Members of parliament and governments in Western Europe: Agency relations and problems of oversight

Saalfeld, Thomas (2000) Members of parliament and governments in Western Europe: Agency relations and problems of oversight. European Journal of Political Research, 37 (3). pp. 353-376. ISSN 0304-4130. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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This article attempts to reconstruct the agency relationship between members of parliaments and governments using principal-agent theory as an analytical framework. The emphasis will be on parliamentary oversight of the cabinet rather than legislation. It will not be questioned that the information asymmetry between members of parliaments and governments is tremendous and has grown over the last decades. It will not be disputed that policy making takes place in networks or ‘policy communities’, which may include elected politicians but are not completely controlled by them. Unquestionably, bargaining in such networks lacks transparency and is difficult for parliaments to scrutinise. It will be argued, however, that the criticisms summarised above are often based on a number of unrealistic premises: a legalistic ‘two-body image’ of executive legislative relations in parliamentary democracies and a narrow focus on specific parliamentary monitoring activities (e.g., forms of parliamentary interpellation) neglecting important other dimensions of accountability. Theoretical and empirical research on agency relationship shows that both members of parliament and governments use a variety of mechanisms of informal screening, contract design and oversight (indeed, they often co-operate) to reduce the risks diagnosed by critiques of modern representative democracy. The actors in the political ‘environment’ of parliaments (such as sub-national government, international actors including foreign governments, the courts, semi-autonomous executive agencies or interest groups) can be ‘allies’ and important sources of information for parliaments as well as for governments. It will be demonstrated that there is considerable cross-national variation in the delegation and accountability relationships between members of parliament and governments. Sweeping statements on the general ‘decline of parliaments’ are therefore misplaced.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: Parliaments, legislatures, parliamentary scrutiny, executive-legislative relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: T.K. Saalfeld
Date Deposited: 20 May 2008 21:39
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2010 14:13
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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