by Ixchel Pérez- Durán
One of the most widespread notions about European Union agencies (EAs) is their nature as independent expert bodies. For this reason, it is important to analyze the relationship that the main decision-makers of such agencies have with politicians and stakeholders (e.g. business associations/firms, trade unions, civil society organizations). In this blog, I present some results extracted from my recent research.
On the one hand, when we talk about the formal inclusion of stakeholders in the most important decision-making bodies of EAs —e.g. management boards and advisory/expert forums—, three broad types of groups can be found: representatives of capital (e.g. industry), representatives of labor (e.g. trade unions), and representatives of the citizenry (e.g. consumer groups). Despite the fact that the founding documents of some agencies establish clear guidelines on the number of representatives that each group of stakeholders should have —e.g. EMA, EU-OSHA—, other bodies are ambiguous with regard to this distribution —e.g. ECHA, EFSA, EMSA, ERA, EASA. A number of agencies, such as FRA, FRONTEX, EASO, or EEA, do not have any interest group representation. It is also worth noting that interest group representatives have the right to vote in some of the agencies with interest group representation (e.g. EBA, EFSA, EMA), while in others they only have an advisory role (e.g. EU-OSHA, EUROFOUND). It is also interesting to note that there is an evolution in the type of interest groups involved in EAs: the case of some agencies (e.g. EU-OSHA) illustrates a tripartite corporatist model where labor and capital representatives were key actors in the design of different policy issues; other cases (e.g. EFSA) highlight the role played by the industry and civil society organizations, which might be termed as the new key actors of regulatory capitalism. What are the factors that influence such institutional design? This answer still requires further analyses. However, although the interactions between agency political principals —e.g. the involvement of the European Parliament through the co-decision procedure— have influenced the institutional provisions regarding the participation of stakeholders in EAs, one can also hint that interest groups could push European Union institutions to include them in the decision making of EAs.
With the aim to have a broader picture of the relations that EAs have with external actors, it is also interesting to analyze the relationship between EAs and politicians, and between EAs and stakeholders. To do this, I have analyzed the professional trajectory of EA board members with the aim of identifying previous professional connections with interest groups and political institutions/actors. The analysis, covering 338 board members of the 33 existing EAs, reveals that 15 per cent of the examined board members have political ties, and 39 per cent have career stakeholder ties. If we look at board members with professional ties to stakeholders, 62 percent of these have ties to business groups/private consultancies, 6 per cent to NGOs, 4 per cent to trade unions, and 19 per cent to international organizations. Again, we can ask what the factors that affect the selection of individuals with career ties to politicians and stakeholders are. Since different political principals participate in the selection of board members (e.g., the Council, the EP, the Commission, the member states, the European Parliament), it is necessary to investigate whether some actors are more inclined to appoint specific professional profiles. Of course that there are other potential explanatory factors. For example, it is necessary to confirm if agencies performing regulatory and informative tasks are more likely to have top-level officials with career ties to politicians and stakeholders, or else, if higher levels of formal independence correlate with a lower presence of individuals connected with politicians and stakeholders.
Following theoretical —and even normative— concerns already highlighted by previous studies about the (de)politicization, independence, accountability, democratic nature and/or legitimacy of EAs —which invite deeper theoretical and empirical research on EU agencies— the next step would be to investigate whether the professional trajectories of EA members affect agency policy-decisions.
– Pérez Durán, Ixchel (2017). Political and stakeholder’s ties in European Union agencies. Journal of European Public Policy. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2017.1375545
– Pérez Durán, Ixchel (2017). Interest group representation in the formal design of EU agencies. Regulation & Governance. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1111/rego.12150
Ixchel Pérez- Durán is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at IBEI in Barcelona. Her research interests focus on accountability, welfare regimes, regulation, the European Union, European Union agencies and national regulatory agencies.