Shades of (in)formality: the study of Informal Intergovernmental Organisations and empirical evidence from the Financial Action Task Force

Rodriguez Toribio, Isabel (2022) Shades of (in)formality: the study of Informal Intergovernmental Organisations and empirical evidence from the Financial Action Task Force. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Informal Intergovernmental Organisations (IIGOs) such as the G-Groups (G7, G20) have become increasingly important in today’s world politics, yet the empirical research on them is still limited. This thesis aims at sharpening the conceptualisation of IIGOs to increase our knowledge of their design over time. To do so, I develop a theoretical framework with which to study the variation in formality within an IIGO during its life cycle. I then apply my theory to the case of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a key IIGO in the collective action against money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF).

Recent definitions of IIGOs often conceptualise these organisations by highlighting their differences in comparison with formal intergovernmental organisations (FIGOs) such as the United Nations. In this study I take a step forward and show the added value of studying IIGOs from a multidimensional perspective when developing theories of institutional design. As many IIGOs vary in how formalised their various design features are, I propose to study an IIGO’s levels of formality across six institutional dimensions: the scope of rules covered, monitoring provisions, enforcement provisions, membership accession rules, overall decision-making rules, and the design of the coordination unit.

I argue that the uneven distribution of formality across an IIGO’s dimensions is the result of the strategic control of its powerful members. I argue that powerful members prefer a lower level of formality across dimensions in IIGOs by default because of the benefits of this design for them; low levels of formality allow powerful states to control the organisation with reduced constraints and lower accountability. However, there are times when they may compromise and increase the formality of some dimensions.

In the anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing context, I show how over the past three decades, the FATF’s powerful members have notably increased this IIGO’s level of formality, but to different extents across its different dimensions. Specifically, they have raised the formality of its most technical dimensions (scope, monitoring), while maintaining lower levels of formality in those dimensions with higher distributional costs (the coordination unit, enforcement, decision-making, and membership). Drawing on institutional documents and 21 elite interviews, I show that powerful countries within the FATF membership have been willing to increase the formality of dimensions in three different scenarios: when there is a change in the heterogeneity of preferences among participants; due to an unforeseen demand for technical expertise; or when institutional learning indicates that greater formality is beneficial.

Increased levels of formality have proven essential to maintaining the legitimacy of the FATF’s functions and to reinforcing the importance given to AML/CTF by key international players, including the Group of 20 (G20). At the same time, greater informality has helped the FATF to accommodate power shifts and to agree policy very quickly in times of crisis, while allowing its powerful members to exercise control with lower distributional costs and fewer accountability constraints.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by funding from COSS (College of Social Sciences) PhD Scholarship.
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Kollman, Professor Kelly and Favotto, Dr. Alvise and Bayer, Dr. Patrick
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-82921
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2022 10:13
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2022 10:35
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82921

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