The Formal Independence of Regulators: A Comparison of 17 Countries and 7 Sectors


  • Fabrizio Gilardi

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    1. Université de Lausanne
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    • Fabrizio Gilardi, PhD, is lecturer in political science at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. His research interests include regulation, welfare state policy and politics, political delegation, and policy diffusion processes. His work has been published in the Journal of Theoretical Politics, the Journal of European Public Policy, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and Politische Vierteljahresschrift. He has also co-edited a volume on delegation in contemporary democracies, forthcoming with Routledge in 2006.

Address for correspondence: Fabrizio Gilardi, Institut d'Etudes Politiques et Internationales, Université de Lausanne, Quartier Dorigny, Bâtiment Humense, CH - 1015 Lausanne; E-mail:


This article seeks to explain the pattern of delegation to independent regulatory agencies in Western Europe. Two types of arguments are advanced to explain variations in the formal independence of regulators. Firstly, the need for governments to increase their credible commitment capacity may lead them to delegate regulation to an agency that is partly beyond their direct control. Secondly, delegation may be a response to the political uncertainty problem, which arises when governments are afraid of being replaced by another coalition with different preferences, which could decide to change existing policy choices. In addition, veto players may constitute a functional equivalent of delegation, since they influence policy stability and therefore tend to mitigate both the credibility and the political uncertainty problems. These arguments are consistent with the results of the empirical analysis of the formal independence of regulators in seventeen countries and seven sectors.