European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results
Content archived on 2024-05-28

A Comparative Perspective on Parliamentary Legislative Activity and Bureaucratic Delegation

Final Report Summary - CPAD (A Comparative Perspective on Parliamentary Legislative Activity and Bureaucratic Delegation)

It might be argued that democracy is little more than a chain of delegation. The power to dictate the rules governing society are transferred from voters to elected legislators, from parliamentarians to the executive and from this executive to agencies within the state. Delegation is a division of labor and a political necessity in modern society (Braun, 2006). Yet, the potential problems of delegating authority were acknowledged as early as Montesquieu, that is if the relationship between citizens and their representatives in parliament is to be viewed as legitimate, there must be accountability binding the representative to the public will. Principal Agent theory views this as a problem of contracting, recognizing that there is rarely a perfect harmony of interests between the instance delegating authority (the principal) and the instance accepting representation of these interests (the agent). The two central problems involve adverse selection (should the principle choose this agent for the task at hand) and moral hazard (what happens if the principal cannot monitor the agent’s behavior perfectly).
This project addresses how differences in the preferences of the legislating actors and the degree of institutional control over bureaucrats affect changes in the extent of policy delegation in five parliamentary systems: Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland and Turkey. Theoretical research on this topic has advanced for presidential systems, but empirical research in parliamentary remains limited. This empirical study has tested, extended and refined the transaction cost, principal-agent theory based on divided government in the US presidential system for parliamentary democracies (see Epstein/ O’Halloran 1999). Studying parliamentary systems from a comparative perspective as suggested here is a demanding undertaking, requiring numerous resources and a thorough understanding of the political environment in each country, and the current project established (and will publicly release) a broad legislative database, for these different parliamentary democracies across all policy issues over the last twenty years. This project attempted to link bureaucratic policy delegation to the institutional design of a given system and to specific preference constellation and political considerations such as popular legitimacy. Understanding these relationships will contribute to the design of institutions and reform recommendations. Finally, the project provides an in-depth qualitative analysis of specific cases of policy delegation in support of the quantitative analysis.