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Learning from the Americanists (Again): Theory and Method in the Study of Delegation

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European(ist) scholars have largely followed their American(ist) colleagues in the formulation of theories about delegation of powers to non-majoritarian institutions, most notably through the application of principal-agent models of relations between legislative principals and their executive and judicial agents. This article suggests that Europeanists can once again learn from recent developments in both theory and method in the study of delegation in American politics. The first section discusses the methodological challenges of testing hypotheses about the conditions under which agents might enjoy some degree of autonomy from their legislative principals, and draws lessons from the recent Americanist literature. The section examines the development in American politics of a second wave of principal-agent analysis which aims to formulate and test hypotheses about the conditions under which legislative principals might delegate authority and discretion to bureaucratic agents. The third and final section of the article examines some preliminary applications of the principal-agent approach to the European Union and to the comparative study of European parliamentary democracies, and proposes a research agenda for the comparative study of national-level delegation in the parliamentary systems of Western Europe.
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Keywords: European Union; delegation; discretion; institutions; principal-agent theory; regulatory agencies

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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