Arndt Wonka
Delegation and abdication? The appointment of European Commissioners and its policy implications

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Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 84
ISSN: 1437-8574

The European Commission is commonly portrayed as an actor constantly taking policy positions which, in EU legislative decision-making, fundamentally differ from those of the EU member states. That is, the European Commission is a (pro-integrationist) preference outlier. Yet, there are hardly any theoretical explanations, let alone systematic empirical evidence, which substantiate this common portrayal. Why should the Commission repeatedly take positions which fundamentally differ from those member states which at the same time appoint the Commission? By recourse to arguments of principal-agent theory, I argue that their right to (s)elect the Commission(ers) provides member state governments with valuable means to influence the policy preferences of the Commission. Member state governments can nominate candidates who share their party affiliation and thus can be expected to share basic policy preferences. In addition, the nomination of candidates who previously occupied “highly visible” posts in the political arena, allows governments to assess the respective candidate’s reliability. Thus, from this article’s theoretical perspective it seems rather unlikely that the Commission constantly acts as a preference outlier in EU decision-making.
The data set used to test the theoretical arguments developed in this paper was generated for this purpose and covers the relevant information for all Commissioners who were appointed to the Commission between January 1958 and March 2004 (N=185). The empirical tests confirm the paper’s basic hypotheses: Member state governments do try to influence the European Commission’s actions in EU policy-making by nominating Commissioners who share their party affiliation and who prior to their nomination have proven their reliability in other, “highly visible” political positions - mainly in national political arenas.