Can failure be useful in policymaking? The case of EU equal pay policy

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Sophie Jacquot UCLouvain, Belgium

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Although equal pay for equal work between women and men is a founding principle of the European Union, enshrined in the Treaties since 1957, the gender pay gap stands at 12.7 per cent in 2021 and has only changed minimally for two decades. This article explores a policymaking paradox: the EU equal pay policy seems unaffected by failure, on the contrary, failure seems to contribute to the legitimisation of the policy. The article asks how and why a policy implementation failure framing has been developed in the field of EU equal pay promotion? What is the political function of this framing and what is its impact on the EU policymaking process? Over the years, the EU equal pay policy has been associated with a repeated experience of implementation failure. This failure framing has been particularly present in the debates over the implementation of the 2006 Recast Directive, especially since this frame has been impelled by the quantitative and symbolic strength of the gender pay gap’s percentage. The article shows that this framing performed important functions. From a policymaking perspective, the implementation failure framing allowed the gender equality policy community to keep the issue firmly on the EU agenda and to ride out the dismantling storm. The article also shows that the analytical definition of what constitutes a policy failure should be more nuanced. To conclude, the article asks if this type of failure framing can continue to produce results in an increasingly polarised context such as that of gender equality.

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Sophie Jacquot UCLouvain, Belgium

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