About the Project


DELPOWIO - Delegation and Empowerment of International Organizations over Time  


In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of international Organizations (IOs). At varying levels states have transferred some authority to IOs, giving them different levels of power. While there has been a steady extension of competences of the EU, IMF, and World Bank, in the GATT/WTO, UNESCO, and WHO the level of delegated authority has remained constant. We argue that IO empowerment (IOE) is a function of temporal dynamics, the degree of cohesion among principals, and the design of the delegation contract. On the theoretical side, the aim of this interdisciplinary project is to develop a theory of IOE that integrates a temporal dimension into the principal-agent approach. We do this by resorting to four different disciplines: political science, economics, law, and organizational sociology. On the empirical side, the main novelty of the project consists in adopting a comparative research design and a longitudinal perspective. We analyze the empowerment of six IOs (EC/EU, GATT/WTO, IMF, UNESCO, WHO, and World Bank) over a period of 65 years (1950-2015). Given the aim and scope of this research, the project is to be regarded as theory-building and hypothesis-testing research. It is based on extensive qualitative work conducted in the archives of these six IOs as well as on elite interviews with national and international officials. With this project, we gain new insights into the following fields: consequences of power delegation to IOs; the temporal dimension of the interaction between states and IOs; the preference formation of states; the comparison of different types of IOs. This allows us to answer the broader and more general question of the conditions under which IOs can operate as independent actors in world politics and to advance theoretical insights and empirical research in International Relations.


Executive Summary


Research questions

  • How can we measure and explain IO empowerment?
  • When, how and under which conditions do processes of empowerment occur?
  • Which causal mechanisms foster IO empowerment?
  • How do state preferences towards IO empowerment shift over time?



  • Develop a theory of IO empowerment
  • Explain the origins of and shifts in state preferences on international cooperation
  • Model the relationship between states and IOs as a dynamic interactive process
  • Compare different types of IOs across issue-areas over time


Why this is new

  • Interdisciplinary, theory-driven research combining political science, economics, law and sociology
  • Comparative research design with a longitudinal perspective: six IOs over 65 years (1950-2015)
  • A comparative perspective across six issue areas (health, trade, culture, finance, development, and regional integration) at the European and global level
  • Testable hypotheses about the consequences of power delegation and the conditions under which empowerment is more likely to occur over time



Project Details

Project Duration: 2013 - 2019

This project is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), ERC Grant Agreement 312368.



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