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Trading control: national fiefdoms in international organizations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2013

Mareike Kleine*
London School of Economics, European Institute, London, UK


According to principal-agent theory, states (the principals) delegate the implementation of a legalized agreement to an international organization (the agent). The conventional wisdom about states’ capacity to control international organizations is that differences among the member states impede control and consequently enhance the agent's autonomy, whereas agreement allows for effective control and limited autonomy. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, this article argues that conflicts among states need not always impede effective control. On the contrary: if an international organization comprises a sufficient number of policies, there are gains from the exchange of control over its portfolios that are of special sensitivity to different member states. As a result, international organizations exhibit informal spheres of national control, or national fiefdoms. The article demonstrates the theory's plausibility using the example of the European Union and other international organizations. It has implications for the literature on delegation and informal governance.

Original Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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