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Keywords:

  • fuzzy-set analysis;
  • independence;
  • regulation;
  • regulatory agency

Abstract

The phenomenon of delegating public authority from elected politicians (or ministries headed by elected politicians) to formally independent regulatory agencies (RAs) is becoming increasingly widespread. This paper examines the relation between formal independence, as prescribed in the constitutions of agencies, and de facto independence. Toward this end, it conceptualizes and assesses de facto independence of RAs, and discusses organizational, institutional, and political explanations for divergence from formal independence. The complex relations between de facto and formal independence are examined with a cross-national, cross-sectoral comparison of 16 Western European RAs using fuzzy-set analysis. The results show that formal independence is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for explaining variations in the de facto independence of agencies. Other factors, such as the lifecycle of agencies, veto players, and European networks of agencies, have a decisive impact.