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Article

Climate change is increasingly being framed as a “climate crisis.” Such a crisis could be viewed both to unfold in the climate system, as well as to be induced by it in diverse areas of society. Following from current understandings of modern crises, it is clear that climate change indeed can be defined as a “crisis.” As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5oC special report elaborates, the repercussions of a warming planet include increased food insecurity, increased frequency and intensity of severe droughts, extreme heat waves, the loss of coral reef ecosystems and associated marine species, and more. It is also important to note that a range of possible climate-induced crises (through, e.g., possible increased food insecurity and weather extremes) will not be distributed evenly, but will instead disproportionally affect already vulnerable social groups, communities, and countries in detrimental ways. The multifaceted dimensions of climate change allow for multiple interpretations and framings of “climate crisis,” thereby forcing us to acknowledge the deeply contextual nature of what is understood as a “crisis.” Climate change and its associated crises display a number of challenging properties that stem from its connections to basically all sectors in society, its propensity to induce and in itself embed nonlinear changes such as “tipping points” and cascading shocks, and its unique and challenging long-term temporal dimensions. The latter pose particularly difficult decision-making and institutional challenges because initial conditions (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions) do not result in immediate or proportional responses (say, global temperature anomalies), but instead play out through feedbacks among the climate system, oceans, the cryosphere, and changes in forest biomes, with some considerable delays in time. Additional challenges emerge from the fact that early warnings of pending so-called “catastrophic shifts” face numerous obstacles, and that early responses are undermined by a lack of knowledge, complex causality, and severe coordination challenges.

Article

Tom Delreux and Frauke Ohler

The fight against climate change has become a major area of action for the European Union (EU), both at the European and the international level. EU climate policy has gained importance since the 1990s and is today the most politicized issue on the EU’s environmental agenda. The EU is often considered a frontrunner—even a leader—in the adoption of climate policies internally and the promotion of such policies externally. Internally, the EU has developed the world’s most advanced and comprehensive regulatory frameworks, encompassing both EU-wide policies and targets to be achieved by the member states. The actual EU policy instruments fall into two categories: whereas emissions in certain industrial sectors are reduced through a carbon market and a “cap-and-trade” system (the Emissions Trading Scheme), emissions from non-ETS sectors are addressed through domestic policies by member states. These measures have led to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, but they will not suffice to achieve the EU’s long-term goals, which requires a major overhaul of some of the basic premises of the EU’s policies in sectors such as energy production and consumption, transport, agriculture, and industry. Externally, the EU has been advocating ambitious and legally binding international climate agreements. Desiring to “lead by example”, the EU has been an influential global climate player at important international climate conferences such as those held in Kyoto (1997), Marrakesh (2001), and Paris (2015), but its diplomacy failed at the Copenhagen conference (2009).

Article

Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari

Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.

Article

Elise Boruvka and Lisa Blomgren Amsler

Collaboration, the act of “co-laboring,” takes place when actors come together to achieve common goals. Collaborative efforts can take many forms, working across sectors and involving many actors. When these efforts involve the government or public purposes, they represent collaborative governance. Collaborative governance provides opportunities for voice and participation among the public (both citizens and residents) and stakeholders regarding solutions and services that would otherwise be challenging for a single unit, actor, or sector to create. Collaborative public management, new public governance, public–private partnerships, network governance, and participatory governance all fall within collaborative governance. Among these literatures, 10 categories of constructs appear: governance, structure, interaction continuum, motivations for entering arrangements, member roles, within network characteristics, performance, value creation, public role, and public engagement.

Article

Rules issued by the European Commission, based on powers delegated by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, constitute the vast majority of all EU rules. They regulate the daily operation of common policies in all areas. Because the devil is often in the details, Commission rules are tightly controlled by the member states. This traditionally takes place in the so-called comitology system, which is a system of 200–300 member state committees set up to control and approve draft Commission rules. Comitology dates back to the early 1960s, when the Common Agricultural Policy was introduced. The institutional setup of the comitology system is a four-tiered structure composed of Treaty rules, framework rules, daily legislation, and the formal and informal working practices in the individual comitology committees. The Treaty of Lisbon gave the comitology system a major overhaul and introduced new types of Commission rules, delegated acts, and implementing acts. Research on comitology has focused on the purpose and design of the system and its daily workings. Relevant research questions for future studies include the legislative choice between delegated and implementing acts, the daily workings of the comitology committees, lobbying of comitology committees by interest groups, introduction of comitology through the back door in the delegated acts system, and the relationship between comitology and the new rule-making role of European agencies.

Article

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can be fruitfully construed as an instance of European embedded liberalism, shaped by overlapping layers of domestic, European Union, and international policymaking. Such a conceptualization reveals the large role of domestic politics, even in an area like the CAP, where policy competences were early on extensively transferred to the supranational level. This in turn reflects the rather prominent role of national governments in the EU construction, compared with traditional federal polities. This role can be probed by analyzing two related scholarly agendas: an agenda devoted to the shaping of the CAP by member states (policy shaping); and an agenda devoted to the domestic impact of the CAP. Current policy challenges highlight our need to develop our understanding of: (1) the interaction between different types of CAP decisions at the EU level; (2) the domestic impact of the CAP; (3) and the experience of Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC).

Article

Johan Adriaensen

In 1958, the European Economic Community was formed as a customs union with a common external tariff. From then on, the Common Commercial Policy—also known as the European Union’s (EU) trade policy—served as the interface between the increasingly integrated common market and its external trade partners. Like the creation of the single market, contemporary trade policy has long transcended discussions about tariffs and quotas at the border and has focused increasingly on the impediments to trade caused by regulatory divergences. Whether they concern agricultural subsidies or cultural protections, rules on public procurement or food standards, insofar as a regulation discriminates against exporters, it can potentially be part of a trade negotiation. The evolving nature of trade policy has triggered a redefinition of both the scope of the EU’s exclusive competencies as well as the procedures to govern this policy domain. The central actor in EU trade policy is the European Commission, which is the designated negotiator for external trade agreements. Whereas member states always played a crucial role in overseeing such negotiations in the Council, the European Parliament has only taken up a position of power since 2009. Beyond securing market access abroad and protecting domestic sectors at home, post-material values have come to feature more prominently in the balancing act of contemporary trade discussions. This has galvanized a far wider range of societal actors to lobby the EU institutions in order to tilt the balance in their favor. Complicating matters even further, the EU conducts a large part of its foreign policy through the Common Commercial Policy. Contrary to most other instruments of the EU’s external action, trade policy is an exclusive competency of the EU. Fostering development, promoting stability, providing humanitarian aid, and the promotion and enforcement of human rights and sustainable development commitments are but a few of the many objectives pursued via trade policy. However, there are clear limitations to the fungibility of the EU’s large market power for foreign policy objectives. It should therefore be clear that the literature on the Common Commercial Policy is extremely diverse. Situated at the nexus of international political economy, regulatory governance, and foreign policy, it has become a well-studied policy domain through a great variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses. The prominence of trade scholarship in EU studies is unlikely to change soon as developments at the international level, where the Western liberal order is under increasing pressure, but also domestically, where the contestation of several trade negotiations and the position of trade policy within the EU’s broader external action, are set to animate future debates.

Article

Troels Jacob Hegland and Jesper Raakjaer

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is rooted in the Treaty of Rome. After its completion in 1983, the policy framework was gradually reformed through decennial reviews in 1993, 2003, and 2014. Due to geopolitical, physiographic, and historical reasons, the EU implementation of the CFP is most developed in the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea, and less developed in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. However, the CFP applies throughout European Union (EU) waters, which that are treated as a “common pond.” The CFP has been heavily contested since its introduction, and over long periods was characterized as a management system in crisis. Historically, the CFP has arguably struggled to perform and the policy’s ability to meet its objectives has not uncommonly been undermined by factors such as internally contradictory decisions and inefficient implementation. Since the turn of the century, the policy has changed its course by incrementally institutionalizing principles for a more environmentally orientated and scientifically based fisheries management approach. In general, in the latest decade, fisheries have become increasingly sustainable in both environmental and economic terms. An increasing number of fish stocks under the CFP are being exploited at sustainable levels—a development that is likely to continue, as fish stocks are coming to be more commonly managed along the lines of science-based multi-annual management plans. Consequently, many fishing fleets, particularly those deployed in northern waters, have shown good economic performance in recent years. This development has been further facilitated by the introduction of market-based management principles; in most member states these have been implemented by granting de facto ownership to fishing rights for free in the name of ecological and economic sustainability. This has, however, in many cases also led to huge wealth generation for a small privileged group of large-scale fishers at the expense of small-scale fisheries and smaller fishing communities, as well as society at large; this situation has led to calls for both a fairer distribution of fishing rights—to protect the small-scale sector—and for a resource rent or exploitation fee to be collected for the benefit of society at large, which is the true owner of fishing resources. Consequently, social sustainability, understood as the improved well-being of fishing communities and a fairer sharing out of the benefits derived from fisheries resources, should be a subject for the CFP to consider in the future.

Article

Hylke Dijkstra and Sophie Vanhoonacker

The member states of the European Union (EU) coordinate, define, and implement foreign policy in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This policy area, often referred to as EU foreign policy, has a broad scope covering all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to security and defense. The CFSP is supported by a unique institutional framework, in which member states diplomats and officials from the EU institutions jointly make policy. It is led by the High Representative, who is the “face and voice” of EU foreign policy, and supported by the substantial European External Action Service and 140 EU delegations in other countries and international organizations. Because foreign policy is normally the business of sovereign states, the exceptional nature of the CFSP has long been a subject of inquiry. The CFSP has particularly puzzled advocates of the traditional theories of European integration and international relations, who have failed to appreciate what the EU does in the field of high politics. Given the absence of formal diplomatic recognition and a strong reliance on the resources of the member states, the EU is still not a full-fledged actor, yet it has a strong international presence nonetheless. Its presence and the gradual increase in “actorness” have also raised questions about whether the EU presents a different type of actor, a civilian or normative power, which derives its influence from nontraditional sources of power. Under the assumption that the EU has some actorness, the Europeanization of foreign policy has become an area of interest. Member states can act through the EU structure to achieve more impact internationally, can adjust national foreign policy on the basis of EU positions, and are socialized into greater European coordination. The relationship between national and EU foreign policy is thus a significant topic of debate. Finally, governance perspectives increasingly provide insight into the organization of the CFSP. How the member states and the EU institutions collectively coordinate, define, and implement EU foreign policy is not only an important question in itself but also matters for policy outcomes.

Article

The European Union’s (EU’s) Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is scarcely two decades old, yet a considerable and diverse body of literature has emerged during this time. CSDP can best be thought of as the functional crisis management end of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), of which it is an integral part. It covers both the military and civilian aspects of crisis management, with the majority of overseas missions being civilian in nature. Yet, it is the growth of the military dimension that has spurred extensive debate about the nature of the EU’s actorness and whether it can still be thought of as a civilian power par excellence. Much of the research has been driven by the application of the main theoretical approaches in international relations to CSDP. The result is an extensive, but occasionally cacophonous, body of literature. Given the relative youth of CSDP there are inevitably gaps in the literature, especially the question of how CSDP relates to other policy fields in the external relations of the EU and whether the “D” in CSDP will remain indefinitely silent.

Article

Communist models of state administration constitute a type or “family” whose core logic and design differ fundamentally from Western standards of rule-bound, impartial, and transparent administration, at arm’s length from political control. The most significant feature of communist-type administration is the Communist Party’s aspiration to merge politics and administration in all spheres of society. The so-called nomenclature system of cadre appointment ensures that politically reliable administrators occupy the influential positions within state and local administration, the military and security sector, state-owned enterprises, associations, media, cultural life—and the Communist Party organization itself. The central nomenclature system branches out into new pyramids at lower levels, where local managers appoint cadre. The linchpin of this system is the personnel dossier, which collects the individual administrator’s political and professional evaluations and follows the individual throughout their career. A second distinguishing feature of communist administrative structures is their web-shaped complexity. Under the principle of democratic centralism, communist administration is shaped like a sheaf of hierarchical strings of command, which are all controlled from the center and monitor and influence each other. At each level, hierarchical steering takes precedence, but horizontal controls are encompassing. Administrative managers—including regional and local governors, company directors, media heads, and university chancellors—are appointed by and under their superiors’ command. Simultaneously, they are under supervision by regional and internal Communist Party organizations. A third key feature of the communist administrative model is the practice of wide-ranging secrecy. In communist administration, vital rules, decrees, and instructions can be secret, for the eyes of security-screened cadre only. For example, throughout history, the structure of nomenclature systems has been kept secret. Little is known about how they function. An important exception is the former East Germany, where historical research on many aspects of communist administration has made singular progress based on the archives, which were opened for research after democratization in 1989–1990.

Article

Udi Sommer and Aliza Forman-Rabinovici

Public debate rages around the world as to if and when a woman has a right to access abortion services. Though abortion policy has become more permissive over time in various places, there are still many countries with severe restrictions. The variety in state abortion policies at the state and regional levels reflects the different religious, cultural, and political attitudes toward this issue. Literature on this topic engages with larger theoretical debates within the study of public policy. That includes definitions of morality policy and determinants of feminist policy. Researchers continue to search for the ideal way to compare permissiveness of abortion policy in light of the extensive variation, conditions, and caveats that exist within abortion legislation. A number of variables, including female political representation, dominant religious groups in the country, and women’s movements have emerged as central correlates with permissiveness of abortion policy. The difference between de jure abortion law and de facto access also constitutes an important part of abortion policy research.

Article

Hellmut Wollmann

Comparative public administration (CPA) is directed at the study of administrative phenomena focusing on organization (bureaucracy), personnel (public employees, administrative elites), and the relations between administrative actors/processes and political decision makers (making). The comparative approach encompasses cross-sectional (e.g., cross-country and cross-policy) as well as cross-time (longitudinal) analyses. In its historical development CPA research unfolded in the United States after 1945 in focusing on developing countries. Since the 1970s CPA research has largely turned on “developed” industrial countries in increasingly dealing with European (particularly EU member) as well as other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. With regard to subject matter, the study of organization and personnel, as well as the relations between administrative actors and political decision makers, have loomed large. As occurred in the wake of the marketization and privatization of public functions prompted by New Public Management, the distinction between public and private has blurred the “radar” of CPA researchers and has accordingly widened. The growth of CPA research has been reflected in and promoted by the proliferation of CPA-related national and international professional and academic associations, networks, journals, publications (handbooks, textbooks, etc.), and databases. While the appropriate (“purposive”) selection of countries (and cases) is of key importance in the conduct of valid comparative research, it often proves impossible to apply methodologically rigorous (“quasi-experimental”) comparative logic, so that most research has settled for methodologically softer selection strategies. While in the past qualitative (case-study based) research has prevailed, recently quantitative-statistical analyses have advanced. In sum, the state of art in CPA research offers a mixed balance. On the one hand, there seems so far to be no generally accepted single theory or methodological approach in the pursuit of CPA research. On the other hand, the large (and still growing) body of CPA research findings (and the steady accumulation of research experience and sophistication in the research community) hold the promise of further advances, including theory-building.

Article

Guillaume Fontaine

We contribute to the debate surrounding comparative public policy (CPP) analysis as a method and an area of policy studies, based on the following questions: What is CPP? What is it for? How can it be conducted? We begin with a presentation of the historical evolution of the field, its conceptual heterogeneity, and the recent attempts to bridge the gap between basic and applied research through the policy design framework. We proceed with a discussion of the logics operating in CPP, their approaches to causality and causation, and their contribution to middle-range theory. Next, we explain the fundamental problems of the comparative method, starting with a revision of the main protocols in use, then presenting their main methodological pitfalls. The article concludes with a reflection about the contribution of CPP to policy studies through design.

Article

Public administration theory and practice are been rife with competing values, and 21st-century trends and challenges create new value dilemmas. Values—standards and qualities that guide behavior and decision making—can compete for attention because they may be of equal importance to the larger public interest that administrative actors are aiming to realize yet adhering to each of them at once is not feasible or possible. Examples are transparency, accountability, equity, effectiveness, efficiency, and legality. Hence, administrative actors have to find ways to manage competing values at an individual and institutional level.

Article

The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.

Article

In 1887 Woodrow Wilson captured the challenge of public administration when he wrote, “It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” While he was referencing the United States, the concept is not bounded geographically or by any one form of government. What prevails is that the role of public administration is as dynamic as the political and institutional landscapes in which it resides. Subsequently, public administrators face ongoing questions on the meaning and function of their job within differing worldviews and images of government. This means having to decide on ways to implement laws, policies, and programs within situational conditions that are sometimes routine, stable, and predictable and at other times fragmented, distorted, and unique. Thus, public administrators are never too far removed from the fundamental question of how administration should come to know and understand society when having to make difficult choices. Knowledge, after all, is a sine qua non to running a government. While the answer to this question often conjures up a methodological response, a deeper analysis suggests fundamental differences at play in terms of how knowledge, and subsequently reality, is formed. Constructivism is centered on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and socially constructed. So much so that even the hallmark of science—objectivity—cannot escape social construction, which makes absolute scientific understanding impossible. Therefore, constructivism rests on the premise that objectivity is never possible because there is no way to get fully outside of the experiences that preshape and prestructure what can be seen, thought, and analyzed. Language itself is a preconstructed way to communicate, and while simple words like dog and cat may have agreed-upon generalities, they have highly individualized meanings. This is not unlike scientific facts, such as gravity. Science can define gravity in general terms, but individuals experience it in their own way. To the constructivist, scientific facts are no more than the facts that matter and make situational sense at that moment. The meaning of facts can change along with the situational conditions as new understandings emerge or, like the pragmatist, until something better comes along to more fully explain a phenomenon. This creates a challenge for public administrators, who find themselves having to contend with varied situational interpretations emanating from preexisting experiences within a socially constructed world muddled with implicit bias, prejudices, and prejudgments. The profession is fraught with impeding political expectations, institutional and constitutional constraints, and unreconcilable public interests. Administrators are supposed to know what to do and how to do it. They are expected to be experts, but what justifies expertise in a socially constructed world if not knowledge and knowing? What constitutes knowledge is, therefore, a central concern to the profession and is always in question. Constructivism is a broad field that can be traced through pragmatism (knowledge as practical application), phenomenology (knowledge as experienced and situated), postmodernity (knowledge as power), and most recently transdisciplinarity (knowledge that transcends disciplinary frameworks). Within each of these, knowledge is hermeneutically refined. Scholars within public administration tend to adhere to particular schools of thought that often contrast constructivism and positivism as dichotomous modes of inquiry. This point of departure is not trivial, as it routinely presents a quandary on what basis to use when making effective decisions, shaping policy, understanding organizational goals, and implementing programs. These are ongoing challenges within public administration that remain unsettled. As a result, public administration is often referred to as a non- or preparadigmatic disintegrated field of study from which constructivism is as much contested as it is influential in shaping the meaning of the work and research.

Article

Two important perspectives have come to dominate crisis studies. The first most traditional and dominant is what could be termed the crisis management or “crisis as event” perspective. The second more critical approach to crisis studies is the constructivist “crisis as a social construct” perspective. The purpose, structure, and focus of the two approaches differ significantly in virtually every regard. The crisis management perspective assumes a positivist set of assumptions by adopting an objective epistemology and ontology. Crisis is taken to be a concrete, objective thing. Approaching storms, terrorist attacks, global pandemics, financial upheavals, and so on, are all taken to be crises with objectively threatening and urgent characteristics. Starting with an analysis of the crisis event, crisis management analysis considers the response to the event with the ultimate goal of improving reactions to and preparation for future events. Constructivist crisis studies, conversely, participate in a broad post-modernist project that critiques dominant narratives, disputes epistemological certainty and ontological objectivity, and takes cognizance of language “games” and coded messages embedded in discursive acts. Constructivists take an antipositivist ontological position, insisting that the world as people perceive it is a human invention. The emphasis is not on corporeal things or objectively verifiable facts, but rather on the construction of knowledge and the resulting assignment of meaning. The constructivist crisis perspective shifts analytic focus away from the so-called “crisis event,” itself a contested construct, and to the claim that certain contingencies constitute a crisis. The process by which individuals and groups assert a claim of urgency, as well as the interests behind all such claims, comes into focus in a constructivist perspective. Who are the individuals and groups making the claim that a crisis exists, and what are their interests in so doing? In positivist crisis management studies, the event constitutes the independent variable; for constructivist scholars, it is the claim that is the independent variable.

Article

The rise of consumer policy is inextricably linked to the emergence of the consumer society after the Second World War. From the mid-1970s the EU became engaged in the issue. It used first and foremost legal means, directives, and regulations. The actors were no longer nation-states, governments, national parliaments, national courts, and national consumer organizations; they became the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, European organizations, research institutions, and consultancy firms, which interact in a multilevel economy and society.

Article

Ting Gong and Sunny L. Yang

Corruption is a complex social phenomenon. It refers to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, but it may still mean different things to different people. The definition of corruption applicable in one place may not be suitable in another setting, and the conception of corruption is highly contextualized. Adding to the difficulty of defining corruption is the lack of accurate measurements for the degree of corruption. Objective and subjective measures have been developed by scholars and practitioners, but their reliability and validity have often been challenged. The measurements developed so far are proxies for the level of corruption rather than accurate diagnostic tools. Despite the difficulties of conceptualizing and measuring corruption, its effects on public administration and social development are clearly evident. Corruption causes losses to state coffers, undermines the rule of law and regulatory regimes, distorts the provision of public services, ruins public trust in government, and weakens the overall quality of governance. Corruption may sometimes grease administrative wheels, but it usually benefits only a few individuals or groups and in the long run is detrimental to the society as a whole. When unchecked or under-checked, corruption destabilizes the economy, destroys political legitimacy, and triggers social unrest. This explains why controlling corruption has been a high priority on the government’s agenda in most countries and has been the focus of the activities of many civil society organizations. Various anti-corruption strategies are adopted; there are, for example, compliance-based, value-based, top-down, bottom-up, economic, institutional, and cultural approaches to controlling corruption. The configuration of anti-corruption agencies may also differ from country to country, displaying distinctive features. Evidently, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to corruption control and prevention. What works or not depends on a country’s specific circumstances. However, the experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore in fighting corruption and building clean societies reveal a few important success factors.