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The Politics behind the Consultation of Expert Groups: A Strategy to offset Salience or to meet Policy Uncertainty?

Bart Van Ballaert

This paper examines the logic underlying the European Commission’s use of expert groups. Arguing that ‘policy affects politics’ the paper analyses whether and how ‘salience’ and ‘policy uncertainty’ of policy initiatives affect the use of expert groups. With regard to salience, it tests the hypothesis that the Commission might deliberately pursue a strategy to “objectify” policy in order to depoliticize subsequent decision-making. Hence, the more salient policy is, the more likely an expert group will be involved. With regard to policy uncertainty, the paper hypothesizes that the Commission might not fully understand a policy problem as a result of which it seeks expertise externally by consulting an expert group. Thus, the more uncertain a policy outcome is, the more likely an expert group will be consulted. The empirical analysis is based on cross-sectional data retrieved from the Commission’s list of adopted initiatives and the register of expert groups. These will be processed by multivariate regression techniques. The paper contributes to current literature in two ways. First, it studies expert groups at the level of policy initiatives whereas others retained a focus on policy areas. Second, alternative measures for the operationalization of salience and policy uncertainty are presented.

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