Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


Dr. Robert Young


Intergovernmental agreements are a common and useful instrument in federal systems, serving a variety of purposes from establishing new social programs, regulating agricultural practices, and even changing a country's constitution. Despite their importance, there have only been limited attempts to understand agreements in a comparative context or to provide a theoretical framework for their study. This dissertation addresses both of these deficiencies by comparing the use of agreements in seven federations and considering why certain federations form more agreements than others.

In order to understand these differences in intergovernmental agreement formation, this thesis proposes an institutionalist approach with two components. First, agreements are defined as intergovernmental institutions, and thus, their creation is characterized as a process of institutional formation. Second, seven institutional variables are proposed as factors which are expected to affect the likelihood that a federation will form agreements. These are: the constitutional division of powers (including centralization and overlap), the existence of intrastate federalism, the size and status of the federal spending power, the size of the welfare state, the number of constituent units and the presence of lasting forums for intergovernmental relations. To test these hypotheses, data were gathered from seven federal systems, including two nascent ones: Australia, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each federation and its record of intergovernmental agreement formation is examined qualitatively in light of each of the seven variables. The results of the individual country studies are then compared to determine whether the institutional approach provides a consistent explanation of agreement formation.

This analysis finds that the formation of intergovernmental agreements seems to be greatly influenced by the institutional environment. While each hypothesis was not confirmed in every case, in unison they provide a comprehensive explanation for the record of agreement formation in six of the seven federations. The institutional approach provided only a partial explanation in the German case, however, indicating that there are some shortcomings to this theory. Despite these limitations, this thesis represents an effective comparative approach to the study of agreements and a successful application of institutional theory in comparative politics.