Can Responsiveness Substitute Accountability?

Lessons from the Central and East European Laboratory of Populist Democracy. A paper presented at the conference ” Totalitarian Reverberations in East-Central Europe”, Faculty of European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, 26 October 2018.

Responsiveness characterizes a democratic process that „ induces the government to form and implement policies that the citizens want” (G. B. Powell). Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. read more

Patterns of Democratic Backsliding

A paper for the ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, 25 August 2018, Panel 408: Same ingredients, different recipes: EU leverage and democratic backsliding in new member states and candidate countries

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have weakened the credibility of mainstream political parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe (ECSE) since prosperity and security no longer appear to be guaranteed consequences of European integration. The declining legitimacy of incumbents has provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all ECSE countries, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and form governments has varied significantly across countries. To explore these differences and assess the likelihood of populist electoral victories and subsequent illiberal policies in ECSE, the paper combines case studies of Hungary, Macedonia and Poland with a multivariate analysis of party systems, issue dimensions and cleavage configurations. It is argued that populist parties have attained political majorities through bipolar party competition, facilitated by congruent cleavages, particularly the congruence between sociocultural and EU-related cleavages. Based upon a comparison of the country cases, the paper discusses conditions that could constrain the illiberal erosion of democracy in ECSE.

Legitimation Functions and Legitimacy Resources

A typology for the analysis of post-Soviet countries, presented at the Joint Bavarian-Russian Conference on Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bayreuth, 7-8 June 2018

Recent studies of legitimation patterns in authoritarian and democratic regimes have used a variety of classifications. Reviewing these approaches, I presented an integrative typology of legitimation functions and legitimacy resources based on David Beetham’s concept of political legitimacy.  According to Beetham, the legitimate exercise of power must conform to established rules, the rules need to be justifiable by reference to shared beliefs, and the given relations of power require the express consent of subordinates.

To meet these criteria, my paper claims that ruling elites must demonstrate their ability and will to enforce rules, respond to the preferences of citizens and stage public manifestations of popular approval. Drawing on empirical examples from post-Soviet countries, the paper argues that insufficient and problematic rational-legal, ideological and electoral resources of legitimacy have made post-Soviet political regimes particularly dependent on their capacities to provide mass prosperity, public security and other public goods. Weaker socioeconomic performance has eroded these capacities and contributed to the activation of nationalist frames.

Organized by Rudolf Schuessler, University of Bayreuth, and BAYHOST, the conference was a prime occasion to present the state of the art at the intersection of philosophy, economics and political science. Russian participants included scholars from the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Download the conference program: Bayreuth_Programme

See also: Politische Legitimität

Politics and Legitimacy in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Content and Discourse Analysis

Online Lecture at American Space, Almaty, 2nd April 2018

Content and discourse analysis belong to the standard toolbox of qualitative research in the social sciences. They enable scholars to analyze the structures and practices of public communication. Rooted in the positivist epistemological tradition, qualitative content analysis is aimed at the systematic mapping and classification of textual data. Researchers formulate hypotheses and construct a coding frame of categories to structure the data and detect underlying patterns or trends. In contrast, discourse analysis is embedded in the constructivist and hermeneutic traditions of the social sciences. The key aim of this method is to interpret the implicit meaning of discourse fragments and situate them in the context of larger frames, discourses or narratives.

My online lecture was organized by the “Art of Research Lab”, a group of young researchers and scholars committed to improve the quality of social research. The event continued a fruitful cooperation with young researchers from Kazakh National University, Almaty. I discussed exemplary applications  of content and discourse analysis in order to facilitate their use in Kazakhstan’s growing community of social scientists.

Challenges to Strategic Government

A case study of Montenegro, presentation at the Transylvanian International Conference in Public Administration, Cluj-Napoca, 2 November 2017

Cluj-Napoca panorama

The European Union encourages and expects its prospective new member states to establish systems of medium-term strategic planning. A meaningful strategic planning process that involves informed choices of priorities and changing existing practices of policymaking is, however, difficult to institutionalize. The chapter sequence of EU accession negotiations pre-defines a policy agenda, leaving little scope for endogenously determined policy priorities. Commitments taken in cooperations with other external donors / actors require tailored strategic planning activities that tend to occur in parallel, emerging from line ministries and usually without prior coordination between departments. Existing routines of planning and budgeting need to be reorganized and adapted which also implies redefining the roles played by coordinating institutions. Ministers and their political advisors need to be convinced and familiarized with the new planning process, which is often associated with changing institutional culture.

In my talk, I discussed these challenges by drawing on information collected during various consultations with civil servants in the Government of Montenegro. Montenegro constitutes a crucial case because it is considered to be a frontrunner among the Western Balkan EU accession candidates. Like other Southeast European countries, Montenegro lacks administrative capacity due to the small size of its public administration and tightening fiscal constraints due to its growing public debt.

See also:

Medium-term strategic planning

Performance Monitoring for Montenegro

Crisis Trajectories and Patterns of Resilience in East-Central and Southeast Europe

Presentation at the Conference “Disintegration and integration in East-Central Europe“, Faculty of European Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 26-27 October 2017

Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have questioned the promise of prosperity and security associated with European integration. Governments in East-Central and Southeast Europe struggled to bridge between the diverging policy expectations of voters on the one hand, international economic and political actors on the other. The weakened credibility of mainstream political parties provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all countries of the region, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and implement their preferred policy preferences has varied significantly across countries.

In my paper, I analyze the conditions and constellations that account for the resilience of countries with regard to the domestic political consequences of the European crises. I argue that populist challenger parties benefit from bipolar competition because they use polarizing frames of people versus elites to mobilize electoral support. The fragmentation and polarization of party systems reflect the nature of the electoral system and the configuration of cleavages in society. A majoritarian electoral system and congruent cleavages have supported the emergence of  bipolar party system in Hungary and Poland. In contrast, cross-cutting cleavages tend to generate and sustain multi-polar party systems. These party systems facilitate the entry of new parties, but have posed obstacles to new parties trying to broaden and consolidate their constituencies. To assess the intersection or congruence of cleavages, the paper studies the configuration of differences among parties on salient policy issues.

See also:

Herausforderungen der Trump-Administration für die EU

Podiumsdiskussion mit Ellen Bos und Daniel Göler, Andrássy Universität Budapest, 19.5.2017

Die Wahl des neuen amerikanischen Präsidenten bedeutet eine Zäsur für die Europäische Union, weil Donald Trump im Wahlkampf und vor seiner Amtseinführung die Fundamente der transatlantischen Kooperation in Frage gestellt hat. In seiner Kampagne gegen das Washingtoner Establishment erklärte Trump die NATO für obsolet und die EU für gescheitert, unterstützte EU-Gegner und begrüßte das britische Austrittsreferendum, lehnte das transatlantische Freihandelsabkommen TTIP ab und kündigte einen Ausstieg aus dem Pariser Klimaschutzabkkommen an.

Diese Aussagen reflektieren eine grundlegende Skepsis und Indifferenz gegenüber der westlichen Wertegemeinschaft und der darauf basierenden multilateralen, normgeleiteten internationalen Ordnung. Mit seinem Populismus stärkt der US-Präsident populistische Akteure und Anti-Establishment-Kräfte innerhalb der EU. Indem er die EU als “basically a vehicle for Germany” charakterisierte, bestätigte er europakritische Akteure in ihrer diskursiven Strategie, die EU als Camouflage deutscher Hegemonie zu entlarven.

Zugleich veranlasste die US-Politik jedoch die EU-Mitgliedstaaten zu einer engeren Kooperation in der Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik. Die EU-Mitgliedstaaten demonstrierten Einigkeit auch bei der Aufrechterhaltung der Wirtschaftssanktionen gegen Russland und beim Abschluss des Freihandelsabkommen mit Japan.

Die Umwälzungen in den transatlantischen Beziehungen und ihre Folgen für die EU waren Thema einer Podiumsdiskussion, die Ellen Bos, Daniel Göler und ich im Rahmen eines trinationalen Doktoranden-Workshop an der Andrássy Universität Budapest veranstalteten. Unsere Diskussion bildete den Auftakt für die Präsentation und Diskussion laufender Dissertations- und MA-Projekte von Studierenden unserer drei Universitäten (Budapest, Cluj-Napoca und Passau).

Medium-Term Strategic Planning

A workshop by SIGMA and Montenegro’s Ministry of European Affairs, Podgorica 11-12 May 2017

To step up its EU accession preparations, the newly elected government of Montenegro has established a new Ministry of European Affairs (MEP) since November 2016. In May 2017, the Ministry organized a government-wide workshop on the coordination of strategic planning together with SIGMA, the joint program created by the OECD and the EU to strengthen public management.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the requirements and coordination of strategic plans, to link strategy documents and medium-term budget planning and to define goals and indicators for monitoring and reporting. Apart from MEP, senior civil servants from the Secretariat of the Government, the Ministry of Finance and key line ministries attended the workshop. SIGMA experts included practitioners from Estonia, Latvia and Hungary.

In my presentations, I identified possible links between strategic planning and the budget process and gave an overview on approaches and options of performance measurement. One outcome of the workshop was a clearer rationale for a sector structure of medium-term strategic policy planning.

Sectors can be viewed as an intermediary level between the institutional setup / organizational design of government and the goal orientation or functional logic of public policies. The definition and delineation of sectors reflects the medium- and longterm policy priorities of the government, while being sufficiently broad to enable a flexible definition and readjustment of policy goals.

Sectors can structure and support inter-ministerial cooperation below the cabinet level. Such a cooperation is particularly important for Montenegro because the current government consists of a relatively large number of ministerial portfolios that is likely to reduce the effectiveness of deliberation within the full cabinet of ministers. Moreover, general administrative capacity limits also strongly suggest inter-ministerial cooperation.

We proposed to define seven sectors taking into account the structures of ministry portfolios and the most important medium-term planning documents: Democracy and governance; financial / fiscal governance; transport and energy infrastructure; economic development and environment; science, education and culture; employment, social inclusion and health; euroatlantic integration.

A Reflective Power?

Foreign-Policy Positioning in Germany’s Electoral Campaign

Berlin TV Tower

Opening lecture at the Center for International Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 28 March 2017

Surrounded by global and European uncertainties, Germany is expecting federal legislative elections on 24 September 2017. European integration, the transatlantic alliance and the cooperation with Russia have been bedrocks of Germany’s foreign policy and its official international identity as a “reflective power” (Frank-Walter Steinmeier). All three fundaments are now subject to eroding forces or unprecedented political challenges. External turbulences interact with domestic tendencies of popular concern and distrust regarding the governing political elites and their European crisis management capacities.

In my talk, I discussed how Germany’s political parties and representatives address these challenges in the electoral campaign, what are the likely outcomes of the election and how they could affect Germany’s future role in Europe.

The term “reflective power” has been coined to express an awareness of Germany’s de-facto power as the largest member state and dominant economy in the European Union. The implied claim is that the use of power will be guided by “restraint, deliberation and [an orientation towards] peaceful negotiation” (Steinmeier). However, the term also fulfills additional discursive functions. It is placed in contrast to “Gestaltungsmacht” (the power to shape a political decision-making process) which has become a popular term describing the government’s new readiness to engage earlier, more decisively and more substantially in international conflict prevention. Notably, official documents like the 2016 white paper on German security policy and the 2012 concept on Germany’s role in globalization use more nuanced formulations and rather describe Germany as “a partner in shaping globalization” (“Gestaltungspartner”).

Both terms, reflective and shaping power, share the meaning of rejecting unilateralism and can be interpreted as reactions to what I call the “translation problem”. Whereas traditionally German governments have been able to translate Germany’s power into a stronger European Union, European integration has now become more politicized and populist Euroskeptic views are increasingly articulated in all EU member states. This “constraining dissensus” obstructs further power translations and has made Germany’s power more visible. Critics of European integration now regularly frame the EU as a format of German hegemony.

In my lecture, I analyzed how political parties adress the translation problem during the electoral campaign. Six approaches can be distinguished:

(1) Respecting and enforcing collectively agreed binding EU rules that allow to regulate and civilize the use of German power as well as the power of all other member states. This approach tends to neglect the new phenomenon of intentional non-compliance with EU rules for the purpose of domestic political mobilization.

(2) Germany increases its financial contribution to the EU in order to ensure the continued support of other EU member states for a stronger EU. The main risk of this strategy is that it is likely to further increase the dependency of beneficiary member states on Germany.

(3) A stronger European Parliament that constrains the power of EU member state governments. This strategy underestimates the resilience of national voter allegiances.

(4) A multi-speed EU, respecting the sovereignty of member states not interested in further integration. This policy risks weakening the collective EU institutions.

(5) A civilian EU that precludes military engagements and the associated nation state-centered perceptions of military power resources, national security and national interest. In its less radical version, this approach relies on maintaining the division of functions between EU and NATO – an assumption that has been challenged by the new US President.

(6) Replacing the EU by partnerships among sovereign states. This radical approach assumes that Germany’s power does not represent a problem and could be done away with the assumption of sovereign equality among European nation states, thereby risking a return to a fragile concert of powers.

Which of these policy approaches will be realized depends on the composition of the future governing coalition. The first five approaches can be considered as “reflective”. None of them provides a silver bullet for solving the problem of translating German into EU power within a less permissive European political environment. However, their associated risks differ significantly and a more reflective debate is needed to highlight these differences.




Policy Analysis and Policy Evaluation

A workshop with Belgrade Open School staff, 16-18 May 2016

To upgrade their research capacity, think tanks need access to methodological and conceptual tools that have recently been developed by researchers in the field of policy analysis and evaluation. My three-day workshop with Belgrade Open School provided an overview on rationalist and institutionalist approaches of policy analysis, focusing on examples from Europeanization studies. Notions of causation and strategies to deal with confounding causes formed the basis of our discussion on evaluation methods. The workshop also included an introduction to regression and factor analysis, two key tools of empirical policy research.

Palata Beograđanka, BOŠ premises on 16th floor. Picture source: Lakododoma  Magazine

Founded in 1993, BOS has become one of Serbia’s leading civil society organisations for post-graduate training and public policy advocacy.

BOSAs a non-partisan and non-profit organization, BOS strengthens human resources, improves the work of public institutions and organisations, develops and advocates public policies in order to develop better society based on freedom, knowledge and innovation.