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Agents in Brussels: Delegation and democracy in the European Union

by Larue, Thomas

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation explores delegation and democracy within the European Union (EU). The EU now constitutes one of the cornerstones of the democratic systems of its member states. The most vital instrument of democracy is lawmaking, which increasingly occurs at the European level. Many different actors contribute to the shaping of EU legislation. Among the most important of these are national bureaucrats representing their member states in Council negotiations. This thesis focuses on these bureaucrats. In particular it analyzes the delegation and accountability relationship between member states’ governments and their national bureaucrats stationed at the permanent representations (PRs) in Brussels. It is based on semi-structured elite interviews with 80 French and Swedish senior civil servants in Brussels, Paris and Stockholm.Using an explorative and descriptive comparative case study of two EU member states, France and Sweden, the dissertation seeks to describe and analyse how delegation between member states’ capitals and Brussels are affected by: i) the coordination and preparation of EU issues in member states’ government offices, ii) the organisation and functioning of the permanent representations, and, most importantly, iii) existing accountability mechanisms. Applying a principal-agent approach, this study shows that the delegation between governments and their Brussels-based bureaucrats is adequate, despite relatively weak delegation and accountability designs. The study identifies institutional divergence between France and Sweden as regards the design of national systems of EU delegation, particularly monitoring and reporting requirements, where Sweden seems to have a more developed system. Both countries have similar contract design and screening and selection systems for employing national agents stationed at the PRs. The impact of domestic coordination of EU affairs is important in order to understand processes of both preference formation precedent to delegation and of preference transfer through instructions. In this case it is obvious that French coordination is more efficient. The functions of the permanent representation also influence delegation between national and European levels. For example, administrative procedures in the PRs in Brussels have had effects on the drafting of instructions, something that is particularly notable in the Swedish case.The study identifies several central problems as regards delegation between bureaucrats in Brussels and governments in member states’ capitals. The first problem has to do with the ongoing blurring of political and bureaucratic dimensions. This inhibits the ability of principals (in our case member state governments) to hold their agents (Brussels-based bureaucrats) accountable. The second problem identified by this study as regards the working of democracy is the distinction between formal and informal processes. One conclusion is that informal processes should be formalised or made more transparent. Opacity in lawmaking processes has detrimental effects on long-term legitimacy of democratic systems. Holding de facto lawmaking bureaucrats, caught in a cross-pressure between national demands and European ambitions, accountable is essential for democracy. The dissertation includes practical suggestions as to how to improve delegation, and argues that additional research on both the roles and power of bureaucrats as well as issues of cross-pressure is necessary.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:

School:Umeå universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation

Keywords:SOCIAL SCIENCES; Social sciences; Political science; accountability; bureaucracy; delegation; democracy; European Union (EU); France; national EU coordination; permanent representations; principal-agent; Sweden

ISBN:91-7264-058-8

Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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