Tilburg Law and Economics Center

TILEC Seminar: Josephine van Zeben & Ana Bobic

Date: Time: 10:45 Location: M 1003

10:45-11:45, M 1003
Polycentricity in the European Union

Polycentricity in the European Union

Supranational governance is being challenged by politicians and citizens around the European Union
as over-centralised and undemocratic. The edited volume presented is premised on the idea that
polycentric governance, as developed by Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, is a fruitful place to start in
addressing this challenge. Assessing the presence of, and potential for, polycentric governance within
the EU means approaching established principles and practices from a new perspective. While the
debate on these issues is rich, longstanding and interdisciplinary, it has proven difficult to sidestep the
‘renationalisation/federalisation’ dichotomy. The aim of this Volume is not to reject the EU’s
institutional structure but to provide a different benchmark for the assessment of its functioning.
Polycentric theory highlights the importance of multilevel horizontal relationships within the EU –
between states, but also between many sub-state actors, all the way down to individuals. This helps
us answer the question: how do we achieve self-governance in an interdependent world?
As a descriptive theory of governance, polycentric governance is characterised by the presence of
many centres of decision making, which are formally autonomous and may compete and/or
collaborate under an overarching shared system of rules. Normatively, polycentric governance
accommodates both representative and deliberative models of democracy by placing intrinsic value
on individual self-governance without prescribing specific outcomes from the process of governance.
The institutional set-up of polycentric systems aims to ensure balance between decision-making
centres so as to prevent dominance of certain centres and safeguard continued self-governance.
Adopting a polycentric perspective means to conceptualise society as a collection of rule-based
interactions between individuals. In this context, self-governance refers to the ability of individuals to
determine the rules that underlie these interactions and to set the goals for sustained interactions that
result in collective action.
Against this background, the edited volume has a dual ambition: first, and most importantly, by
assessing the EU’s potential for polycentric governance, it offers an alternative theory of governance
for the EU. The second aim of this Volume is expanding the scope of application of polycentric theory
itself. Through careful examination of the descriptive and normative implications of polycentricity for
the EU, we have been able to expand the theoretical foundations of polycentric theory to better fit
large polycentric systems, and to flesh out the shape and form of polycentric institutional features.
This will hopefully benefit the work of those who seek to study polycentricity in other supranational
settings, such as climate change governance.

Professor Josephine van Zeben is the Chair of the LAW group at Wageningen University and Research.
She obtained her BA in Social Sciences at University College Utrecht. She continued her studies at the
University of Edinburgh, where she graduated with an LLB in Scots Law, and the University of
Amsterdam, for an LLM in European Private Law. In 2012, she completed her PhD cum laude at the
University of Amsterdam. Between 2012 and 2014, van Zeben worked for the Amsterdam Centre for
European Law & Governance (University of Amsterdam) and as a postdoctoral researcher at the
Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University (United States). She has also been a lecturer at the ETH Zürich
– teaching Environmental Regulation: Law and Policy – since 2012. Since 2014, she has been a Fellow
in public and EU law at Worcester College, University of Oxford. She has held visiting positions at,
among others, Notre Dame University (United States) and La Trobe University (Australia).

Dr Ana Bobić is a postdoctoral researcher at the LEVIATHAN research project at the Hertie School of
Governance, Berlin. She works on questions of accountability in EU economic governance, with a focus
on the role of judicial and constitutional review. At the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, she
completed a DPhil as a Graduate Assistance Fund Scholar and the MJur as the OSI/University of Oxford
scholar. She previously obtained a BA LLM summa cum laude at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb
in 2011. Ana was also a lecturer in Constitutional and Administrative Law at Keble College, University
of Oxford. At the Hertie School, Ana is teaching students of the Master of Public Policy and Master of
International Affairs degrees, and is the coach of the Hertie School’s team at the Philip C. Jessup
International Law Moot Court Competition. She is also a legal consultant in matters relating to the
implementation of secondary EU law in Croatia.