Twenty years of principal-agent research in EU politics: how to cope with complexity?

Tom Delreux*, J. Adriaensen

*Corresponding author for this work

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In the 20 years after its introduction, the principal-agent model has seen increasing use to study political processes in virtually all policy domains in which the EU is active. Relaxing the strict assumptions that guided the original economic applications has greatly widened the scope for potential applications. This very phenomenon has also created an existential challenge to the model’s contemporary use, which is combining the reductionist aims of the model (from which it derives its strength) with the complex empirical settings to which it is increasingly applied. To facilitate this balancing exercise, we propose a two-step approach to principal-agent analysis, in which the mapping of the principal-agent proof relation is separated from the effective analysis that examines the reasons, modalities and consequences of delegation and control in the EU. In doing so, we show how the principal-agent model can continue to provide new insights at the various stages of the research process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258–275
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Political Science
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • principal-agent
  • control
  • discretion
  • rational choice institutionalism
  • agency
  • European Union
  • European integration
  • BANK

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