Institutional politics

My main expertise lies in the study of political institutions and the relations between them. In my work, there are two central foci which I elaborate below i.e. the role and organization of member states in the EU and the application of the Principal-Agent model in the study of EU politics.

Member states of the European Union

by Samynandpartners

The idea that the EU can make decisions against the national interest stokes fear of sovereignty loss and fuels Euroscepticism. Past reforms to address the democratic deficit of the EU focused on the empowerment of the European parliament. Yet, how can an institution populated by ‘detached europhiles’ assuage the concerns of the Eurosceptic voter?

We often forget that most of the EU’s contested policies have been shaped within institutions where national governments represent their electorate with a quasi-veto right. But how do we know whether a country was indeed outvoted by other member states or whether our ire should be directed at our own government which was ‘sleeping on the job’ e.g. by failing to identify and defend key national interests during Council discussions? Or worse, that government officials make false statements about their actions at the EU-level? Here, questions of public accountability of national governments come into play. Do we know what our governments are doing in Brussels on the citizens’ behalf?

Currently, I’m working on a textbook for Palgrave entitled “the Member States of the European Union” which provides a comprehensive account of the role played by member states in the EU.

The principal-agent model and the EU

Hierarchical, contractual relations are a cornerstone of societal organisation. Whether we are studying business, sociology or politics, the decision by actors to delegate specific tasks or responsibilities to an agent is omnipresent.

In my PhD I applied the principal-agent model to the relation between the member states, as represented through the Council, and the European Commission in trade negotiations. As I wasn’t able to include many of my ideas and reflections in the dissertation, I embarked -together with Tom Delreux (UCLouvain) on a project to explore the use and limitations of the PA-model in the study of complex decision-making settings such as the European Union. This resulted in an edited volume and a spin-off article.

I have used the model extensively in my research on trade negotiations, I’m particularly interested in exploring the boundaries of its applicability. The omnipresence of hierarchical relations in society means that different research traditions have studied similar phenomena through different concepts and theories. Each of these traditions, having sparked debates of their own, often in isolation from the literature using the PA-model. In future research, I would love to work towards a synthesis of this diverse literature.