The bureaucracy is a central body in the effective functioning of democracy and oversight of the rule of law, and knowledge of how public agencies interact with politics and effect policy implementation is crucial in understanding the “black box” of the state. However, this body of non-elected officials can only fulfill its mandate and achieve good governance if it meets certain conditions, such as technical expertise, a clear organizational hierarchy, meritocratic recruitment for personnel staffing, as well as political support, resources, and the autonomy to devise solutions based on expertise. Unfortunately for Latin America, its bureaucratic agencies have seldom enjoyed these conditions. Instead, public administration in the region has been characterized by patronage appointments, patrimonialism, and a weak capacity to execute public policies.
Yet this blanket depiction of the Latin American bureaucracy obscures a great deal more diversity—as well as the fact that Latin American bureaucrats and public agencies are more dynamic and responsive than they are often portrayed. To begin, the size and role of the public administration have evolved constantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, growing under statist development policies of the mid-20th century before shrinking under neoliberalism in the 1990s and again growing during the 2000s in some countries. Moreover, the quality of the bureaucracy to efficiently provide services and implement policy varies by country, over time, and even within countries among agencies. This means that there is also variation in the scope and quality of the bureaucracy’s chief functions of policymaking, regulation, and implementation. In fact, politicians and bureaucrats in the region have found a number of creative solutions to agency weakness. Moving forward, politicians can guarantee even better bureaucratic performance by addressing some enduring challenges, such as public sector corruption and an institutional setup that favors short-term policymaking.
Amy R. Poteete
The multifaceted nature of decentralization, democracy, and development renders relationships among them ambivalent and conditional. It is certainly possible to decentralize in ways that foster local democracy and improvements in socioeconomic well-being. The empirical record, however, is mixed, and not only because the phenomena of interest have multiple dimensions and are open to interpretation. Whatever its form, decentralization is inherently political. In the African context, the extent and form of decentralization has been influenced by international support, the challenges of extending state authority in relatively young multi-ethnic states, and, increasingly, electoral considerations.
By the 1980s, the broad consensus in the constructive developmental role of a strong central state that had characterized the immediate postwar period gave way to a growing perception of statist approaches as impeding democracy and, especially, development. For some, decentralization implied an expansion of popular participation that promised greater sensitivity to local knowledge and more responsiveness to local concerns. Others saw decentralization as part of a broader agenda of scaling back the central state, reducing its role, its size, and its costs. Yet others saw decentralization as part of a strategy of achieving sustainable natural resource management or political stability in post-conflict societies. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of international organizations were promoting decentralization and providing both financial and technical support for decentralization reforms.
In the African context, political decisions about whether and how to decentralize reflect the continued salience of ethno-regional identities and non-state authorities, especially traditional or customary leaders. Incumbents may decentralize because they hope to consolidate their political position by crowding out or co-opting rivals, depoliticizing conflicts, or deflecting blame to subnational actors. Indeed, reforms made in the name of decentralization often strengthen the political center, at least over the short to medium term. Whether it attempts to co-opt or sideline them, decentralization interacts with and may reinforce the salience of ethno-regional identities and traditional authorities. To the extent that democracy presumes the equality of all citizens, regardless of ascribed status or identity, the reinforcement of ethno-regional identities and unelected authorities threatens democracy.
The international spread of decentralization reforms coincided with the increasing prevalence of multiparty elections. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and the quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals. Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels (national, regional, local) and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system. Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice.
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.
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.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.
Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.
The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was a founder member of the European integration process, namely the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) created in 1952. However, the circumstances were very different from the 2010s. Germany was a divided and defeated state until 1990. Integration provided important political and economic support to West Germany. From the 1970s, it strengthened the FRG’s foreign policy reach, for the new state was constrained by Cold War politics as well as other legacies, notably the Holocaust. European integration provided a framework for building trust with western neighbors, particularly France. The collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1989 and its absorption into the FRG through unification in 1990 brought about significant change to Germany’s relationship to European integration. The unified Germany became the largest member state. Initial concerns about German power in Europe were allayed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl pursuing deeper integration to bind the unified Germany further to integration: through creating the European Union (EU) itself and setting a course toward monetary union. Specific concerns about German power only really emerged in the 2010s, as the EU was bedeviled by several crises.
In seeking to offer a comprehensive understanding of Germany’s relationship with the EU, coverage is organized around four broad themes: the historical dimension of the relationship; the substance of Germany’s European policy; the sources of Germany’s European policy; and Germany’s role and power in the EU.
The historical dimension of Germany’s relationship with European integration is important as a first theme. It is no exaggeration to suggest that European integration helped emancipate the FRG from the historical legacy of turbulent relations with France, Nazi tyranny, and the opprobrium of the Holocaust. European integration afforded a complementary framework for Germany’s political and economic order. The importance of embedding German unification in a context of European integration should not be underestimated.
Germany’s European policy has displayed considerable consistency up to the contemporary era. Support for further integration, for enlargement, the market order, and the development of an EU “civilian power” have been key components. These policies are important contributors to understanding Germany’s role in the EU: the second theme.
The political and economic system of the FRG forms an important backdrop to understanding Germany’s policy and role in the EU: the third theme. From the 1960s until the 2010s, EU membership was subject to cross-party consensus and permissive public support. These circumstances allowed the federal government autonomy in pursuing its European policy. However, the political climate of European policy has become much more contested in the 2010s.
Germany’s role was placed in the spotlight by the succession of crises that have emerged within the EU and in its neighborhood in the 2010s, particularly the eurozone and migration crises. The fourth theme explores how the question of German power re-emerged. These four themes are important to understanding Germany’s role in the EU, especially given Berlin’s centrality to its development.
Intergovernmental relations in Latin America present a varied sample of both institutional determinants and actual dynamics. Constitutional structures regulate whether countries have a federal or a unitary system of territorial distribution of power and stipulate the territorial levels of government. Thus, constitutions structure the number of vertical and horizontal intergovernmental relations. Actual dynamics, however, depend on policy prerogatives that establish subnational authority vis-à-vis the national administration. These prerogatives, usually understood in terms of power, responsibilities, and resources, shape the territorial balance of power within a country. Power, responsibilities, and resources can be combined to apprehend the degree of authority in the hands of regional governments. Such authority is analytically organized into two dimensions: the regional power of self-rule and the power to share rule with national decision makers. This distinction helps to explain that the trend toward increasing regional authority is mostly a product of decentralization and devolution politics that have enhanced self-rule, rather than reforms that advance the shared rule dimension. Nevertheless, neither constitutional structures nor new regional policy prerogatives are the only determinants of the dynamics of intergovernmental relations. Informal institutions, such as subnational coalitions and local political clientelism, are particularly relevant to understanding the actual balance of power between national and subnational governments and among subnational arenas.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union (EU) have not yet established formal diplomatic relations, but since 1979 the Union and its member states have had various strong if often conflictual interactions. The relationship has been marked by distinct phases that reflect the emerging character of the partners, a theocratic republic on the one hand and a Union of interdependent democratic states on the other. While mutual economic interests have formed the basis for substantial interactions, relations with member states and the EU itself have been colored by a long and sometimes hurtful history of European states’ role in Iranian politics, including the Russian and British imperial influence over Persia in the late 19th and early 20th century, the British (and American) involvement in the coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, and the French hosting of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an avowed critic of the Pahlavi dynasty, prior to the anti-authoritarian revolution in 1979. Over time, the relationship has substantially shaped the character and direction of the politics of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, resulting in more policy coherence between member states and the EU, more policy autonomy, particularly vis-á-vis the United States, and more proactive behavior, such as during the nuclear negotiations leading to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (in 2015). By engaging with a problematic member of the nonproliferation treaty, the EU not only specified and thus strengthened the treaty, but it also grew into an international nonproliferation actor to reckon with.
Maja Kluger Dionigi and Anne Rasmussen
The ordinary legislative procedure (OLP), previously known as co-decision, has marked a significant milestone in the development of the European Union (EU) and transformed the way its institutions interact. What was initially seen as a cumbersome decision-making procedure subject to considerable criticism ended up being quite successful. The workings of the OLP have gradually developed, including both informal and formal rule changes to ensure a smoother functioning of the procedure. While the EU Council is still seen as the strongest body in the interinstitutional balance, the European Parliament (EP) is a co-legislator in most policy areas. After introducing the option to conclude legislation at first reading, so-called early agreements have become the norm in the OLP. The increase in early agreements by means of trilogues has speeded up decision-making but has not come without costs. Concerns have been raised about the transparency of trilogues and the accountability of the actors involved. Not surprisingly, these concerns have led to a shift in the research of the OLP from an emphasis on the powers of the different EU institutions to early agreements and their consequences for democratic legitimacy. Our careful review of the EU institutions’ own rules and practices governing trilogue negotiations shows that the rules and procedures for the conduct of negotiations have been adapted significantly over time. While there is a continued need for the EU to keep enforcing openness in its procedures, OLP interinstitutional bargaining does not operate in a rule-free environment. Yet most democratic scrutiny has been directed at the internal decision-making processes in the EP rather than at maximizing openness on the Council side or with respect to input from interest groups in the negotiation processes.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.
Tom Delreux and Johan Adriaensen
Principal–agent analyses have been frequently applied by scholars of the European Union (EU). The model helps to explain the reasons, modalities, and consequences of the delegation of authority from one (set of) actor(s)—the principal—to another (set of) actor(s)—the agent. Instances of delegation are omnipresent in the EU: not only is the EU founded upon the delegation of rule-making powers from the member states to the supranational level (European integration), but delegation is also frequently occurring from one actor or institution to another within the political system of the EU (EU decision-making).
Assuming that institutions are forums for strategic behavior by rational actors, the principal–agent model has advanced our understanding of European integration and EU politics by zooming in on contractual, dyadic relationships that are characterized by an act of delegation and the controls established to minimize the risks related to delegation. Principal–agent analyses can be used to address two types of questions: first, on why and how the principal delegates authority to the agent (i.e., the “politics of delegation”), and second, on the ensuing game between the principal and the agent when the latter executes the delegated task on behalf of the former (i.e., the “politics of discretion,” or “post-delegation politics”).
Principal–agent analyses in the field of EU politics have been conducted using a diverse set of methods and research designs, with large-N quantitative studies on how principals control their agent, over in-depth case studies of the formers’ motives for delegation, to more recent attempts to capture post-delegation politics and the agent’s discretion in a systematic and quantitative way. Under the condition that the principal–agent model is applied carefully and for questions on the politics of delegation and the politics of discretion, it remains a useful tool to understand contemporary EU politics.
Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or “increasingly complex,” and notions of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully are triggered. These terms, however, also suggest the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity.
The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used over the last 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interdependencies among functions and components underscores key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.