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Legislative Gridlock and Bureaucratic Politics in the European Union


How does the risk of gridlock affect the type of legislative output? Do bureaucratic agents expand their activities when they can expect that the principals are unable to overrule them? This article introduces a novel approach for calculating the risk of gridlock in bicameral legislatures in order to estimate its impact on bureaucratic activities, combining data on all secondary and tertiary acts of the European Union (EU) from 1983 to 2009. The findings reveal that bureaucratic activities expand when the risk of gridlock increases and an overruling of tertiary acts becomes less likely. This may sustain the EU's overall decision-making productivity, but its bureaucratic nature may raise further questions about democratic legitimacy and principal-agent problems in the representation of interests.

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Department of Government, University of Essex (email:; University of Mannheim (email:; German Research Institute for Public Administration Speyer (email: Earlier versions were presented at the Conference ‘Inclusion Completed, Adaptation Successful? What Divides New and Old Members in the European Union, 6 Years On?’ at the Central European University in Budapest on 14 May 2010, at the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim on 19 February 2013 and at the 3rd Annual General Conference of the European Political Science Association in Barcelona on 20 June 2013. The authors contributed equally. We wish to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for valuable comments that led to an in-depth analysis of bicameral decision making in the European Union. Online appendices and data replication sets are available at 10.1017/S0007123414000027.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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