Working paper

A conceptual framework for the identification and governance of European public goods

How to find institutional arrangements for public-good provision, to maximise the benefits of public goods for EU members?

Publishing date
30 May 2024

The challenging current policy environment has raised the question of which policy decisions should be taken at national level and which at European Union level. As a general rule, the EU should be responsible only for the provision of European public goods (EPGs), while countries are better placed to provide national public goods. However, in practice, the situation is rarely that simple. We offer a framework for identification of EPGs with three main insights.

First, a decision to provide a public good at national level, EU level or a combination of both depends on the degree of heterogeneity of preferences across countries and the efficiency case for EU-level provision. When preferences vary and the efficiency case is weak, goods should be provided at national level. When preferences are similar and the efficiency case is strong, goods should be provided at the EU level. When preferences differ but there is a strong efficiency case, a trade-off arises.

Second, institutional and legal instruments exist already to manage this trade-off. These include: competence transfers, decision-making modalities, variable participation of countries, centralisation of delivery and funding, and compensating negatively affected countries to achieve greater alignment of preferences.

Third, both the efficiency case for EPGs and the distribution of preferences over their provision may change over time. This could be because the world around the EU changes (for example, giving greater weight to an efficiency case, eg in areas related to defence) or because preferences change, for example, as result of a pandemic, or because a particular institutional or compensation practice convinces dissenters that they can be better off inside than outside a multi-country arrangement governing the provision of a public good.

An implication is that the question ‘should public goods be provided at the national or European level?’ may be the wrong question to ask. The right question is how to find institutional arrangements for public-good provision, to maximise the benefits of public goods for EU members.

About the authors

  • Grégory Claeys

    Grégory Claeys, a French and Spanish citizen, joined Bruegel as a research fellow in February 2014, before being appointed senior fellow in April 2020.

    Grégory Claeys is currently on leave for public service, serving as Director of the Economics Department of France Stratégie, the think tank and policy planning institution of the French government, since November 2023.

    Grégory’s research interests include international macroeconomics and finance, central banking and European governance. From 2006 to 2009 Grégory worked as a macroeconomist in the Economic Research Department of the French bank Crédit Agricole. Prior to joining Bruegel he also conducted research in several capacities, including as a visiting researcher in the Financial Research Department of the Central Bank of Chile in Santiago, and in the Economic Department of the French Embassy in Chicago. Grégory is also an Associate Professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris where he is teaching macroeconomics in the Master of Finance. He previously taught undergraduate macroeconomics at Sciences Po in Paris.

    He holds a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute (Florence), an MSc in economics from Paris X University and an MSc in management from HEC (Paris).

    Grégory is fluent in English, French and Spanish.


  • Armin Steinbach

    Armin Steinbach is a non-resident fellow at Bruegel as well as Jean Monnet Professor of Law and Economics at HEC Paris and Research Affiliate at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn.

    Previously, Armin held academic posts at Oxford University, European University Institute Florence, University of St. Gallen and Harvard University. He served as civil servant in the German Ministries of Finance and of the Economy as well as in the German parliament. He practiced as lawyer with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in Brussels and at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. The WTO lists him as panelist serving the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.

    Armin has been a contributor and commentator to Financial Times, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Le Monde, Les Echos, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, and Handelsblatt.

    Armin obtained his Habilitation from University of Bonn. He holds a Doctor of Laws from University of Munich, Doctor of Economics from University of Erfurt, and Master in Economics from Humboldt University Berlin.

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