Formal power of the Committee of European Affairs

Get Complete Project Material File(s) Now! »


This chapter is devoted to the theory used. First off prior research is presented followed by an overview of new institutionalism and a deeper look into empirical institution. After this there is an introduction to the concept of power and Lukes’ first and second dimension of power. This is all tied together into my theoretical model for analysis explaining the way I aim to examine my material.

Prior research

For this study I have decided to rely on prior research and official documents from the Swedish and Danish Committees of European Affairs and the national governments. There is some research regarding the Committee of European Affairs in both Sweden and Denmark and the power it holds but power is then usually reserved to mean what I have chosen to define as formal power.
In order to get a short overview of the Swedish Committee of European Affairs I have found a few chapters in scientific anthologies, as well as a more in depth study on the Swedish parliament versus the EU by an official in the Swedish parliament, Hans Hegeland. Hegeland was a civil servant working in different committees in the Swedish parliament during 1994-2006.14 The study is his dissertation and part of it reoccurs in one of the anthologies used here as well. He is one of the few researchers to examine the Swedish Committee of European Affairs in depth the last decade.
Regarding Denmark the main source of information is a book about the Danish Committee of European Affairs by Henrik Jensen from a state sanctioned series of books regarding basis of power in Denmark. Jensen has a Ph. D. in Political Science and is currently an associate professor at Copenhagen University. He has several publications, most of which concern parliaments, political theory and the Danish parliament.15 Prior to this Jensen was working in the Folketing.
I will also examine a Swedish article in Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift16 where a comparison between the two committees was done in 1995. Authors are Hans Hegeland and Ingvar Mattson, the latter a Ph. D. in political science and employee of the Riksdag. Unfortunately, while they present the two committees well, the comparison is made hard by the fact that the Swedish Committee of European Affairs is newly formed at the article’s publishing and as such has not yet established itself nor a developed working order and practice.

New institutionalism

“Political institutions are collections of interrelated rules and routines that define appropriate action in terms of relations between roles and situations” 17 according to James G. Marsh and Johan P. Olsen. Furthermore they note that institutions are “defined by their durability and their capacity to influence behaviour of individuals for generations”.18
For a long time the main focus of political science was on governing institutions, how they worked, what functions they should or should not have and how they could improve the citizens’ behaviour within a set frame – the so called institutionalism. In the late 19th century, when political science became a more distinct academic discipline, less focus was on the morals and history of institutions and instead focus shifted towards comparisons between different electoral systems and their consequences.19 During the 1950s and 1960s the rational choice and behaviouralist schools gained ground, maintaining that focus should be on individuals and their choices and behaviour since they are the founders of the institutions. The institutions they create and work within is thought to be of less importance. Institutional research was also criticised for being mainly descriptive and seldom theory developing.20
It was not until the mid 1980’s that a counter revolution from the institutionalists came about. March and Olsen were affected by the critique from rational choice and behaviouralist proponents and revised institutionalism, thereby creating new institutionalism. The main changes from old institutionalism were a slight shift in focus from the state to a more societal view and an acknowledgment of their mutual co-dependence, an assertion that not everything could be broken down into individual behaviour, that the decision-making process cannot be said to always be maximising individuals self-interest and that new institutionalism recognises that the political process often is a bumpy ride and do not always move towards a societal equilibrium in the way that the rational choice and behaviouralist researchers often try to point out.21 Instead of only focusing on either the institution or the actor they are in new institutionalism put together and the symbiosis between them is further examined.22
Whereas traditional institutionalism focus heavily on the formal functions of an institution the new institutionalism has a wider perspective and often look at institutions within a social context.23 There are several strands of new institutionalism, usually the following six are named; normative institutionalism, rational choice institutionalism, historical institutionalism, empirical institutionalism, international institutionalism and societal institutionalism. The one most appropriate for this study is empirical institutionalism as I intend to examine the relationship between the Committees of European Affairs and the government, what restraints are in place in that relationship and if they differ between Sweden and Denmark.

Empirical institutionalism

Empirical institutionalism is used when investigating whether an institution has made an impact and in what way.24 That in itself is a rather wide description open to interpretation. Considering the aim here, to investigate the Committees of European Affairs in Sweden and Denmark and its power relationship to the national governments, it is clear why it is suitably applied to this study. Only after the power structures have been examined can it be ascertained if the committees have had an impact on the states policy in regards to the EU.
Empirical institutionalism is most often used to compare different systems, such as presidential versus parliamentary systems, different voting systems or different ways of separating power in democratic systems. It is not uncommon, however, to step down a level and compare individual institutions as well. Closest at hand in this case is Arend Lijpharts’ research regarding consensual versus majoritarian regimes in parliamentary systems25.
The institutions themselves are rarely in need of conceptual explanation as it is often easy to define their parameters and the framework they work within. There is no question that the units of analysis that I have chosen, the governments and committees of European Affairs are all political institutions. The use of empirical institutionalism in this case is to examine the impact of the Committee of European Affairs on the performance of the government as an institution. Of more importance than conceptual explanation is the design of the institutions, this will be examined closer by investigating the power relationship between the government and the Committee of European Affairs in Sweden and Denmark.26
The main critique against empirical institution is that theory plays such a small role. I have chosen to remedy this by bringing in the concept of power into my theoretical framework. There is also much discussion between different strands of new institutionalism regarding the structuring of interaction, whether it is based on norms or values or rules. Empirical institutionalism upholds that the important thing is the structures themselves and whether they create an impact rather than what kind of structure is more or less important.
The functions I aim to research in regards to the Committee of European Affairs are the ones regarding their formal basis of power, by that I mean in which documents these rights may be found and how extensive they are, and the formal and informal ways in which this manifests itself i.e. to what extent the committees of European Affairs in reality exceeds those powers or are restrained, and if that is the case, by whom they are restrained.
My hypothesis is that the Danish Committee of European Affairs has greater power, both formal and informal, because their power is laid out in EU documents rather than national ones and as such the national government recognize and value the committee’s legal basis higher than the Swedish government does its counterpart, which in turn changes the informal dynamics between the Committee of European Affairs and the national government.
The hypothesis would hold true only if both the formal and informal powers are greater in Denmark than in Sweden as they, in this study, are inexplicably linked.

READ  Bioaccumulation, antioxidative response, and metallothionein expression in Lupinus luteus L. exposed to heavy metals and silver nanoparticles


Power is undeniably one of the more contested concepts in political science. There is a drawn out debate going on between some of the more prominent political science researchers and it shows no immediate signs of letting up soon. Why might that be though? Is it because we all experience power differently? Or because of the areas we research concerning power differ widely? Or is it just the human trait to try to categorize everything at its best, where we need a proper meaning for a certain concept and it needs to be just right? Obtuse concepts have little place in political science. Arguably, power is also one of the more important concepts, at least traditionally, if we were to rank concepts hieratically. I am of the opinion that a concept is useful as long as its meaning is clear and fully accounted for in the context for which it is used. That power is a contested concept is therefore of less importance than providing a thorough explanation as to why a certain standpoint is preferred and adapted in this study.
The reason for adding power to my theoretical framework is because I feel that it is the most suitable way of determining the impact the committees of European Affairs has on the governments’ performance. By examining the power relationship between the two institutions, both formal and informal power, I believe I will have a solid basis for the conclusions I make on the type of impact that the Committee of European Affairs have on the government and also whether the two committees differ.
I have chosen to rely on Steven Lukes’ research regarding power, mainly because of the fact that his view on power is very fitting for the analysis I am constructing and also because he is one of the few and more renowned scientists in that area of the discipline today. He argues that power can be divided into three dimensions or three faces, the first two dimensions are based on prior debates regarding power to which he adds a third dimension. In short the first dimension concerns the ability to influence the decision-making process, the second dimension regards the power to shape the political agenda and the third dimension concerns the power to control people’s thoughts and perceptions and a more subtle way.27 I am only interested in the first and second dimension of power for this study and will explain them more thoroughly below.

The first dimension of power

Lukes’ first dimension of power is based in large on the pluralist view that focuses on studying concrete, observable behaviour. As such, the decision-making process is a central part of determining power and observing power relationships.28
The concept of power in this debate was in large determined by Robert Dahl when he wrote that “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.”29 This shows that the pluralist view is more concerned about power over rather than power to. It is assumed that there is a conflict of interest and that one actor have power over another and the same actor has a greater power than the other. This first dimension of power is largely behaviouralist – focus is on who has the power over whom and how that power is used.

The second dimension of power

The second dimension of power is based on the critique by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz against the pluralists’ simplistic view of power. They add a second dimension to the concept of power, the power to set the agenda by what they call the mobilization of bias. The mobilization of bias is “a set of predominant values, beliefs, rituals, and institutional procedures (‘rules of the game’) that operate systematically and consistently to the benefit of certain persons and groups at the expense of others.”30 Bachrach and Baratz believe that the power to set the agenda is imperative. By having this power one can decide which issues should be brought up for discussion, where in the discussion they rank and which issues should be pushed aside or even repressed.31 Thus, not only do they focus on power over but they also take into consideration the power to of which nondecision-making is a part. By nondecision-making Bacharach and Baratz recalls the situation where even the basis of decisions are killed, or otherwise thwarted because they oppose the interests of the more powerful decision-makers. Bachrach and Baratz are of the opinion that the pluralists focus too much on actors’ opportunity to initiate, decide and veto proposals and take too little consideration to institutional rules and regulations that limit this.32
In this study what all this means is that the first dimension focuses on which of the two actors in each country have the power over the decision-making process – who has the power to see decisions through to their preferred outcome and the second dimension is more focused on the institutional rules that regulate the relationship between the actors.

Theoretical model for analysis

In order to make sense of the material I have chosen to work with and to make sure that I actually investigate what I need to in order to get the answers I want I have constructed a theoretical model of analysis. The model is used during the sorting of material to see what is of importance for the analysis and also where in the analysis the material belongs.

Table of contents :

1. Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Relevance
1.3 Aim of the study
1.4 Questions
1.5 Demarcation
1.6 Disposition
2. Theory
2.1 Prior research
2.2 New institutionalism
2.2.1 Empirical institutionalism
2.3 Power
2.3.1 The first dimension of power
2.3.2. The second dimension of power
2.4 Theoretical model for analysis
3. Method
3.1 Cases
3.2 Units of analysis
3.3 Material
4. Results
4.1 The governments
4.2 Formal power of the Committee of European Affairs
4.2.1 Sweden
4.2.2 Denmark
4.2.3 Comparison
4.3 Informal power of the Committee of European Affairs
4.3.1 Sweden
4.3.2 Denmark
4.3.3 Comparison
4.4 Theoretical anchoring
4.5 Conclusion
Internet pages


Related Posts