Wolfgang C. Müller, Thomas M. Meyer
Meeting the Challenges of Representation and Accountability in Multi-party Government

West European Politics, 2010: 33, issue 5, pp. 1065–1092

In systems of proportional parliamentarism political parties play a double role. On the one hand they make delegation and accountability work; on the other they add complexity to the delegation regime, as minority situations require inter-party cooperation. Because coalition government usually involves policy compromises, the question arises how the coalition parties can ensure that the ministers stick to the coalition deal. Employing the principal–agent framework, this paper shows that coalitions can use several control mechanisms to pursue this goal. The authors consider ex ante mechanisms such as policy agreements that set the agenda for future policy decisions and coalition screening of ministerial candidates. Next they discuss the effects of ex post mechanisms such as strong committee systems and institutional checks like ‘watchdog’ junior ministers. Employing a simple spatial model, they illustrate how these instruments work. Using control mechanisms is not costless, however, and actors may want to avoid these costs. The article specifies conditions that make the use of control mechanisms likely to occur.