Not So Powerless After All : Assessing the EU Commission’s Discretionary Power.

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Since its foundation, the European Commission has been in the spotlight of scholarly attention. Debates regarding its power continue to fascinate researchers from various sub-fields of Social Sciences. This cumulative dissertation focuses on the extent of the Commission’s discretionary power and the patterns of delegation in the European Union. Although the literature on delegation and discretion choices in complex institutional settings is plentiful, the extant research has several substantial gaps. It remains empirically unclear whether the Commission’s discretionary power is influenced by the policy salience that is formed within the EU member-states or is rather shaped by the intrinsic characteristics and preferences of this institution. In this project, I fill these gaps by building a systematic assessment of the discretion and delegation patterns in the European Union. I contribute not only to the studies of the European Commission, but also to a well-established literature on bureaucratic decision-making and legislative politics. This dissertation has three empirical chapters. In the first part I show that the amount of the Commission’s discretion is conditioned on the level of salience the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers attach to a policy at hand. As policy salience increases, the EU legislators choose to maintain more control over the agency’s actions on the implementation stage. I maintain that the EU principals seek to prevent bureaucratic drift from occurring to avoid its negative effects on their political careers. I differentiate between two sources of salience: one is grounded in the extent of media-attention to a policy at hand, while the other is formed by the prospective policy costs imposed on the member-states. The empirical evidence yields support to the hypothesized relationship suggesting that perhaps the EU Commission is not as free from public pressures as one may think.
In the second part of the thesis, I argue that the amount of discretionary power EU legislators are willing to grant to the Commission is shaped by the constellation of the Commission’s internal preferences. My results show that whenever the lead Directorate General’s preferences are more congruent with the stances of the principals than the Commission’s common position, the EP and the Council tend to grant more discretionary leeway to the supranational agency. In these cases, any of the lead DG’s deviations from the envisioned policy during the implementation are still perceived as beneficial by the EU principals. Therefore, the DG acts as a good “mandarin” of the EU principals. However, the EP and the Council tend to differ in the extent of their generosity towards the agency. Additionally, the EU principals prioritize different policy dimensions in their decision to empower the Commission: The EP’s discretionary choices are more affected by the preference proximity on the ideologically driven cleavage, while for the Council of Ministers the “mandarin effect” is present on both the EU and Left-Right dimensions.
The last empirical part takes a step back and examines the chances of the Commission to be selected as an agent for the implementation stage. This chapter extends the dominant Principal-Agent framework and underlines new mechanisms defining delegation dynamics in the EU. I show that the delegation choices in the EU are not driven by the need to maintain control or by the resource seeking rationale of the EU principals. The results indicate that both supranational legislators are likely to empower the Commission when it holds a more moderate stance on the policy at hand. The EU principals choose to do so to avoid unforeseen radical policy changes. Next, the EU legislators avoid delegating redistributive policies to the supranational agency to preserve a prospect of reaping the benefits of the successful policy implementation. Overall, I show that the extant PA framework does not provide sufficient tools for explaining the agency choice, and there is a pressing need to advance a more inclusive approach to delegation in the European Union.

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Fachgebiet (DDC)
320 Politik
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European Commission, Delegation, Discretionary power, Directorates General
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ISO 690ERSHOVA, Anastasia, 2018. Not So Powerless After All : Assessing the EU Commission’s Discretionary Power. [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz
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@phdthesis{Ershova2018Power-42923,
  year={2018},
  title={Not So Powerless After All : Assessing the EU Commission’s Discretionary Power.},
  author={Ershova, Anastasia},
  address={Konstanz},
  school={Universität Konstanz}
}
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July 25, 2018
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Konstanz, Univ., Diss., 2018
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