Independent agencies have proliferated in the European Union over the last few decades, shifting ever more policy decisions to experts that are not democratically elected. This may be a democratic problem. This paper will argue that in order to pinpoint what kind of problem we are witnessing, we need a precise understanding of different types of expertise.
The paradigmatic case of the non-majoritarian expert institution is one based on scientific expertise: Highly specialized, technical agencies with a narrow functional responsibility within a field of "hard" science. For these types of agencies, the division-of-labor model, where citizens and politicians set goals and agency experts determine the most efficient means to get there, might be reasonably well-conceived both empirically and normatively. There are, however, other types of agencies where the lines are much more blurred. Agencies leaning on other types of expertise than the natural sciences or engineering demand a different conceptualization. One example, and the empirical case for this paper, is the European Border and Coast Guard agency (Frontex). The paper asks: What type of expertise underlies Frontex' risk assessments and operational decisions, and has this changed over time? It will address this question through a process-tracing study of Frontex' reaction to the 2015 migrant crisis.
This paper contributes to existing research in two ways. First, it contributes to the theory of expertise and democracy by providing a case study of a somewhat understudied aspect of expertise: The "soft", practice-based kind. Second, empirically, it will provide new insight into the processes leading up to the establishment of the revamped Frontex—the Border and Coast Guard Agency—in 2016. There is reason to expect that the agency today is a different beast altogether, both in terms of institutional setup and functional capacity, than its institutional predecessor.