Some Reflections on Legislators in the Administrative State in Contemporary European Democracies

Cyril BENOÎT (Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics)

In liberal democracies, the relationship between legislatures and the bureaucracy is based on a ‘mismatch of incentives and capabilities’ (Morris Fiorina) – and information dynamics are widely accepted as being key in such relationship. While legislators are indeed tasked with deciding the law on the basis of an incomplete, often imperfect knowledge of the realities they seek to govern, better informed bureaucrats and their agencies are tasked with executing the law, without being able to decide it. This talk will provide a reflection on the contemporary appearances of this situation in a broad comparative perspective. It shall discuss the effects and the implications some common trends have had on political-administrative interdependences and in particular, those associated with the rise of independent regulatory agencies in most sectors of governmental intervention – under a broadly diffused conception that sees non-politician experts capable to discern the policy means to the ends that were equated with the collective good, and this only if their expertise is insulated from political influence (Peter Burnham). Drawing on examples in the areas of social policy or finance, the talk will thus expose the challenges that arise for legislatures when most information-processing capacities related to policies are placed in the hands of nominally independent experts also charged with crucial decision-making capacities – as well as the adverse forms of re-politicization such situation increasingly (and crucially) entail in various European Union countries.