Rational choices: understanding EU politics

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Political conflicts, democratic institutions and EU policy

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Aims and scope: 

This course deals with positive political economy and rational choice theory applied to the study of political conflicts, democratic institutions and public policies in the European Union. The course covers the main tools for the study of public choice (rational decision theory, game theory, social choice theory) and a number of theoretical and applied topics, focused on the empirical study of the EU institutions. This course will cover the main topics of positive political economy and institutional public choice. These include: preference aggregation; voting paradoxes and cycles; electoral competition and electoral behaviour; problems and solutions to collective action; the welfare state and redistribution; the impact of information and the media on voting behaviour and public policies; coalition theory, the behavior of parliamentary committees and legislatures, including agenda-setting and veto power; principal-agent issues in politics; models of bureaucracy.

The course is aimed at students of political science and international relations who already have a certain background in political economy and the European Union. The conversational style of the lectures is superb for presenting the science of rational choice theory to the political actors and analysts of tomorrow. The course is designed to provide students with a solid conceptual understanding of the subject using modern positive methods and theories. It differs from all other introductory courses by encouraging students to apply these positive theories to explain current EU phenomena with a direct impact on their daily lives.

The course follows the structure of traditional rational choice theory courses, while focusing on the conflicts, institutions and public policies of the European Union and adapting the language and cultural references to a European audience. For example, case studies and examples relate largely to EU institutions and policies. These features are apparent when the course deals with lobbying and interest groups in the EU, turnout in European elections, coalition formation and qualified-majority voting, EU's foreign trade policy making, the political business cycle and Economic and Monetary Union, the theory clubs and Brexit.

By the end of the semester, students should be able to understand how positive political economic theories help us understand current European Union issues such as voting, elections, lobbying, delegation, EU external trade policy, the ECB and the euro, EU institutional reform, enlargement and Brexit.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an approach for learning content through an additional language (foreign or second), thus learning both the subject and the language simultaneously. This approach to teaching and learning has never featured as strongly on university curricula as it does now. Besides, the great revolution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has had a tremendous impact on education. For the development of foreign language communication skills in particular, ICT is an ideal platform for developing interactive strategies and methodologies that promote independent learning, peer interaction, and language use for real communicative purposes. In a world where broadband connections and mobile-data enabled smartphones are widespread, and where students are digital natives, there is great potential for combining CLIL with ICT. If we add to this the opportunities that international university partnerships and networks offer for student interaction across borders, we have all the necessary ingredients for a successful course.
INTRODUCTION: Falsifiability and the scientific method. Rationality, decision theory and game theory. Rational choice, social choice and Public Choice. AGGREGATION OF PREFERENCES: Left, right and spatial voting models. Electoral competition, strategic behaviour and the median voter theorem. Multidimensionality, paradoxes, voting cycles and agenda setting. Empirical measurement of preferences. COLLECTIVE ACTION: Political parties, interest groups and the logic of collective action. European elections, turnout and the paradox of voting. The success of extremist parties, proximity and directional voting. EU lobbying, the impact of information and the subsidisation of bias. INSTITUTIONS AND POLICY MAKING: EU legislative procedure, agenda-setting and veto power. Qualified majority voting in the Council and power index analysis, power and luck, i-power vs. p-power. Justice, social welfare and the rule of the square root. Parliament, committee power, distributive and informative theories. Executive and judicial power, principal-agent problems, delegation and control. The European Commission and models of bureaucracy. The EU Court of Justice and majority rules. Economic and Monetary Union, coalitions and the political business cycle. CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY: Qualified majority voting, internal and external costs of decision making, and an optimal majority rule. Enlangement and the theory of clubs. Brexit and the Exit-Voice-Loyalty (EVL) game. Intergovernmental relations and selectorate theory.
Indicative reading: 
Shepsle, K.A. (2010). Analyzing Politics: Rationality, Behavior, and Instititutions. W. W. Norton & Company; Munger, M. C. (2015). Choosing in groups: Analytical politics revisited. Cambridge University Press; Varela, D. (2008). Guvernarea Uniunii Europene. Institutul European. Suplimentary reading: P Dunleavy, Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice; D Mueller, Public Choice III; G Tsebelis, Veto Players. Greate works: A Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy; M Olson, The Logic of Collective Action; W Niskanen, Bureaucracy and Representative Government.