Parlamentary Democracy and the Chain of Delegation

Special issue of European Journal of Political Research
May 2000 - Volume 37 Issue 3, pp.255-429

By Torbjörn Bergman, Wolfgang C. Müller & Kaare Strøm (eds.)

Read it online: European Journal of Political Research

The project's first publication on comparative parliamentary democracy is a series of analytical articles (Bergman, Müller and Strøm, 2000). These are published as a special issue of the European Journal of Political Research entitled, "Parliamentary Democracy and the Chain of Delegation". To facilitate empirical and cross-national research on the national parliamentary policy process, we begin by conceptualizing parliamentary democracy as an ideal type.

We identify the policy process of parliamentary democracy as a chain of delegation that includes four discrete steps or links: (1) from voters to elected representatives (legislators); (2) from legislators to the chief executive (the prime minister) and his or her cabinet; (3) from the cabinet and the chief executive to the 'line ministers' (typically individual cabinet members) that head the different executive departments; and (4) from cabinet members, in their capacity as heads of different executive departments (ministries), to civil servants within. The contributors to the special edition look at each of these steps. One article considers the problem that voters might lack the information and resources needed to make an informed choice. Another examines how the confidence relationship structures the connection between the parliament as a principal and the government as an agent. A third shows how delegation within the executive (the cabinet) is complicated by the fact that the cabinet as a collective body consists of individual ministers who are simultaneously the agents of the full cabinet. Perhaps most importantly, however, these articles stress how political parties structure the delegation process. In particular, the special issue highlights the importance of considering political parties as bonding instruments which align incentives and permit citizens to control the policy process. The special issue also introduces the European Union (EU) as an additional (fifth) step of supranational delegation. This raises a number of analytical and empirical challenges, which are addressed in some of the project's other publications.