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Chains of Delegation in EU International Treaty-Making: Parliamentary Scrutiny Caught in a Dilemma

Anne Pintz

According to the classical division of labor in international treaty-making, executives negotiate international agreements, whereas parliaments ratify them. However, in today's world, the work of parliaments is not constrained to ex-post involvement. Parliaments in the EU, both the European and national ones, have become increasingly active in the actual negotiations of agreements. Alongside with normative considerations, these practical developments have prompted a wave of empirical research on the role of parliaments in EU foreign policy-making. However, theoretical models have not advanced at the same pace. Principal-agent theory is the standard conceptual tool for analyzing parliamentary scrutiny of EU affairs: parliaments perform as principals for their executives. Yet, applications of agency theory to EU international treaty-making commonly depict national governments as the principals that delegate negotiation power to the Union negotiator. Elaborations on the role of parliaments are lacking. Combining these two principal-agent perspectives, this theoretical paper aims at conceptualizing the setting of EU international treaty-making as chains of delegation, running from parliaments to the Union negotiator. Extending agency theory in this way enables analyzing the involvement of parliaments in EU foreign policy in a theoretically informed way. This paper focuses thereby on the inherent dilemma-situations in which parliaments find themselves: parliamentary scrutiny comes with the benefit of decreasing the risk of agency loss, yet also with the cost of endangering the efficiency of negotiations. It argues that parliaments make strategic choices about their activities based on cost-benefit calculations, which are influenced by factors internal and external to the principal-agent relationship.

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