have systematically read and analysed these documents, with a focus on the evolution of their increasingly standardised form, the methodology used, and the growing links between these reports to produce different types of information on the progress of the Bologna Process. Lastly, the minutes of the follow-up group meetings have been key to my research. Initially infrequent, poorly structured and formalised (informal accounts which belonged more to the category of “personal archives”), their form and their number evolved, such that there was eventually a wealth of standardised and referenced documents enabling citations and cross-references, contributing to the emergence of an institutional awareness and memory, and conferring a “sheen” of juridical status on the Bologna Process.

69Oral sources

70For the purposes of my research, I also conducted 85 semi-directive interviews. [61] Interviewees firstly included national governmental actors, national experts, and prominent members of national university associations directly involved in (or directly witnessing) the launch and the stabilisation of the Bologna Process in France (20 interviews), Germany (7), the UK (8), Portugal (6), Austria (7) and the Czech Republic (3). [62] This sample includes the four countries that initiated the project in 1998 (France, Germany, Italy, UK); those that hosted the ministerial conferences of 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2003 (France, Italy, Czech Republic and Germany); one country that eagerly joined the EHEA project in 1998 (Czech Republic) and two that led protests against the Sorbonne Declaration in 1998, and that were subsequently highly involved in developing and setting up the follow-up system (Austria and Portugal). I have also interviewed prominent members of the European University Association (EUA, 6 interviews), of the European Students’ Association (ESU, formerly ESIB, 3 interviews), the European Commission (6), the Council of Europe (2), as well as European experts active in several of these spheres (3). I have made mostly informative/narrative use of these interviews, while attempting to remain comprehensive. [63] As I retraced the micro-historical process of the organisation of the Sorbonne conference, I conducted and analysed interviews with a view to identifying key dates and moments, but also to figuring out the everyday interactions between the main actors during these few months. Similarly, regarding interviews with the actors involved in implementing the follow-up system, I focused on identifying the key stages and decisions in the development of the system, and on understanding working rules that were at the time informal, the relationships and the division of tasks between members, their methods, etc. This attention to interactions in a historical process is – together with the use of other types of sources – a way to counteract the usual biases of retrospective interviews. [64] First, while actors may have inaccurate memories of events, dates or even names, they are often much more reliable on interactions, cleavage lines and key issues. Second, conducting several interviews and therefore collecting different viewpoints on the interactions is useful to avoid constructing a “heroic” view of certain actors. Lastly, more broadly speaking, the attention to everyday work and ordinary interactions acts as a way of limiting the temptation to reconstruct.

71Methodological evolution as a reflection of the process of institutionalisation

72As a conclusion to these methodological remarks, I must point out that I have combined various methodologies in different ways during different phases of the process. This evolution of the methodology reflects the institutionalisation of the object of my study. Two contrasting periods can be identified which I conceived of in different methodological terms. For the 1998-2002 period, the only way to go beyond the texts of the declarations was to identify and interview actors, and persuade them to let me look at their personal documents (if they had archived them). My interviews with the small group of actors involved, and the treatment of this carefully acquired data, provide an overarching, if not exhaustive view of the launch of the Bologna Process, that no actor and no study which did not have access to the same type of empirical material could have produced. For the second period that began in 2002-2003, my methodological approach changed: there was an increasing number of written sources and, as they were made available on a website that remained online after the conferences and served as archives, these documents were easily and freely accessible. During the course of the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process, the number of actors involved became quite significant (several hundreds). Accordingly, I used interviews not to collect comprehensive information, but rather to have an overview of the process and the mechanisms at work. To identify and analyse the mechanisms of the structuring and instrumentation of the coordination device, I relied on written sources; I used the interviews to shed light on the data collected in the written sources and put it into perspective. The most difficult phase to retrace was undoubtedly the pivotal 2001-2003 period: actors were already quite numerous and interviews conducted with a few of them no longer had an exhaustive value; the amount of written documents had considerably increased but there was no systematic archiving method yet – often the actors who were involved in the follow-up system for a few months did not keep these documents. For that period, I was forced to progressively put together facts and mechanisms from the interviews and written material I was able to procure.


  • [1]
    Pierre Muller, Pauline Ravinet, “Construire l’Europe en résistant à l’UE? Le cas du processus de Bologne”, Revue internationale de politique comparée, 16(1), 2009, 653-65.
  • [2]
    Pierre Lascoumes, Patrick Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2004); Pierre Lascoumes, Patrick Le Galès, “Introduction: Understanding public policy through its instruments – from the nature of instruments to the sociology of public policy instrumentation”, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 20, 2007, 1-21.Online
  • [3]
    I argue that Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès propose an “instrumental matrix”, i.e. a coherent system between different instrumental levels to analyse public policy, just as cognitive approaches of public policy propose a “cognitive matrix”, i.e. a coherent system between different levels of norms, representations and beliefs (Yves Surel, “Idées, intérêts, institutions dans l’analyse des politiques publiques”, Pouvoirs,87, 1998,161-78).
  • [4]
    For an analysis that combines these two perspectives, see my Ph.D. thesis: Pauline Ravinet, “La genèse et l’institutionnalisation du processus de Bologne. Entre chemin de traverse et sentier de dépendance”, thèse de science politique, Paris, IEP de Paris, 2007.
  • [5]
    P. Lascoumes, P. Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments.
  • [6]
    See the methodological appendix to this article.
  • [7]
    For a more detailed historical analysis, see Pauline Ravinet, “La construction européenne et l’enseignement supérieur”, in Renaud Dehousse (ed.), Politiques européennes (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2009), 353-68; “Le processus de Bologne comme contournement de l’UE: les dynamiques paradoxales de construction de l’Espace européen d’enseignement supérieur”, in Philippe Laredo, Jean-Philippe Leresche, Karl Weber (eds), L’internationalisation de la recherche et de l’enseignement supérieur. France, Suisse et Union européenne (Lausanne: Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, 2009), 217-33.
  • [8]
    Anne Corbett, Universities and the Europe of Knowledge. Ideas, Institutions and Policy Entrepreneurship in European Union Higher Education Policy, 1955-2005 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
  • [9]
    Luce Pépin, Histoire de la coopération européenne dans le domaine de l’éducation et la formation. Comment l’Europe se construitUn exemple (Luxembourg: Office des publications officielles des Communautés européennes, 2006).
  • [10]
    Luce Pépin, “The history of EU cooperation in the field of education and training: how lifelong learning became a strategic objective”, European Journal of Education, 42(1), 2007, 121-32.Online
  • [11]
    On the member states’ reactions to the European Commission’s 1991 Memorandum on Higher Education, see Pauline Ravinet, “La construction européenne…”.
  • [12]
    For a detailed analysis of the way the vision for the EHEA crystallised in the May 1998 Sorbonne meeting, see Pauline Ravinet, “Comment le processus de Bologne a-t-il commencé? La formulation de la vision d’un Espace européen d’enseignement supérieur à la Sorbonne en 1998”, Éducation et sociétés, 24, 2009, 29-44.
  • [13]
    These objectives are as follows: “Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees” (among other things through the Diploma Supplement); “Adoption of a system essentially based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate”, “Establishment of a system of credits – such as in the ECTS system”, “Promotion of mobility”, “Promotion of European cooperation in quality assurance”, “Promotion of the necessary European dimensions in higher education” (“Bologna Declaration”, 19 June 1999, §9-15).
  • [14]
    John Pitseys, “Le processus de Bologne”, Revue interdisciplinaire d’études juridiques, 52, 2004, 143-89. Online
  • [15]
    See for instance: Stéphanie Mignot-Gérard, Christine Musselin, Chacun cherche son LMD: l’adoption par les universités françaises du schéma européen des études en deux cycles (Paris: Centre de sociologie des organisations/École supérieure de l’Éducation nationale, 2005); Georg Krücken et al., Hochschulen im Wettbewerb. Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der Einführung von Bachelor-und Masterstudiengängen an deutschen Universitäten (Bielefeld: University of Bielefeld, Department of Sociology, 2005); Johanna Witte, “Change of degrees and degrees of change. Comparing adaptations of European higher education systems in the context of the Bologna Process”, Ph.D. thesis, Enschede, CHEPS/ University of Twente, 2006.
  • [16]
    For an overview, see Christine Musselin, “Les réformes des universités en Europe: des orientations comparables, mais des déclinaisons nationales”, Revue du MAUSS, 33, 2009, 69-91.
  • [17]
    Michel Callon, “Éléments pour une sociologie de la traduction. La domestication des marins-pêcheurs et des coquilles Saint-Jacques dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc”, L’Année sociologique, 36, 1986, 169-208.
  • [18]
    For a more detailed presentation of these three possible answers, see Pauline Ravinet, “From voluntary participation to monitored coordination: why European countries feel increasingly bound by their commitment to the Bologna Process”, European Journal of Education, 43(3), 2008, 353-67.Online
  • [19]
    See for instance Tehri Nokkala, “Knowledge society/knowledge economy discourse in internationalisation of higher education – a case study of governmentality”, in Tor Halvorsen, Atle Nyhagen (eds), The Bologna Process and the Shaping of the Future of Knowledge Societies (Oslo: Department of Administration and Organization Theory/Department of Sociology and Forum for University History, Bergen, University of Bergen, 2005), 94-117.
  • [20]
    Andrew Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe. Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).
  • [21]
    Kenneth Dyson, Kevin Featherstone, “Italy and EMU as a ‘Vincolo Esteruo’: empowering the technocrats, transforming the state”, South European Society and Politics, 1, 1996, 272-99; Sophie Jacquot, Cornelia Woll (eds), Les usages de l’Europe (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004).Online
  • [22]
    Christopher Hood, The Tools of Government (Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, 1986).
  • [23]
    See for instance Adrienne Héritier (ed.), Common Goods. Reinventing European and International Governance (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002); Jan Kooiman (ed.), Modern Governance (London: Sage, 1993).
  • [24]
    P. Lascoumes, P. Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments, 31-4.
  • [25]
    Laurie Boussaguet, Sophie Jacquot, “Les nouveaux modes de gouvernance”, in R. Dehousse (ed.), Politique européenne, 409-28.
  • [26]
    For a synthesis on the concept of “Community method”, see Renaud Dehousse “La méthode commununautaire”, in R. Dehousse (ed.), Politique européenne, 13-30.
  • [27]
    On the relevance of the instrumental approach to the analysis of European governance and policies, see Hussein Kassim, Patrick Le Galès, “Exploring governance in a multi-level polity: a policy instruments approach”, West European Politics, 33(1), 2010, 1-21.Online
  • [28]
    Timo Idema, Daniel Kelemen, “New Modes of Governance, the Open Method of Coordination and other fashionable red herrings”, Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 7(1), 2006, 108-23.Online
  • [29]
    Claudio Radaelli, “Europeanization, policy learning and new modes of governance”, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis. Research and Practice, 10(3), 2008, 239-54.Online
  • [30]
    Stijn Smismans, “New modes of governance and the participatory myth”, West European Politics, 31(5), 2008, 874-95.Online
  • [31]
    For a comparison of multilateral surveillance devices in the EU, IMF and OECD, see Armin Schäfer, “A new form of governance? Comparing the Open Method of Coordination to multilateral surveillance by the IMF and the OECD”, Journal of European Public Policy, 13(1), 2006, 70-88.Online
  • [32]
    Alec Stone Sweet, Neil Fligstein, Wayne Sandholtz (eds), The Institutionalization of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • [33]
    Fritz Scharpf, “Games real actors could play: positive and negative coordination in embedded negotiations”, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 1(6), 1994, 27-53.Online
  • [34]
    Joanne Scott, David Trubek, “Mind the gap: law and new approaches to governance in the European Union”, European Law Journal, 8(1), 2002, 1-18.
  • [35]
    Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès mention both options, but do not make a definitive choice between the two.Online
  • [36]
    See P. Ravinet, “Comment le processus de Bologne…”.
  • [37]
    The common structure then only included two cycles. The doctoral cycle was later added in 2003, in the Berlin communiqué.
  • [38]
    An advisor to the European Rectors’ Conference (CRE) in 1998, Guy Haug was one of the main European experts on academic cooperation. He was involved in several academic cooperation projects with the USA, Japan and South America, and during the 1980s and 1990s worked at the European Commission, where he served as deputy director of the ERASMUS bureau, and worked with Harold Jones on the inception of the TEMPUS programme. In 2001, he became a Policy Advisor for the Commission. His role as political entrepreneur was then central: he produced and circulated a thorough analysis of the Sorbonne Declaration, explaining what was at stake (beyond the lack of diplomacy in introducing the initiative), thus assuming a role which aimed to defuse the situation.
  • [39]
    The SFUG included representatives from the EU troika, from Italy, as host country of the Bologna conference, from the European Commission, and the European University Association.
  • [40]
    The Declaration can conceivably be interpreted as calling for more regulation, or rather aiming at creating more competition within the EHEA. Strictly speaking, there is no explicit mention of competition between national European systems, or between universities. Beyond the openly stated objective of the EHEA as a regional space of regulation that will be more competitive globally, the objective of more easily readable and comparable degrees does implicitly match the achievement of the necessary conditions for competition within the EHEA.
  • [41]
    The Commission’s information network on education systems, which had begun to produce a recurring review of higher education structures in Europe.
  • [42]
    This working group included six national representatives (Norway, as the host country of the next conference; Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – the EU troika; Croatia and Russia) and representatives of other participants within the process (the European Commission, European University Association, European Students’ Union).
  • [43]
    “Organisation of the Bologna Process Stocktaking, Document for Decision by the BFUG Meeting on 9 March 2004” (BFUG2 6, 27 February 2004, 10-13).
  • [44]
    The expert, an Irish specialist on the evaluation of educational policies, reported to the then Norwegian secretariat of the Bologna Process (as the next conference was taking place in Bergen). She was paid with funds from the Socrates programme (EU Education & Training programme) that were granted to the group to cover some of their activities.
  • [45]
    Robert Kaplan, David Norton, “The balanced scorecard – measures that drive performance”, Harvard Business Review, 70(1), 1992, 71-9.
  • [46]
    Robert Kaplan, David Norton, “Using the balanced scorecard as a strategic management system”, Harvard Business Review, 74(1), 1996, 75-85.
  • [47]
    See the “Centre for European Reform in the Press” section on the CER website (, which lists the numerous mentions of the Lisbon scorecards – and other publications by the think tank – in major international papers, such as the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times and the Financial Times.
  • [48]
    Dark green for “excellent performance”, light green for “very good performance”, yellow for “good performance”, orange for “some progress has been made” and red for “little progress has been made yet”.
  • [49]
    Bologna Stocktaking Report, 2005, 40-1.
  • [50]
    Stocktaking became institutional: the measurement of national performances through this instrument takes place every two years, and a new stocktaking report is presented at each ministerial Bologna Process conference. For the 2007 and 2009 stocktaking reports, see the 2007-2010 official Bologna Process website: and (last accessed November 2011).
  • [51]
    P. Ravinet, “From voluntary participation…”.
  • [52]
    In the case of the Bologna Process, I have retraced this sequence, but it is not explicitly stated in the official texts. Conversely, as far as the OMC is concerned, the sequence was formalised in the Conclusion of the Presidency, Lisbon European Summit, 20 and 21 March 2000, §37.
  • [53]
    Claudio Radaelli, The Open Method of Coordination. A new governance architecture for the European Union, research report (Stockholm: Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, 2003), 9.
  • [54]
    P. Muller, P. Ravinet, “Construire l’Europe en résistant à l’UE?…”.
  • [55]
    Pierre Favre, “Qui gouverne quand personne ne gouverne?”, dans Pierre Favre, Jack Hayward, Yves Schemeil (eds), Être gouverné. Études en l’honneur de Jean Leca (Paris : Presses de Sciences Po, 2003), 259-71.
  • [56]
    Hood, The Tools of Government,8.
  • [57]
    P. Lascoumes, P. Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments, 12.
  • [58]
    P. Lascoumes, P. Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments, 357.
  • [59]
    P. Lascoumes, P. Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments, 29.
  • [60]
    I wish to thank Pierre Muller and Christine Musselin, as well as Laurie Boussaguet, Patrick Castel, Olivier Costa, Bruno Jobert, Charlotte Halpern, Patrick Le Galès and Claudio Radaelli for their input on earlier drafts of this paper. The final version owes much to the hard work of Pierre Lascoumes and Louis Simard in coordinating this issue; I thank them for encouraging and challenging me. Lastly, I wish to thank the RFSP’s anonymous reviewers for carefully reading and making insightful comments on the paper.
  • [61]
    I met twice with a dozen interviewees.
  • [62]
    In the cases of France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Austria and Portugal, the list of interviewees includes the ministers and their main collaborator(s) in charge of the follow-up of the Bologna Process, as well as the administrative officials who were active over the long term during the time of my study.
  • [63]
    On the uses of interviews, see Gilles Pinson, Valérie Sala Pala, “Peut-on vraiment se passer de l’entretien en sociologie de l’action publique?”, Revue française de science politique, 57(5), October 2007, 555-97.
  • [64]
    For more on these biases, see G. Pinson, V. Sala Pala, “Peut-on vraiment se passer de l’entretien en sociologie de l’action publique?”.


This article deals with the construction of the European Higher Education Area, or the Bologna Process. It uses and discusses an instruments-based approach to retrace in detail the configuration and instrumentation of a European system to coordinate national higher education policies. This approach reveals how what was initially a soft and voluntary process is piloted by means of a cross-sectional tool, namely stocktaking.
Furthermore, it aids in characterizing a coordination “à la bolognaise”: a process that is familiar with “new modes of European governance”, but has a special relation to the European Union, where it has been developed and institutionalised outside the EU institutional framework.

Pauline Ravinet
Pauline Ravinet is an assistant professor in political science at the University of Lille 2, a member of the CERAPS research team (CNRS-Lille 2), a research associate of the CEVIPOL centre at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and associate researcher with the Centre for the Sociology of Organisations (CSO; CNRS-Sciences Po). Her research interests lie at the crossroads between the sociology of public policy, European studies and higher education studies. In 2009, her PhD thesis on the genesis and the institutionalisation of the Bologna Process received the French Political Science Association (AFSP) award for best political science thesis in the field of public policy. She is currently conducting comparative research on the mechanisms of European and international governance in the fields of education, higher education and research, and has launched a research project on the regionalisation of higher education in Africa (CERAPS, Université Lille 2,
Translated from French by 
Jean-Yves Bart
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
Distribution électronique pour Presses de Sciences Po © Presses de Sciences Po. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait