How national regulatory agencies are integrated into European multi-level governance

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The last decades have seen a dramatic increase in the number of national regulatory agencies operating across Europe and in the number of European agencies operating within the EU framework. But how do these two groups of agencies interact? Based on a new study, Hyacinth Jordana and Kutsal Yesilkagit show how national regulatory agencies and European agencies have become entangled in European governance at several levels.

The European administrative space has been one of the most transformed political and administrative areas in the world. In a few decades, there has been a fundamental change in the roles, positions and processes through which the actors of national and supranational governance have come to interact with each other and to constitute new types of political regimes at different times. across the EU.

National Regulatory Agencies

National regulatory agencies have been established at the national level by national governments since the 1990s, but the creation of European agencies during the 2000s and 2010s fundamentally changed the role of their national counterparts. National regulatory agencies have become multi-level actors, playing new roles in various EU and national governance constellations. They have come to occupy a position of “broker” or intermediary between national and European policies, and to effectively articulate positions at different levels of government, for example through numerous representatives of national regulatory agencies sitting on the boards of European agencies.

National regulatory agencies are autonomous from national policy makers, but are strongly embedded in national political regimes. As such, they act through different channels than the ministerial structures of national state apparatuses. Their delegated powers allow them to cooperate directly with European agencies and other supranational institutions, notably the European Commission, as well as with the regulatory authorities of other Member States while maintaining their national angle.

National regulatory agencies have come to bridge the supranational and national levels in EU multilevel governance: they articulate demands, ideas and proposals back and forth, also having the integration necessary policy to avoid playing a mere messenger role. As a result, in a significant number of policy areas, national regulatory agencies, European Commission directorates and EU agencies configure a system of delegated entities, which we refer to as tangled agencies.

Together they form composite regulatory regimes with relevant levels of policy autonomy. Although shaped by legislatures and executives, it is ignored at both national and European level. Such simultaneous access to European and national policy makers sees them as political intermediaries at different levels of governance in Europe and therefore makes them attractive players for large regulated industries, which are often multi-level players themselves. In this context, it is not surprising that numerous studies attest to the growth de facto autonomy of national regulatory agencies vis-à-vis national executives.

The links between national regulatory agencies and European agencies

The neglected side of this story concerns the links between national regulatory agencies and European agencies, which are more complex than is generally portrayed. They include networking activities, multiple bilateral exchanges and participation in the bodies of European agencies, among other mechanisms.

We expect these links to be important as they provide stable connections and political engagement between the two levels, configuring national regulatory agencies as entangled agencies in EU governance. The different roles played by national regulatory agencies as a result of this condition define a different type of regulatory game than that which dominates conventional national arenas. We argue that the participation of national regulatory agencies at European level is enhanced by their involvement in the boards of directors of European agencies.

In a new study, we show that board members and staff of national regulatory agencies participate and are part of the boards of EU agencies. Data for the analysis is drawn from a biographical database of board members from thirty EU agencies. The dataset identifies 1,073 unique individuals who were members of the management boards of EU agencies in 2017.

The majority of appointments to the management boards of EU agencies are made by Member States. The overwhelming majority, 720 board members (69%), are employed by their national public sectors, followed by people working in the third sector (154, 14%) and EU institutions (122, 11%). Focusing on agency board members, the dataset contains 34% (362) of people who worked in a national or regional agency at the time of data collection, with a large majority (293) being directors or managers of national regulatory agencies.

As is common in the literature on EU agencies, we distinguish between EU agencies with a regulatory and non-regulatory function. Although EU agencies lack decision-making or sanctioning powers, with the exception of, for example, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), agencies with regulations occupy more important positions within the European administrative space, as an increasing number they obtain relevant responsibilities to shape policies, norms or standards, on the basis of instruments of soft law. In Figure 1 we show that people currently holding or having held positions in national regulatory agencies are well represented on the boards of EU agencies with regulatory functions.

Figure 1: Positions held by members of the management board of EU agencies

To note: For more information, see the authors’ accompanying article in the Journal of European Public Policy.

We have also calculated correlation coefficients between the positions held by board members and the main powers EU agencies have (available in our companion document). Our first finding is that EU agency board members with (occupied) positions in national regulatory agencies are more likely to be in EU agencies with regulatory functions than members of the board of directors occupying positions within ministries. Our second finding is that board members with positions in national regulatory agencies are more likely to be appointed to European agencies with advisory and decision-making powers than individual board members who have (held) positions in one of the other three areas.

The relationship between Board members holding positions in National Agencies and EU Agencies with policy advisory and decision-making powers is positive and highly significant. The representatives of the national regulatory agencies are thus more involved in the European agencies with hard powers than in those with soft powers. The data provides clear evidence regarding the links between national and supranational regulators in Europe. We note that the representatives of the national regulatory agencies have obtained several positions within the European administrative space. Moreover, our results show a clear trend in the articulation of this evolution, as the empirical results obtained confirm the relevance of these connections for EU agencies with more regulatory activity.

Tangled Agencies

The concept of entangled agencies appears to be very relevant to understand the formation of preferences by national regulatory agencies in multilevel contexts. They are national entities that are anchored at the national level, but also interact and operate in the European administrative space as key players within the composite regulatory regime.

Despite the fact that the entanglements we found are sector-specific, meaning that representatives of national regulatory agencies only sit on the boards of their own policy area, the type of entanglement described could also be understood as one where board members of EU agencies are rooted in contexts, which is a potential counterweight to the development of a detached ‘regulatory elite’ at the EU level. However, the enjoyment of delegated responsibilities allows them to display certain preferences separate from government priorities and to articulate different strategies in European contexts, more sectoral in most cases, but without disconnecting from their national contexts.

For more information, see the authors’ companion document in the European Public Policy Journal


Note: This article gives the point of view of the authors, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: © European Union, 2022


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