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The Informal Politics of Legislation: Explaining Secluded Decision-Making in the European Union

Christine Reh, Joint paper with Adrienne Heritier, Edoardo Bressanelli and Christel Koop

This paper theorises a widespread yet under-studied trend in domestic, supranational and global politics: the shift of decision-making from public, inclusive to informal, secluded arenas. More specifically, the paper attempts to explain the dramatic increase of 'fast-track legislation' in European Union (EU) decision-making since 1999. Indeed, in the Sixth European Parliament (EP), 72% of adopted co-decision files were fast-tracked and thus pre-agreed informally between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. This development puzzles EU scholars and practitioners alike, as co-decision was, after all, introduced to make Europe's legislative process more inclusive, transparent and accountable. Against this backdrop, I develop three theoretical explanations of secluded decision-making in the EP. First, drawing on rational choice institutionalism and delegation theory, I argue that informalisation responds to functional pressures of complexity, and that actors recur to secluded decision-making to reduce the transaction costs of international negotiation. Second, drawing on sociological institutionalism, I argue that informalisation responds to the uncertainty of a novel decision-environment, and that fast-track legislation 'copies' the sticky norms of informal interaction that have long characterised Community decision-making. Third, drawing on organizational sociology, I argue that informalisation—and the political contestation over the benefits and costs of seclusion—is part of a wider struggle over the EP's core principles and institutional self-understanding.

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