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Prestigious research grant to ARENA

How can governments' use of expert bodies be legitimized? ARENA has been awarded prestigious research funding to examine the tension between expertise and democracy in the EU.

The European Banking Authority (EBA), one of three supervisory authorities for the financial sector, is headquartered in London (photo: EBA)

In the project Democracy and Expert Rule: In Search of Reflexive Legitimacy (REFLEX) a research group at ARENA will examine the legitimacy of expert bodies.

The role of expertise

'There is an internal relation between democracy and knowledge. At the same time, modern democracies could not function unless some tasks are delegated to expert bodies, which are protected against political intervention. Central banks, international organizations and courts, and not least EU agencies, are typical examples', project coordinator Erik O. Eriksen says.

The EU has set up more than 40 agencies to perform specific tasks under EU law, in areas such as food safety, aviation security and defense cooperation. Norway participates in 27 of these agencies, mainly through the EEA Agreement.

'The EU is a particularly interesting example of such delegation. Very complex administrative and political systems have been developed', Eriksen says.

He thinks that the delegation of authority to expert bodies is necessary in modern societies. However, this raises some fundamental questions for democracy.

'We don’t have any good answers to how such bodies can be legitimate. This new research grant will give us the opportunity to investigate in-depth a field of great societal relevance, which is at the same time theoretically challenging', Eriksen says.

World-leading research

Erik O. Eriksen
Erik O. Eriksen will coordinate the Toppforsk-funded project at ARENA

The purpose of the Norwegian FRIPRO ‘Top Research’ (Toppforsk) grant is to develop world-leading research.

'Toppforsk funding is a new, targeted initiative for providing substantial, long-term funding to research groups that have the potential to become international leaders in their field', Prime Minister Erna Solberg says to the Norwegian Research Council (NRC).

A total of one billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) have been awarded to 46 projects in this joint effort by Norway’s universities and other research institutions and the Ministry of Education and Research, allocated via the NRC. The funds are granted only to projects achieving the highest score in international referee panels.

REFLEX was highly commended for its ambitions in theoretical innovation. The expert panel leaves no doubt that the project results will be in the international forefront of research. The panelists gave the project bid full score.

The Top Research projects are granted NOK 15-25 million (1.6-2.6 million euro) each over a period of 4-5 years.

More than one third of the granted projects are based at the University of Oslo, with as many as three projects at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

An eventful year 

This is the third positive announcement of project grants in a short time for ARENA.

Late October, the European Commission notified Helene Sjursen that her project on the EU and global justice (GLOBUS) had been selected for prestigious funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020. Just before Christmas, Cathrine Holst was awarded a grant from the Norwegian Research Council’s DEMOS program. She will co-lead a project on the Norwegian system of public enquiry commissions in light of ‘expertization’ and Europeanization (EUREX).

‘We look forward to starting up these three exciting projects. 2016 will undoubtedly be an eventful year’, ARENA director Eriksen says.

Published Feb. 4, 2016 1:06 PM - Last modified May 4, 2016 1:38 PM