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

Multilevel governance and its impact on the democratic deficit

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 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.  



  • 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.