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  • The Scholarship of Arild Underdal:An Introduction
  • Knut Midgaard (bio)

In this introduction to Arild Underdal's scholarship, I place particular emphasis on his early work—his "magister" thesis and his doctoral dissertation. There are three reasons for this. As his main advisor for the magister thesis, and a member of his doctoral committee, I am particularly familiar with these two works. Second, I believe that an introduction to Underdal's early work might be helpful for understanding his later contributions. Finally, while most readers of this journal are likely to know Underdal's more recent books and articles already, they might be less familiar with his early work.

"Magister" Thesis: The Negotiations on Norwegian Membership in the EC

Underdal's first scholarly contribution was his unpublished "magister" thesis, submitted in August 1972. It was written in Norwegian. In English, the title would be "The Negotiations on Norwegian Membership in the EC: A Study of Framework Conditions." (As will be known, the Norwegian membership negotiations ended with a slight majority for "No" in the concluding referendum.) This work was followed up in 1973 by an article in English, "Multinational Negotiation Parties: The Case of the European Community."

Underdal makes it clear that the main purpose of this case study is to contribute to the development of negotiation theory. Further, in this theory-building project, the following questions are central: How do different framework conditions influence the character of the negotiations? In case they do have an influence, what are the mechanisms, and which form of negotiations is favoured?

These questions necessitate a classification of forms of negotiation. In Underdal's project, a distinction is made between distributive (adversarial) bargaining, integrative bargaining (aimed at Pareto optimality), and negotiations aimed at fairness. So, the main question is to what extent and under what conditions, different framework conditions favour one of these forms of negotiation, or some combination. More specifically, Underdal suggests that negotiations [End Page 3] that have an integrative potential, may turn into strictly distributive bargaining due to framework conditions.

"Framework conditions" in Underdal's work include the official purpose of the enlargement negotiations, economic dependency relations, political context, the characteristics of the parties, and the procedure adopted. One framework condition was particularly salient: the internal structure of the European Community. The EC was by far not a unitary actor. In Underdal's follow-up article we read: "Compared to state actors, the European Community is distinguished first and foremost by its low level of integration."1 This characteristic implied that internal negotiations had to take place for the EC to reach a negotiating position in its deliberations with other parties, which again meant that the possibilities for integrative negotiations or negotiations aimed at fairness were scarce. In his article, Underdal summarizes his conclusions in this way:

One main proposition submitted is that decision-making capacity is inversely related to pluralism of authority and structural complexity. Two main characteristics with regard to the actual decisions produced are found and discussed: First, the decisions taken usually have to be close to the position advocated by the member that feels its vital interests at stake on a particular issue, and, second, very often Community decisions are hard to modify or change.2

Such a structural factor acquires a special significance when the problems to be solved are "knotty" due to dissimilarities between the negotiating parties, e.g. with regard to natural conditions. As pointed out by Underdal, the parties were confronted by such knotty problems in Norway's membership negotiations with the EC.

The work on the magister thesis and its follow-up article established a good basis for theoretical work in the field of communication and negotiation theory. The present writer was to benefit from this. Together with a third author (Halvor Stenstadvold), Underdal and I published in 1973 an article entitled "An Approach to Political Interlocutions," and in 1976 we co-authored an article entitled "Multiparty Conferences." It should also be pointed out that there is continuity from some of the central themes in the magister thesis to recurrent themes in more recent works. The emphasis on framework conditions obviously is a case in point. Moreover, Underdal's later discussion of...


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