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EU agencies – towards a dynamic model of institutional choice and change

Thomas Traguth
University of Cologne
Thomas Traguth
University of Cologne
Open Panel

Abstract

Decentralised agencies remain an intriguing puzzle in the field of EU multilevel governance. While progress has been made towards understanding and explaining their institutional design, the last decade has been characterised by increasing institutional variances and differentiation across EU agencies. Such variances are the end result of multiple amendments to the agencies'' founding regulations. These amendments alter the specific tasks of public sector agencies, their composition, internal organisation, and key procedural features beyond an isomorphous ‘template’. Recent work has focused on the institutional design, autonomy and authority of agencies from a formal and static perspective (see e.g. Rittberger/Wonka 2009, Groenleer 2009, Christensen/Nielsen 2010). In contrast, this paper extends the existing approaches by, first, identifying factors of change and tracing agency development as a dynamic process and, second, demonstrating that variance has penetrated more systematically into agency make-up and functioning than has previously been appreciated. The paper presents a comparative study of selected agency amendments – particularly of agencies established in the 1990s - arguing that this reform process is driven by: (a) a changing policy environment resulting from the primary legal basis of the EC/EU treaties, b) formal secondary legislation (‘hard law’), Council resolutions (‘soft law’), European Council ‘pre-legislative acts’ or even the agency’s own rules of procedure, as well as c) strategic action, e.g. through Commission White and Green papers or communications, and informal practices of cooperation. Actors at both national and supranational level, constrained by the underlying structural features of the EU''s ''primary'' institutional architecture, seek to balance institutional outcomes on a ''secondary'' level in what can be called a ''two-and-a-half level game''. The contribution of the paper is the elucidation of some key steps towards the development of a more general dynamic model of institutional choice and change in the EU agency landscape.