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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Who (or What) Makes International Science Policymaking Successful? Examining the Patterns of Agency in Intergovernmental Research Organizations

International Relations
Comparative Perspective
Decision Making
Nicolas Rüffin
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Nicolas Rüffin
WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Intergovernmental research organisations (IROs) have a long history in Europe. Organisations like the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) or the European Space Agency (ESA) have contributed to our understanding of the world in many dimensions. More recently, these research endeavours have been marked as brilliant examples of science diplomacy, successfully bringing together scientists and policymakers from different countries across Europe. However, if we look into the matter more closely, there is not much knowledge about the underlying political mechanisms that enable the organisations to produce their impressive results. We have little insight into the complex deliberations leading to the construction of new accelerators, telescopes, or satellites. So far, we can only speculate that many different actors are involved in the decision-making process, competing for resources, forming coalitions, and exerting influence. Several questions remain unanswered: Who is in the driving seat and exerts influence on decision-making processes? Which member states and which scientific communities propel the process? Are there any stable coalitions among member states, patterns of agency, or common mechanisms across time and across organisations? What types of strategies shape actors’ behaviours? Which instruments do they employ to reach their objectives? Which conditions inherent to the international nature of IROs enable or constrain actors’ scope of activities?
My paper is a contribution in the pursuit of answering these questions. I shed new light upon this dimension of intergovernmental collaboration by analysing the agency of the involved actors. Against the backdrop of institutional and systems theory, I analyse and compare decision-making processes on scientific infrastructures in two cases, CERN and ESA. I distinguish general patterns and distinctive features of individual organisations by drawing on archival material and expert interviews. Both organisations exhibit similar decision-making structures and voting mechanisms, yet there are idiosyncrasies due the diversity of involved stakeholders and governance principles (e.g., the juste retour of member states’ contributions at ESA). Despite these differences, both cases illustrate that groups of skilled and experienced individuals—science diplomats, as it were—contribute to the organisations’ success by using degrees of agency for facilitating negotiations, mediating between coalitions, and lobbying on the organisations’ behalf. It seems that their influence is particularly strong at critical junctures, thereby confirming assumptions from historical institutionalism. Further research could compare these results with observations from other intergovernmental settings across, and beyond, the science sector.
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