When the European Union negotiates an external trade agreement, the Member States (MS) delegate negotiating authority to the European Commission. The ensuing power struggle between the Commission and the Member States for autonomy and control has led to a burgeoning literature applying the principal-agent model. Most studies in this regard inquire into the effectiveness of available control mechanisms as a precursor of autonomy. Instead of looking at the formal control mechanisms, this paper suggests a stronger focus towards the divergent capabilities of the Member States to monitor the Commission is warranted. If the Member States cannot assess the impact or consequences of European legislation, it is not realistic to expect such principals to control the agent accordingly, regardless of the availability of stringent control mechanisms. This endogenous information asymmetry may account for a biased control in favour of those principals with a higher capacity.
To study the relation between administrative capacity and MS influence, this paper combines insights from the Principal-Agent model, negotiation theory and comparative public administration. Empirically, the hypothesis is tested using a survey that was distributed among MS representatives of the responsible Council working parties. Follow-up interviews were used to validate and contextualize the survey findings. The analysis reveals substantial variation among MS capacity to monitor the Commission and shows a positive relation between such capacity and a MS propensity to exert control.