Institutional Context and Autonomy of EU-level Agencies’

GT 5.10 Gobernanza de la regulación

Nuria Font Borrás (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona)
Miguel Angel Medina Abellan
Facundo Santiago

The proliferation of EU-level specialized agencies over the last two decades has altered the configuration of EU executive powers (Dehousse 2002; Egeberg and Trondal 2009), influenced EU policy-making and policy output (Coen and Tatcher 2008, Gehring and Krapohl 2007) and had a direct impact on individuals, regulators and member states (Busuioc 2010). Facing these developments, the EU’s agencification literature has recently raised important research questions on the definition of new patterns of executive politics and the reconfiguration of EU government. Particular attention has received the question of autonomy of EU-level agencies vis-à-vis principal institutions. Yet, systematic empirical studies exploring the autonomy of EU agencies are still scant. Some of the most outstanding contributions have focused on formal independence by looking at the founding regulations of European agencies and rules governing delegation (Wonka and Rittberger 2010; Geradin and Craig 2006). This type of study, however, does not accurately capture de facto agency behaviour in the post-delegation phase and leaves unresolved the question of why agencies with similar levels of formal autonomy may behave differently in their daily activity (Maggetti 2007; Groenleer 2009). This research aims to, first, reach a better understanding of de level of facto autonomy of EU-level agencies, and secondly, explore the modes in the EU institutional context influence agency autonomy.

The research is grounded in the theoretical debates that place emphasis on the influence of the institutional context on agencies’ behaviour (Kelemen 2002; Busuioc 2009). Significantly enough, Dehousse (2009) explores the ways in which the coexistence of multiple political principals has effects on agency performance and autonomy, and Kelemen (2002) demonstrates how conflicts between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission have influenced the design of new agencies. In line with such approaches, this paper departs from the assumption that the institutional context in which agencies operate have effects on the de facto autonomy of EU-level agencies. Such institutional context is populated by multiple principals with competing interests, and is governed by informational imbalances and knowledge dependencies. This paper explores the modes in which such aspects of the institutional context provide incentives and constrains on actors and structures the relationships between agencies and their principals, namely the Commission and the member States. By conducting a systematic empirical study of all 28 Community agencies currently operating, this paper aims to reach a better understanding on the determinants of agency autonomy.