Multilevel Governance

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


The University of Surrey’s EU wiki (reference below) quotes Hague and Harrop in describing multilevel governance emerging “when experts from several tiers of government share the task of making regulations and forming policy, usually in conjunction with relevant interest groups.”

The article notes that:

“The concept of multilevel governance has its origins in the early 1990s. Traditionally, for many thinkers the EU was considered as another international organization like the UN and NATO and IR theory was commonly applied to its study. However, closer European integration during the 1990s and more significantly the signing of the Maastricht Treaty along with the growing competence of the supranational institutions of the EU led to the development of an alternative wave of thought. This saw the EU as a distinctive political system having more similarities to national political systems than to international organizations. Although the idea of multilevel governance was initially developed around the EU, many forms of it have been applied in other areas of study such as in the study of federal states in comparative politics.”

“Multilevel governance sees European policy as the result of a constant coordination across different territorial levels including a supranational, national, regional and local level. The main characteristics of the relationship between these different tiers are overlap and interdependence. However, this interaction illustrates only the vertical dimension of the European policy process. Multilevel governance theory also suggests the existence of a second, horizontal dimension. Hence, coordination not only takes place across different territorial levels but also within them. The result is a complex overlapping process which involves numerous actors that shape the final output according to their individual properties (demands, interests, resources and competencies).”

 The article notes that the theories of multilevel governance are highly contested:

“Some thinkers believe that the organisation of levels implies a hierarchical order which cannot be possible in such a complex process. Others completely fail to distinguish between levels since public and private actors operate in interlocking roles both domestically and internationally. More specifically, Stubs (2005) has accused the multilevel governance literature of “premature normativism”, “abstract modelling”, and “rehashed neo-pluralism”.

Describing the potential shift in Canada from classical federalism toward multilevel governance, Simeon et al. (reference below, p. 68) write:

“Local governments provide a vast array of services, yet are constitutionally subordinate to the provinces. Local governments-especially the large urban areas that are the centres of economic growth and multiculturalism-are now calling for greater recognition and authority, for greater financial resources, and for seats at the intergovernmental table. Whether, and how, they will be integrated into the Canadian pattern of multilevel governance is an important question for the future. The same is true for Aboriginal governments. The idea that they would constitute a “third order of government” in Canada was included in the 1993 Charlottetown Accord and was a central recommendation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, but it has not  been enacted. Nevertheless, court decisions and political negotiations are moving toward self-government, and critical questions remain about how they will relate to both federal and provincial governments in the future.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Federalism (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


EU Politics (2011), Multilevel Governance, at, accessed 1 September 2016. The article cites Hague, R. and Harrop, M (2007) Comparative Government and Politics. (Palgrave MacMillan: UK) and Stubbs, P. (2005), “Stretching Concepts Too Far? Multi-Level Governance, Policy Transfer and the Politics of Scale in South East Europe”. Southeast European Politics, Vol. VI, No. 2, 66-87.

Richard Simeon, Ian Robinson, and Jennifer Wallner (2014) “The Dynamics of Canadian Federalism,” in Canadian Politics, 6th ed., eds. James Bickerton and Alain-G. Gagnon, pp. 65-91. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 1 September 2016.