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A transformation in governance has swept across Western Europe. During the past half-century, states, executives, and parliaments have empowered an increasing number of non-majoritarian institutions (NMIs) to make public policy. In the fields of utility regulation, telecommunications, antitrust, and media pluralism, and even in the provision of health and welfare benefits, myriad independent regulatory bodies have been created and become the loci for making new rules, or applying existing ones to new situations, at the national level. At the supranational level, central bankers, insulated from direct political control, set monetary policy. In Brussels, European Commission officials propose legislation and enforce ever wider European Union regulation. In Luxembourg, the Court of Justice controls member state compliance with European law, reviewing the lawfulness of activities of national parliaments, governments, and administrators.

The ongoing exercise of authority by non-majoritarian bodies is today central to governance in a growing number of policy domains. This special issue seeks to address the sources, consequences, and dynamics of delegation to NMIs in Western Europe. Here we introduce the core themes and issues raised by the project, while each subsequent article explores the politics of delegation more specifically in different polities, sectors, and institutional settings. We begin by discussing how the group has collectively chosen to define and conceptualise our topic; we then present theoretical materials used by political scientists to explain delegation to nonmajoritarian institutions. These ideas developed in the United States during the 1980s, primarily in research on the relationship between Congress and American regulatory agencies (see Pollack, this volume). We also briefly discuss relevant ideas found in ‘new-institutional’ organisational sociology. Following from the seminal work of Giandomenico Majone and Mark Pollack, a literature that uses or otherwise engages American delegation theory to conceptualise or explain aspects of supranational politics in the EU has emerged, and is becoming a standard reference point. Nonetheless, comparative research on the sources and consequences of institutional innovation through delegation to NMIs has been, until recently, scarce. Thereafter, we examine the politics of delegation to NMIs in Europe the decision to delegate, the institutional design of delegation and the consequences of delegation- in light of the project’s findings.

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