Books

reformingeuReforming the European Union

For decades the European Union tried changing its institutions, but achieved only unsatisfying political compromises and modest, incremental treaty revisions. In late 2009, however, the EU was successfully reformed through the Treaty of Lisbon. Reforming the European Union examines how political leaders ratified this treaty against all odds and shows how this victory involved all stages of treaty reform negotiations–from the initial proposal to referendums in several European countries.

The authors emphasize the strategic role of political leadership and domestic politics, and they use state-of-the-art methodology, applying a comprehensive data set for actors’ reform preferences. They look at how political leaders reacted to apparent failures of the process by recreating or changing the rules of the game. While domestic actors played a significant role in the process, their influence over the outcome was limited as leaders ignored negative referendums and plowed ahead with intended reforms. The book’s empirical analyses shed light on critical episodes: strategic agenda setting during the European Convention, the choice of ratification instrument, intergovernmental bargaining dynamics, and the reaction of the German Council presidency to the negative referendums in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

Reviews:

“Using an impressive range of sources, methods, and data, this work is a remarkable, detailed, and comprehensive description and analysis of the complex process of European reform.”–Gary Marks, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“European Union treaties set the power relationships among actors and establish the standards that the Union will enjoy in the future, so their design is as important as many of the world’s constitutions. This book convincingly describes and explains how the Treaty of Lisbon came into force despite what seemed at the time like an endless series of negotiations, perceived dead ends, and failed referenda. It is easily the best book on the making of Europe–and European treaties–in quite a long time.”–Mark Hallerberg, Hertie School of Governance


vetoplayerVeto Players

Political scientists have long classified systems of government as parliamentary or presidential, two-party or multiparty, and so on. But such distinctions often fail to provide useful insights. For example, how are we to compare the United States, a presidential bicameral regime with two weak parties, to Denmark, a parliamentary unicameral regime with many strong parties? Veto Players advances an important, new understanding of how governments are structured. The real distinctions between political systems, contends George Tsebelis, are to be found in the extent to which they afford political actors veto power over policy choices.

Drawing richly on game theory, he develops a scheme by which governments can thus be classified. He shows why an increase in the number of “veto players,” or an increase in their ideological distance from each other, increases policy stability, impeding significant departures from the status quo.

Policy stability affects a series of other key characteristics of polities, argues the author. For example, it leads to high judicial and bureaucratic independence, as well as high government instability (in parliamentary systems). The propositions derived from the theoretical framework Tsebelis develops in the first part of the book are tested in the second part with various data sets from advanced industrialized countries, as well as analysis of legislation in the European Union. Representing the first consistent and consequential theory of comparative politics, Veto Players will be welcomed by students and scholars as a defining text of the discipline.

Reviews:

“This book will be a landmark. It is the culmination of a decade of hard analytical and empirical work through which Tsebelis has single-handedly transformed comparative government. In spite of its analytical precision, the writing is highly accessible. It is safe to predict that this will be among the most influential political science texts of the coming decade.”
—Fritz W. Scharpf, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne

“Veto Players ranks as the most important theoretical argument to emerge in comparative politics over the last 10-15 years. Tsebelis elegantly lays out a set of simple but rigorous concepts tied to the legislative process. These concepts and their underlying dynamics link regimes, party systems, and federalism to policy outcomes in provocative and profound ways. Veto Players has changed and is likely to continue to change our fundamental understanding of institutional politics.”
—Barry Ames, University of Pittsburgh

“Veto Players is an excellent book that is likely to be recognized as a seminal contribution to the study of political institutions. It will find its way onto reading lists in just about every self-respecting institution in the United States and many abroad. Tsebelis covers an amazing range of institutions. His book is cogent in its style, parsimonious in its argument, and sweeping in its scope.”–Kaare Strom, University of California, San Diego

“Tsebelis shows that the concept of a ‘veto’ player can provide a great deal of leverage for analyzing apparently very diverse institutional structures. The book is a major advance theoretically and methodologically and should have the effect of using theory to break down artificial boundaries between the subfields of Comparative Politics, International Relations, and American politics.”
—John Ferejohn, Carolyn Munro Professor, Stanford University

“This is a big book and an important one . . . With luck, it may revolutionise the systematic study of comparative government. If it fails to do that, the fault will not be Tsebelis’. But the rest of us in comparative government need to do a bit of hard work to keep up with him. Most of this review is a plea to my colleagues – go on, do the work. It is worth it . . . Tsebelis trumps Duverger . . . He trumps Linz and Stepan . . . He trumps Riker . . . ” Iain McLean, Nuffield College, Oxford Journal of Legislative Studies


bicameralism3Bicameralism

This book argues that the interaction between the two chambers in bicameral legislatures is central to comprehending behavior within each chamber, a point thus far neglected in the study of bicameral legislatures. The authors examine how the bicameral legislatures of some fifty countries produce legislation. They use both cooperative and noncooperative game-theoretic models to understand the interactions between the chambers observed in these fifty countries.

Cooperative models are used to establish that bicameral legislatures, when compared with unicameral ones, increase the stability of the status quo and reduce intercameral differences to one privileged dimension of conflict. Noncooperative game-theoretic models are used to investigate the significance of a series of institutional devices governing intercameral relations: where a bill is introduced, which chamber has the final word, how many times a bill can shuttle between chambers, whether conference committees are called. The models are corroborated with data from the French Fifth Republic, supplemented with case studies from Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the United States, and the European Union.


gamesNested Games

In this pathbreaking book, George Tsebelis introduces an important new concept, called nested games, to rational choice theory and to the study of comparative politics. He begins with the question, why do rational actors, for example politicians, sometimes appear to make choices that are not in their best interest? Using the notion of nested games, he shows that, in such situations, actors are involved simultaneously in several games. He argues that the “nestedness” of the principal game explains why an actor confronted with a series of choices might not pick the alternative which appears to be optimal.

In his sophisticated analysis he shows that what seems to be irrational in one arena becomes intelligible when the whole network of games is examined. Tsebelis joins his theoretical contribution with a series of enlightening case studies of seemingly irrational political behavior. In one, he examines the movement by English Labour party activists who, taking their standing M.P. to be too moderate, seek to replace her even though such a choice might lead to the loss of a seat for the Party. In another he looks at Belgian elites who are taken by standard theories to be accommodating and compromising but who in some cases initiate political conflict. Finally, he analyzes the intricacies underlying the decisions by some French political parties not to support their coalition partner and thereby leading the coalition to defeat.

Clearly written and easily understood by the nonspecialist, Nested Games provides a systematic, empirically accurate, and theoretically coherent account of apparently irrational political actions. It shows that the assumptions of rational behavior can direct inquiry into political behavior while demolishing the dichotomy between those who pursue rational choice and those devoted to “structuralist” accounts of politics in the field of comparative politics. The framework established by Tsebelis can be used by anyone interested in the effects of political context and institutions on the behavior of political actors.