Making Multilevel Governance Work

Effective multilevel governance is critical to democracy in most societies throughout the world.

Learning how to manage multilevel governance relationships has been a very important consequence of European integration. Nevertheless, there is inevitable overlap and confusion because of the increasing complexity of government and the ambiguity of boundaries. Alongside this, improving the democratic engagement of European citizens has been an important element of European integration, not least in the Treaty of Lisbon. However there continue to be significant issues of legitimacy and effectiveness of existing democratic arrangements.

Governance within Europe is generally a product of the origins of a state and the governing model introduced. Most member states of the European Union (EU) have a three or four tier government structure – comprising of a Federal/National level, a state of regional structure, in some cases a provincial level and a local government/communal level. The systems of government of the member states of the EU depend largely on their central model of existence: these include Constitutional Monarchies, Federal republics or centralised republics.

Multi-level governance (MLG) within the European Union, acquired greater prominence in the decision-making processes as a result of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. Besides ever-growing level of European integration, within the treaty there was an awareness that regions throughout many member states were a key component of decision making yet within the EU they were without a formal voice. The Maastricht Treaty provided the regions with access to the Council of Ministers, and, most importantly the Treaty established the Committee of the Regions which would be consulted by the European Union on a range of policies and areas of interest (Schakel 2020). As was noted “MLG was introduced [in the EU] as an original concept to understand this new mode of EU governance which involved a third regional tier alongside member states and EU institutions" (Jeffery & Peterson 2020).

The EU, and its predecessor, had for decades acknowledged the existence of the regions in each of the member states for internal national decision making. Landmark literature from Hooghe and Marks (1992) identifying multilevel governance emerged after the Maastricht Treaty and precisely because of the new component of regional consultation. The Treaty also provided the regions with greater visibility, access to decision making and even at times representation. We should not be surprised that greater focus on regional engagement not only provided greater democratic legitimacy, allowed them a voice from below and also sought to downplay the key role of sovereignty within the member states. While the role of the regions was essentially the provision of localised advice and soft power it was nonetheless innovative and potentially ground-breaking. This greater role of the regions from an EU standpoint was welcomed as it provided greater access to information by European policy makers. Equally the 1990s saw the rise of regional lobbies emerging in the Brussels “waiting room” which had no formal role in EU decision making but were present to gather intelligence and to capture some of the action and the funding. The literature on the growing involvement of regions in EU decision making noted that this engagement was most pronounced and effective in the area of EU cohesion policy. Schakel (2020) noted that in 6 member states, the Cohesion policy was totally managed by the regions of the member states. These included Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Poland.

Regional affinities with countries like Australia can provide further insight into the role of regions and their ability (or less) to influence decision making of their national/federal governments. Australia like Europe has a 3 tier governance structure but there is a growing awareness of the need of a fourth informal role of regions within the State boundaries. One example would be the case of the Murray Darling basin, which is a “region” that includes three states namely South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and lately joined by Queensland and Australian Capital Territory. These are informal but essential structures which provide a platform for decision making around their specific activity. Despite their informal character, today they have become key partners to State and Federal jurisdictions.

This study seeks to address the decision making of these regions (informal and formal) and how they contribute to effective and more democratic governance. The project will explore the conditions under which it seems to be most successful, and how this affects citizen support for and engagement with democratic processes, through comparison of experiences of regional governance in Europe and Australia.


This project analyses the comparative experience of regional governance in Europe and Australia, with three aims:

  • generating new knowledge about multilevel governance, and particularly about the appropriate roles and capabilities at different levels for various purposes, that can contribute to policy and program development in Europe and Australia;
  • resources to support learning in both formal settings such as tertiary courses (in a variety of disciplines) but also for use in various public learning environments; and
  • engaging with citizens and government representatives on strategies to improve effective governance at different levels.

Webinar series

Text And Media Video

Webinar 1 - Multilevel Governance in Gippsland and Albury-Wodonga

This is a recording of the first in a series of four webinars presented by the European Union Centre of Excellence at RMIT, focused on addressing multilevel governance and its impact on the democratic deficit. This webinar featured the twin Australian case studies of Albury-Wodonga & Gippsland.

Our expert panellist on the Albury-Wodonga case study, Dr Brian Scantlebury, delivered an overview on the best practices politicians and decision-makers can apply when working to find solutions for regional issues, noting that local community involvement is essential to the success of any initiative rather than implementing a top-down approach.

Speaking on the case study of Gippsland, Karen Cain, illustrated her experience with the success of active engagement between various levels of government working in the Latrobe Valley, and discussed the salience of acknowledging the complexity of regional issues. She emphasised not only the necessity of accurately conveying information to actors at the regional level, but also community involvement through reciprocity projects.

Further details on our expert panellists:

Karen Cain currently serves as the Director of Transition & Recovery Australia. She has significant senior-level experience working across government, leading strategic innovation and community-oriented reform programs. As former CEO of the Latrobe Valley Authority, Karen led industry and community transition across Latrobe Valley and demonstrated an ability to deliver on issues that matter most to community and government, including place-based methods that delivered real transition progress for workers, businesses and communities across the region.

She has presented at OECD conferences in Sweden and South Korea, an international round table in South Africa and participated in the EU Smart Specialisation conference in Spain. As Director, Community Transition Forestry within the Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions for two years, Karen has successfully led engagement with communities across Victoria as part of the Victorian Forestry Plan implementation. 

Dr Brian Scantlebury is a qualified civil engineer with over thirty years’ experience in urban and regional development where he has acquired significant technical and administrative skills. During this time he has also developed a wealth of experience in project management and strategic planning. 

Brian has held senior positions in both government and private enterprise. He was the development manager for the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation for nine years. The Corporation was one of the country’s leading regional development organizations at this time. In his role there, he managed the orderly, market attuned land development process and fostered strong relationships with local government. He spent the last six years before early retirement in 2006 as CEO of the organization.  

Text And Media Video

Webinar 2 - Multilevel Governance and the Waste Management Crisis in Campania

The second of the RMIT EU Centre’s webinar series on multilevel governance and its impact on the democratic deficit explored how various governing actors have attempted to address the ongoing waste management crisis in Campania, Italy, the successes and failures of previously implemented plans, and what is needed for the future success of waste management in the region.

Our expert speakers addressed the following questions as part of this discussion:

  • What power do local citizens and regional actors have in influencing policy and solutions to this ongoing crisis?
  • Have there been lessons learned from previously implemented policy initiatives?
  • Which levels of governance/cooperation are most likely to successfully address this situation in the long term?

Further details on our expert speakers:

Professor Umberto Arena, Full Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli. Prof Arena is a specialist in solid waste management and industrial pollution control engineering, and is the Editor of the Waste Management Journal. He is in charge of research programs with several companies and research centres, including UNILEVER, Fater-P&G, CONAI (the Italian National Consortium for Packaging), ENEA-Environmental Department, and CIRA (the Italian National Centre for Aerospatial Research). He prepared the Solid Waste Management Planning for several Italian regions and was a member of the Scientific Committee for the evaluation of Environmental Risk in the Campania Region.

Professor Giuseppe Mancini is a Professor in Chemical Plants for the Course of Chemical Engineering for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Catania (Italy).  He graduated cum Laude in Civil Engineering (Hydraulic section) at University of Catania, Italy, in 1994, got his Ph.D. in Environmental Sanitary Engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan, in 2000 and graduated cum Laude in Engineering for the Environment and the Territory at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, Italy, in 2001.  He is currently Head of the University Centre for the Management and Protection of Natural Environments and Agroecosystems at the University of Catania. He is author of more than 150 scientific papers some of which published by prestigious International Journals. He is also Editor of the volume “Monitoring, control and removal of xenobiotic and emerging compounds in civil industrial and groundwater wastewater” (in Italian). 

His research expertise is in the area of waste and wastewater management, wastewater reuse, circular economy and process sustainability. He was/is scientific responsible, for the University of Catania, of several national and international projects and industrial consulting agreements for a total contribution, to his University, of more than 2.500.000 Euros. He is currently (from 2018) coordinator of the two Scientific/Technical and Stakeholders committees of the three-days National Italian EXPO on Environment, Energy and Sustainability ECOMED which attracts every year more than 10.000 visitors hosting more than 25 conferences at once. He is Member of the Editorial Board in several open-access Journal and currently Editor of a Special Issue on “Aquatic Ecosafety: Threats, Disturbances, Environmental Monitors and Bioremediation Actions” in Aquatic Systems -Quality and Contamination - Water Journal. He is also currently President of the Italian national Association of Environmental Engineers.

Professor Roberta Piazza is full professor in Adult Education at the University of Catania, Italy. She is director of the University Research Centre on Community Engagement - CURE (Community University Research Engagement) and member of the scientific committee of RUIAP (Network of Italian Universities for Lifelong Learning). She was vice-Rector for Continuing education and lifelong learning (2017-2019). Associate director in Europe of PASCAL Observatory (Place management, Social Capital and Learning Region) (from 2014), she is also European Network Coordinator of the Research Network 4 "National Strategies for Lifelong Learning" dell’ASEM Education and Research Hub for Lifelong Learning (ASEM LLL Hub).  

Professor Mario Grosso, Associate Professor and Professor of "Solid Waste management and Treatment" at Politecnico di Milano. Prof Grosso has co-authored over 250 publications in the field of environmental sanitary engineering. His work includes research on technologies for the recovery and disposal of waste and residues, the prevention and integrated management of waste, technologies for the treatment of atmospheric emissions from industrial plants, the identification of emission reduction scenarios and life cycle analysis. He is Associate Editor of the international scientific journal "Waste Management & Research", and founder and member of the Scientific Committee of the journal "Ingegneria dell'Ambiente". He was a founding member and advisor of AIAT (Association of Environmental and Territorial Engineers), where he coordinated the Scientific Committee, and was Secretary General and Vice-President of ENEP (European Network of Environmental Professionals). Prof Grosso is also the  Commissioner of the EIA/SEA Commission established at the Ministry of Ecological Transition, a member of the Scientific Committee of the "MatER" Study and Research Center (Matter & Energy from Waste), and is a member of the Scientific Committee of "Climalteranti".

Text And Media Video

Webinar 3: The Role of Multilevel Governance in the German Education System

The third webinar in the RMIT EU Centre’s multilevel governance series focused on breaking down the multilevel aspects of higher education governance after the Bologna reforms from a German perspective. It aimed to address whether broadening the range of actors addresses the democratic deficit so often inherent in top-down governance processes, and whether/in which circumstances a governance approach that incorporates a variety of actors within and outside formal government structures is (more) efficient and effective. 

Further details on our guest speakers:

Professor Leo Goedegebuure, Honorary Professorial Fellow, The University of Melbourne, and Honorary Professor and co-director of the Gippsland Smart Specialisation Strategy project (RMIT University). Professor Goedegebuure interests include governance and management, at the systems and institutional level, system dynamics including large scale restructuring policies, university-industry relationships, and institutional mergers. Professor Goedegebuure has worked in across Europe and Australia and most of his work has a comparative focus, both within and outside of Europe.

Dr Lukas Graf is Head of the Swiss Observatory for Vocational Education and Training at the Swiss Federal University for Vocational Education and Training (SFUVET). His research interests are in the areas of contemporary challenges and developments related to education, training, skill formation, lifelong learning, social inequality, and policy reform. Dr Graf has worked across Europe and prior to joining SFUVET, he led the Educational Governance Team at Hertie School – The University of Governance in Berlin.  


Webinar 4: The Role of Private Actors in Multilevel Governance Structures

The fourth webinar in the RMIT EU Centre’s multilevel governance series covered the unique role that private actors play as negotiators, decision makers, and accountability and transparency agents within complex governance processes. These actors may be crucial in addressing the unequal power dynamics amongst the various governance levels while enhancing the efficiency and stability of policy implementation and its outcomes.

Guest Speakers:

Anne McNaughton is the Director of the ANU Centre for European Studies (ANUCES) at the Australian National University and a comparative lawyer who researches at the intersection of international and comparative law. Supported by a DAAD scholarship, Anne completed her first LLM at the Eberhard-Karls University in Tübingen (Germany) in 1991, writing her thesis The incorporation of the territory of former East Germany into the European Union entirely in German. Anne’s research interests include the complex issues associated with how global economic integration affects the local legal framework at various levels. She researches the concept of mutual recognition as developed in EU jurisprudence and its migration into international trade treaties and agreements. Building on this work, her current research examines the nature of legal transplants between new and emerging legal systems of international law. She has been a research lead and member of several research projects funded through the European Union’s Jean Monnet activities programme including a Jean Monnet network and Centre of Excellence based at the ANUCES. She is currently a member of Jean Monnet network on the EU’s Indo-Pacific policy and one based in Europe on European values. Anne has presented her research at international conferences and participated in workshops in Europe, the US, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan and China.

Dr Maren Klein is a Research Officer with the RMIT European Union Centre. Maren has worked in secondary education, retraining and language education and as university lecturer, teaching English, German, German as a foreign language, social studies, and European studies in Germany and Australia. She has worked in education policy development with a focus on initial teacher education; in education program and assessment development; assessment and examination project coordination; and in higher education compliance and regulation functions. Her PhD explored mobility in/from the Global North. Her current research interests include the European Union as a global actor; multilevel governance; mobility and migration; education; and contemporary German politics, society and culture.



  • Professor Bruce Wilson, RMIT University
  • Dr Perparim (Rimi) Xhaferi
  • Dr Maren Klein
  • Professor Bruno Mascitelli
  • Professor Lars Coenen, Western Norway University of Applied Science
  • Professor Leo Goedegebuure, University of Melbourne
  • Ms Anne McNaughton, Australian National university
  • Ms Karen Cain, Latrobe Valley Authority
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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.