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The Politics of International Oversight: Strategic Monitoring and Legal Compliance in the European Union


States often violate international agreements, both accidentally and intentionally. To process complaints efficiently, states can create formal, pretrial procedures in which governments can negotiate with litigants before a case ever goes to court. If disputes are resolved during pretrial negotiations, it can be very difficult to tell what has happened. Are governments coming into compliance? If so, are they only doing so when they have accidentally committed a violation or even when they are intentionally resisting? Or are challenges simply being dropped? This paper presents a formal model to address these questions. We develop our theory in the context of the European Union (EU). To test our model, we collect a new dataset of over 13,000 Commission infringement cases against EU member states (2003–2013). Our results suggest that accidental and intentional noncompliance both occur, but that intentional noncompliance is more common in the EU. We find that the Commission is an effective, if imperfect, monitor and enforcer of international law. The Commission can correct intentional noncompliance, but not always. It strategically drops cases that it believes it is unlikely to win.

Corresponding author
Joshua C. Fjelstul is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, Emory University, 1555 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322 (
Clifford J. Carrubba is a Professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University, 1555 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322 (
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We thank Matt Gabel, Adam Glynn, Greg Martin, John Patty, Miguel Rueda, Craig Volden, five anonymous reviewers, and the editors of the APSR for their helpful comments. We also thank participants in the Faculty Research Speaker Series, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:

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