The Informal Politics of Legislation: Explaining Secluded Decision-Making in the European Union
42 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 28 Jan 2014
Date Written: 2010
This paper investigates a widespread yet understudied trend in EU politics: the de facto shift of legislative decision-making from public inclusive to informal secluded arenas, and the subsequent adoption of legislation at first reading. Since its formal introduction in 1999, “fast-track legislation” has become ever more frequent, accounting for 72% of adopted codecision files in the last parliamentary term. Our paper analyses this puzzling trend and explains under what conditions informal decision-making is likely to occur. Competing and equifinal expectations are drawn from rational choice and sociological institutionalism. Based on institutionalist delegation theory and power-based distributive bargaining, we argue that informalisation saves the transaction costs of multi-party negotiation, and hinges on a legislative act’s issue-properties. By contrast, based on sociological institutionalism, we argue that informal decision-making results from the emulation of tested decision-rules, and from socialisation into habitual procedural choice and inter-organisational cooperation. We test our hypotheses on a data set of all 797 codecision files negotiated between mid-1999 and mid-2009. First, our analysis suggests that informalisation and seclusion are systematically related to an increase in participants, legislative workload and issue complexity. These findings back a functionalist argument, emphasising the transaction costs of intra-organisational coordination and information-gathering. Second, given that even redistributive and salient acts are regularly decided informally, we find little support for a rationalist argument, stressing the role of public interest in, and political opposition to, a legislative file. Finally, we find strong evidence for the impact of the time fast-track legislation has been in use. This finding confirms the sociological expectation that links informal and secluded decision-making to local positive feedback at the intra-organisational level, and to sustained cooperation at the inter-organisational level.
Keywords: European Union, informal decision-making, seclusion, codecision
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