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Swimming against the tide: the European Commission and the politics of debt-relief

Angelou, Angelos (2019) Swimming against the tide: the European Commission and the politics of debt-relief. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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It is well documented that, during crises, international bureaucracies tend to follow state preferences. Yet, the European Commission’s opposition to the member-states’ debt-relief plan for Greece constitutes a deviant case for which we lack an explanation. The thesis employs this case in order to discuss why and how international bureaucrats might act independently of their state-principals during crises. To answer this question, it draws on qualitative data from official documents, primary and secondary accounts, archives and 13 elite interviews. It analyses this data using the text-analysis software NVivo. The examination of the empirical evidence suggests that the Commission adopted such a stance because of its institutional culture, i.e. the solutions that were produced to answer certain collective problems in the past and were then institutionalized and passed on as rules, rituals and values. The organisation broke from coalition dynamics, opposed member-states and took an autonomous and institutionally detrimental stance because its culture was in significant discrepancy with its principal’s preferences. Through the handling of previous financial crises, the Commission developed the view that the process of European integration is tied with financial stability and the appeasement of market forces, i.e. the alignment of domestic economic policies with market-expectations. Subsequently, its proposals on the Greek debt were geared towards that direction. This perception also explains the Commission’s opposition to member-states’ desire to grant Greece some type of debt relief, i.e. the PSI. The organisation saw this scheme as a potential source of market panic and, hence, as potentially detrimental to the process of EU integration. It, consequently, opposed it 4 despite the institutional costs that this stance entailed. The thesis demonstrates the substantial effect that an institution’s culture might have on its actions during crises. It also offers an alternative to the standard state-centric narrative of crisis-management by international organisations. Such conclusions hold wider theoretical significance for the field of EU studies and international organisations. They propose an explanation of why and how the European Commission, and by extension similar international bureaucracies, might act independently of their principal’s, even if this choice entails institutional losses.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Angelos Angelou
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Sets: Departments > European Institute
Supervisor: Featherstone, Kevin and Woodruff, David

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