Agent-Centric Historical Institutionalism as a Theory of Institutional Change: The Politics of Regulating Competition and Mergers in the European Union, 1955-2010
This paper examines the striking transformation of the European Commission from a weak antitrust regulator with no authority to regulate mergers into an extremely powerful, unambiguously supranational regulator of market competition, with broad authority to review and impose conditions upon or even prohibit mergers. To explain this institutional development, which was not intended by the member states and opposed by the largest, most powerful ones, I put forward an actor-centric historical institutionalist theory. It emphasizes institutional feedbacks from economic integration to the preferences of sub- and transnational private actors—actors that treat the broader institutional context as a political opportunity structure. This allows me to specify the conditions under which these actors’ pursuit of their private, often commercial interests incrementally leads to supranational market regulation. The theoretical framework also recognizes that institutional change—such as establishing supranational authority—has opponents as well as supporters and identifies the conditions under which the latter are more likely to succeed. Actor-centric historical institutionalism thus can explain institutional changes in the international political economy that take place without directly involvement by, and even contrary to the preferences for autonomy of, powerful states.
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