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. read more

Illiberal Drift and Proliferation

A comparative study on the state of democracy and market economy in East-Central and Southeast Europe

In recent years, the illiberal tendencies characteristic of several East-Central and Southeast European countries have taken their toll on nearly all segments of society, from opposition parties to parliaments and judiciaries, to oversight institutions, local and regional self-governing administrative organs, the media, NGOs, the private sector and minority groups as well. This process can best be described as “illiberal drift,” because key democratic institutions – free and competitive elections, political participation rights and individual liberties, separation of powers and rule of law – are not abolished or fundamentally questioned. Rather these institutions are, over time, re-interpreted and subject to changes that pull them increasingly further away from the understanding that led the democratization processes of the 1990s and the enlargement of the EU in the 2000s. In recent years, the dismantling and erosion processes in Hungary and Poland have raised particular international attention. However, illiberal thinking and acting have meanwhile proliferated to numerous states of East-Central and Southeast Europe.

My regional report is part of the Transformation Index project, a global comparison and expert survey on democracy, market economy and governance in developing and postsocialist countries.


The Conditional Impact of Democracy Conditions

How the European Union interacts with political competition in Eastern Partnership countries

Studia Europaea, 62 1 2017, 141-160

In the debate about the European Neighbourhood Policy, two positions may be distinguished: those who propose a stricter and more consistent use of democratic conditionality, prioritizing democracy over other EU objectives – and those who refuse to set compliance with democratic standards as a precondition for support, expecting democracy to emerge from closer linkages. The paper argues that both positions do not sufficiently recognize the selective effectiveness of EU conditionality. Democracy conditions can become effective if (1) dense societal, economic and cultural ties with the EU support their domestic acceptance  and (2) ruling political elites are faced with a competitive opposition.

While the EU can not generate or reinforce domestic political competition in Eastern Partnership countries, its democracy conditions can become effective in competitive constellations by helping domestic political actors to agree on institutional constraints to executive authority or on mechanisms of executive accountability. The EU’s democracy conditions remain ineffective in less competitive political systems, because their ruling political elites lack incentives to cooperate with the opposition.

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Democracies Adrift

How the European Crises Affect East-Central Europe, in: Problems of Post-Communism, 63 (5), September 2016

The present article proposes to study and compare the state of democracy in East-Central European countries. Such a comparative survey is deemed timely because there have been electoral landslides, corruption scandals involving political leaders and mass protests in several of these countries. Popular satisfaction with democracy has declined and democratic accountability institutions have been eroded in Hungary and Poland. These developments pose questions about where these democracies are heading and how their paths are related to the crisis of European integration.

I argue that the crises of economic and European integration together with the existing dealignment between voters and political parties have discredited the nexus between economic integration and prosperity and widened the incongruence between responsive and responsible government. The impact of the crises differs from country to country, depending on institutional constraints, socio-political cleavages and the interrelation of economic and democratic performance. Multi-dimensional policy spaces facilitated the growth of anti-establishment parties in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Higher performance expectations of citizens, the mixed electoral system and missing institutional safeguards of societal-political pluralism rendered Hungary’s democracy more vulnerable.

(c) Martin Brusis


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East-Central Europe and the European Crises

Claudia Matthes and I prepared a paper for the panel: “Demokratieentwicklung in vergleichender Perspektive”, organized at the annual conference of the DVPW section on Comparative Politics, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, 25 – 27 February 2015

The conference venue: GIGA Hamburg
The conference venue: GIGA Hamburg

East-Central European Democracies Adrift? Trajectories and their Causes

Electoral landslides, corruption scandals involving political leaders, declining satisfaction with democracy, mass protests and the erosion of democratic accountability institutions in one of the countries, Hungary, raise questions about the development of East-Central European democracies. Our paper argues that these democracies are subject to several drift processes triggered by the crises of economic and European integration and the deeping dealignment between voters and political parties. The impact of these factors differs from country to country, depending on its configuration of institutional constraints, socio-political cleavages and citizens’ expectations. In the paper, we examine how these structural factors influence democratic governance in East-Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and why some of these democracies have been more resilient than others. read more

Paths and Constraints of Subnational Government Mobilization in East-Central Europe

Article in: Regional and Federal Studies 24 3 2014, 301-319.


The article studies the impact of enlargement on subnational governments in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. It compares the resources and political constellations of subnational governments and analyzes how these variables interact with Europeanization to influence domestic intergovernmental relations, the management of Structural Funds and the EU relations of subnational governments. The article argues that stronger regional governments (in Poland and the Czech Republic) have been able to resist attempts to centralize intergovernmental relations. Decentralizing reforms occurred where incumbent governing parties dominated subnational government (Poland). Under ‘vertically divided’ government (Czech Republic), subnational governments sought unmediated access to EU institutions.

Quality of Democracy and the “Sustainable Governance Indicators”

Relating the Sustainable Governance Indicators
to the Quality of Democracy

Paper for the Workshop “Measuring Democracy”. IPSA Research Committee on the Quality of Democracy, DVPW-Arbeitskreis Demokratieforschung, Frankfurt/Main, 29 September – 1 October 2013

The Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) are a set of 147 detailed items and two aggregated indices that measure the quality of democracy (QoD), policy performance and executive governance in OECD member states. Two editions have been published since 2009 by the Bertelsmann Foundation, an NGO based in Germany. The SGI consist of qualitative expert assessments, country reports and data retrieved from official statistics. As the name suggests, the SGI have been designed to measure the quality of governance, a concept that overlaps with concepts of democracy or QoD, but has its distinct origins, ideational references and discourse communities.

One motive for their creation has been to complement the Foundation’s so-called Transformation Index that is limited to assessing democracy and market economy in the developing world, post-socialist countries and emerging markets. Since the label “Transformation” and the underlying concepts refer to reforms aimed at establishing democracy and market economy, a simple transfer of these concepts to countries considered as “established” democracies and market economies would have raised many problems. It was therefore decided to use the label “Governance” in the SGI project. Apart from the appeal of an internationally more familiar term (and renowned predecessor projects such as the Worldwide Governance Indicators), the label was also chosen to convey a more specific meaning since it refers to the interaction between governments and their political and societal environment. This focus on “executive governance” has been seen as an important added value of the entire project since the governing activities in and by (core) executives constituted a white spot in an increasingly crowded field of cross-nationally comparative indices and datasets.

The present paper does not further explore the SGI’s conceptual background in debates about the quality of governance and government. Rather, it explains the design of the SGI by situating it in the debate on QoD. This debate has been concerned with theoretically grounded concepts able to adequately differentiate among democracies. It has been driven by the global diffusion of democracy that has made differences between individual democracies more visible and has revealed shortcoming of existing measures of democracy which often do not sufficiently distinguish among so-called established democracies.

The paper identifies two conceptual strategies scholars have chosen to evaluate QoD: enhancing the concept of democracy or defining a separate concept of democratic quality. More demanding, “thicker” conceptualizations of democracy must demonstrate that including or excluding additional attributes neither stretches the concept nor introduces voluntarism. Conceptualizations of democratic quality are expected to anchor the underlying idea of quality in the theory of democracy. In the first three sections, these conceptualizations are discussed and integrated into a composite concept that combines the notion of a constitutional democracy with measures of governmental accountability, responsiveness and performance. The paper claims that the SGI, by reflecting this composite concept, provide a valid measure for QoD. In the following sections, the concept is further disaggregated into dimensions, categories and items that enable a measurement based both on indicators from official statistics and expert ratings. The SGI measurement and aggregation procedures are explained and the validity of the measurement is examined.

A Eurasian European Union?

Relaunching Post-Soviet Economic Integration

A paper presented at the ECPR General Conference 4-7 September 2013, Bourdeaux, European Consortium for Political Research
In November 2011, the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia agreed to establish a “Eurasian Economic Commission” (EAEK) charged with the development and functioning of the Customs Union and a “Single Economic Space” comprising the three states. Their presidents and other political actors referred to the European Union and its formation to frame these projects and the envisaged creation of a “Eurasian Union” until 2015.
The paper studies how these references are emulated in Russian public discourse and the legal regulation of the EAEK. Combining theories of policy transfer and gradual institutional change, the paper conceptualizes different modes of emulation.
A weak authority of the EU model and weak powers of integration advocates suggest a “facade emulation” where formal similarities coexist with persisting inherited practices and behavioral patterns. This hypothesis is confirmed by (1) labeling and framing strategies that relate the EU model to familiar ideas in Russian political culture and previous initiatives of post-Soviet integration and (2) a limited emulation of labels and organizational structures from the EU within an essentially intergovernmentalist institutional arrangement.

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Download paper:Brusis_EurasianEuropeanUnion

State and Business Actors in post-Soviet Electoral Autocracies

Staat und Wirtschaftsakteure in postsowjetischen elektoralen Autokratien, in: PVS-Sonderheft “Autokratien im Vergleich”, 2013, 298-323


Why and how do ruling political elites co-opt private business actors through patronage and consultation? By testing different mixed models, the project examines whether and to what extent the openness of electoral authoritarian political regimes affects the extent of perceived patronage and consultation. Case studies on the political regulation of property rights and business interest representation in Kazakhstan and Russia document an expansion of the state-controlled economic sector, sanctioning of individual oligarchs and the inclusion of private business interests into politically managed consultation regimes. Conversely, in Ukraine a pattern of co-governing by influential business actors emerged during Kuchma’s presidency. This variation may best be explained by a focus on the governing strategies of incumbents rather than by economic conditions (resource rents, trade openness) or by concepts of elites as cohesive social groups.

Der Beitrag untersucht, wie und warum die herrschenden politischen Eliten in postsowjetischen elektoralen Autokratien den privaten Wirtschaftssektor über Patronage und Konsultation kooptieren. Regressionsanalysen zu den Politikperzeptionen von Unternehmensmanagern zeigen, dass die politische Offenheit einer elektoralen Autokratie das Ausmaß an perzipierter Patronage und Konsultation beeinflusst. Fallstudien zur politischen Regulierung von Eigentumsverhältnissen und Unternehmer-Interessenrepräsentation dokumentieren für Kasachstan und Russland eine Ausweitung des staatlich kontrollierten Wirtschaftssektors, die Sanktionierung einzelner Oligarchen und die Einbindung privater Wirtschaftsakteure in politisch gelenkte Konsultationsregime. In der Ukraine etabliert sich dagegen unter Staatspräsident Kuchma eine Praxis des Mitregierens einflussreicher Unternehmer. Im Unterschied zu wirtschaftsstrukturellen und elitensoziologischen Ansätzen erscheint der vorgeschlagene Fokus auf die Herrschaftssicherungsstrategien politischer Eliten am ehesten zur Erklärung dieser Politikmuster geeignet.

(c) Martin Brusis
(c) Martin Brusis. Sources: Business Environment and Enterprise Performance SurveyWorldwide Governance Indicators

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