The European Commission's ability to deal with wicked problems: an in-depth case study of the governance of food security

Candel, J.J.L.; Breeman, G.E.; Termeer, C.J.A.M.


The European Commission's ability to cope with wicked problems is generally viewed as inadequate because of its hierarchical and inflexible modus operandi. Recent research suggests, however, that the Commission may be better equipped to deal with wicked problems than is commonly assumed. To elucidate these contradictory viewpoints, we analysed conditions that enable or constrain the Commission in dealing with wicked problems. To do so, we applied a framework consisting of five governance capabilities required to deal with wicked problems (reflexivity, responsiveness, resilience, revitalization and rescaling) to a case study of how the Commission deals with the wicked problem of food security. Although our results confirm some of the earlier critiques, we have also identified various enabling conditions, most notably inter-service and inter-institutional procedures and structures, boundary arrangements and a widespread tolerance of frame conflicts, uncertainty and cross-scale dynamics. However, the Commission lacks a mechanism to continuously monitor and adjust its capabilities, thereby running the risk of challenges remaining unforeseen and unanticipated.