Imitation and supranational politics: Some lessons from the European Ombudsman and the European Court of Auditors

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Why do certain European Union (EU) institutions look so much like institutions in its member states? The article asserts the reason for this similarity is that these structures have been ‘copied’ from the member states to the EU and provides a historical institutionalist explanation for this process of institutional transfer. The theory of isomorphism provides the analytical foundation for understanding institutional imitation in the EU, while the European ombudsman (EO) and the European Court of Auditors (ECAs) serve as the empirical case studies on which the theory is tested. The article finds that previously existing institutional arrangements matter not only by molding actor preferences in relation to an upcoming institutional transfer, but also by restricting their options and behavior. Specifically, the founding of the EO and the ECAs was the result of pressures exercised by the European Parliament, a supranational body, and the governments of the EU member states. In order to achieve the transfer, those actors had to navigate established institutional practices, primarily the ones associated with the negotiation of new treaties, which are necessary for the addition of new institutions to the EU institutional edifice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-48
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Political Science Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • European Union
  • audit
  • historical institutionalism
  • isomorphism
  • ombudsman

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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