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. read more

Eastern Partnership Index 2018 Update

On 25 January 2018, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum published the fifth edition of the Eastern Partnership Index. The Index is a set of individual and composite indicators which measure the extent to which the six Eastern European neighbour countries of the European Union have established sustainable democratic institutions and made progress towards closer integration with the EU.

In the methodology suggested by me, “integration” is conceived as a core and multi-dimensional concept that consists of converging norms, growing economic exchange, deeper transnational networks linking up societies, and more frequent contacts between people. This broad notion of integration implies that EU membership or association may be aims, stages or final states of the integration process. However, it is not limited to a measure of harmonisation with EU norms and standards, but also reflects actual societal, economic and political change. The levels of contractual relations between the Eastern Partnership states and the EU are viewed as elements of a much broader process that is, as a whole, not driven or controlled solely by governments and intergovernmental negotiations. read more

Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftsordnungen

in: Politik und Wirtschaft: Ein integratives Kompendium, hrsg. v. K. Mause, Ch. Müller u. K. Schubert u. Springer-Verlag 2018, 89-113; Ko-Autor: J. Zweynert


Die Analyse der Zusammenhänge zwischen wirtschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Ordnung hat in Politik- und Wirtschaftswissenschaft nicht nur eine lange Tradition, sondern erlebt derzeit auch eine lebhafte Renaissance. Das vorliegende Kapitel gibt einen Überblick über die früheren und heutigen Beiträge zu dieser Thematik. Der Schwerpunkt liegt dabei auf Forschungen an der Schnittstelle von Wirtschafts- und Politikwissenschaft. Darüber hinausgehend bemühen wir uns, eine Erklärung dafür zu finden, warum das Interesse an dem hier behandelten Thema im historischen Zeitablauf auffälligen Schwankungen unterliegt. Unsere diesbezügliche These lautet: Immer dann, wenn das Verhältnis von politischem und ökonomischem System dynamischen Veränderungen unterliegt, steigt das Interesse am Zusammenhang zwischen Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftsordnungen; immer dann, wenn das Verhältnis der beiden gesellschaftlichen Subsysteme relativ stabil ist, beschäftigen sich Politikwissenschaftler und Ökonomen eher damit, was innerhalb „ihres“ jeweiligen Systems vor sich geht. read more

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. read more

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. read more

Assessing the Fundamentals of EU Accession

A civil society monitoring for Montenegro

Andrija Pejović, Minister of European Affairs (right), and Dragan Koprivica (Center for Democratic Transition) during the presentation of the reports

In 2015, the European Union redesigned its enlargement policy to focus on the rule of law, public administration and civic rights.  These “fundamentals” are required to meet the criteria of membership and constitute the  preconditions for a sustainable modernization of the Western Balkan states. The European Commission has monitored the state of reforms on the basis of consultations with government officials and external observers.

To involve civil society in this assessment and to provide better evidence for public debates, a Montenegrin think tank, the Center for Democratic Transition (CDT), has surveyed 41 experts and analyzed publicly available data. Drawing on the Commission’s new standardized assessment scales, CDT and I developed detailed questionnaires that assess the following areas: functioning of the judiciary; fight against corruption; fight against organized crime; media freedom; public administration reform; human rights. The results of these surveys are now published in two reports. read more

Core Executives in Central Europe

Handbook of East European Politics, ed. by P. Kopecký and A. Fagan, London: Routledge

Core executives have become increasingly important political actors and arenas due to several interlinked developments affecting both states and societies. Modernisation has weakened the ties between political parties and voters, making parties more dependent on state resources and, in particular, access to government. Since the political process has become more dominated by media communication, political controversy tends to be framed between chief executives and rival political leaders. Global economic integration has narrowed the policy discretion of nation states and fostered the spread of non-majoritarian institutions entrusted with regulatory functions. These trends have been associated with the growing weight of policy output as a source of legitimacy, in contrast to “input legitimacy” derived from democratic elections. Among the three branches of state power, executives control most of the tools available to influence policy outputs and the interventions of both domestic and international regulatory agencies. The crisis and politicisation of European integration have further enhanced the salience of national (chief) executives compared to national legislatures and supranational institutions. As a result, many of the choices characterising politics and policymaking are now made or shaped at the centres of executives.

This chapter discusses the ‘core executive’ both as an empirical field of actors, institutions, and behavioural practices at the centres of Central European governments and as a theoretical concept formulated to study this field. The term ‘core executive’ was initially proposed by Dunleavy and Rhodes (1990) to describe the centre of the British government from a functional perspective. The core executive comprises ‘all those organizations and procedures which coordinate central government policies, and act as final arbiters of conflict between different parts of the government machine’ (Rhodes, 1995, 12, Dunleavy and Rhodes, 1990). In the United Kingdom, these functions are performed by ‘the complex web of institutions, networks and practices surrounding the prime minister, cabinet, cabinet committees and their official counterparts, less formalised ministerial ‘clubs’ or meetings, bilateral negotiations and interdepartmental committees’, including the coordinating departments at the centre of government (Rhodes, 1995, 12). The notion of a core executive represents a conceptual innovation insofar as it

(1) focuses on neutral functions rather than specific institutions like the prime minister or cabinet which may convey normative connotations and cultural bias;

(2) goes beyond a formal institutional analysis to investigate the empirical practice and resources of policy coordination, including both its political and administrative dimensions; and

(3) reflects the fragmented network of institutions that emerged from neoliberal reforms of government and substituted the traditional framework of cabinet government.

Replacing hierarchic, Weberian models of central government by market mechanisms, negotiations, and networks as modes of governance, these reforms are viewed as part of a broader ‘hollowing-out of the state’, a process that has also been driven by growing international interdependencies, the privatisation of public services and devolution (Rhodes, 1994). As a consequence, the spatial metaphor ‘core’ seems more appropriate than ‘top’, and heads or centres of government now appear to be more aptly characterised by their coordination and arbitration functions than by ‘instructing’ or ‘ordering’. The notion of political power underlying the concept of the core executive is relational and contingent (Rhodes and Tiernan, 2015, Elgie, 2011): in order to achieve their goals, prime ministers and core political actors depend on other actors and must exchange resources such as authority, expertise or money with them (Rhodes, 1997, 203).

Apart from these assumptions, the concept of the core executive initially did not bear any implications for the likely or desirable distribution of power, the prevalent modes of governance, or the roles of political actors in central government. This indeterminacy has facilitated its diffusion from the original British context to other Westminster systems as well as to continental European and even to presidential systems of government (Helms, 2005, Weller et al., 1997). However, the ‘essential malleability of the term “core executive” is [also] the reason why its use has become de rigueur. It is a wonderfully convenient term. The result, though, is that the universe of “core executive studies” includes a great deal of work that could, quite happily, use a different term and have no less analytical purchase.’(Elgie, 2011, 72)

The remainder of this chapter distinguishes two paradigms that have shaped core executive studies focusing on Central Europe and reflect the recent history of the region: transition and Europeanisation. A third paradigm of ‘executive governance’ is suggested as a perspective for future work. The main argument of the chapter is that the trend towards centralised executive authority in several Central European countries suggests complementing the analysis of institutional arrangements with a broader analysis of governance. Such an approach would relate institutions to policies and their outcomes, highlighting possible drawbacks of centralisation and trade-offs between different functions or policy objectives.

(c) Martin Brusis. A map of executive governance in OECD and EU member states, based on the Sustainable Governance Indicators dataset

Dunleavy, P. and R. A. W. Rhodes (1990) ‘Core Executive Studies in Britain’, Public Administration, 68(1), pp. 3-28.

Elgie, R. (2011) ‘Core Executive Studies Two Decades On’, Public Administration, 89(1), pp. 64-77.

Helms, L. (2005) Presidents, Prime Minister and Chancellors. Executive Leadership in Western Democracies. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rhodes, R. A. (1995) ‘From Prime Ministerial Power to Core Executive’, in Rhodes, R.A. & P. Dunleavy (eds) Prime Minister, Cabinet and Core Executive. London: Macmillan, pp. 11-37.

Rhodes, R. A. (1994) ‘The Hollowing Out of the State: The Changing Nature of the Public Service in Britain’, The Political Quarterly, 65(2), pp. 138-151.

Rhodes, R. A. (1997) ‘”Shackling the Leader?”: Coherence, Capacity and the Hollow Crown’, in Weller, P., H. Bakvis & R.A. Rhodes (eds) The Hollow Crown. Countervailing Trends in Core Executives Transforming Government. Houndsmill, Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 198-223.

Rhodes, R. A. and A. Tiernan (2015) ‘Executive Governance and its Puzzles’, in Massey, A. & K. Miller (eds) International Handbook of Public Administration and Governance. Chelmsford: Edward Elgar, pp. 81-103.

Weller, P., H. Bakvis and R. A. Rhodes (eds) (1997) The Hollow Crown. Countervailing Trends in Core Executives. Houndsmill, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Prospects of a Dialogue on Kosovo

Interview with Aleksandra Nenadović, Voice of America, 26 July 2017

On 24 July 2017 Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić called for an “internal dialogue” on Kosovo. His article triggered an intense public debate and a large media echo within and beyond Serbia because he urged his fellow-citizens to face reality and stop waiting to be given “what we have lost a long time ago”.  Serbia should cease to preserve “a conflict whose meaning we do not understand” and should rather resolve the “Kosovo (Gordian) knot” in a responsible and non-violent way.

(c) Ivan Apostolski,

Vučić’s appeal has not indicated how such a solution could look like. In the interview, I argue that he is unlikely to recognize Kosovo and Metohija as an independent state because public opinion in Serbia, most citizens and especially Vučić’s electorate would not support such a decision.

Perhaps his main motive behind the call for an “internal dialogue” on Kosovo has been to strengthen Belgrade’s position during future talks with Priština about the implementation of the Brussels Agreement and the “normalization” of their relationship. A publicly manifested insistence on Kosovo being a part of Serbia would tie the hands of the government regarding EU claims for a de-facto or incremental recognition of Kosovo in the course of accession.

By refering to a supportive domestic public opinion, Serbia’s government could better defend its negotiation position vis-à-vis Brussels/Priština (similar to PM Orbán’s consultation on refugee issues in Hungary or PM Cameron’s Brexit referendum initiative in the UK). Moreover, an public consultation could also delineate the scope for permissible compromises during future normalization talks.

Rather than shifting the responsibility to others, Vučić’s call could be seen as a strategy to involve others in taking responsibility and explore the scope for concessions on Kosovo. Such a dialogue could work because Vučić’s core aims appear to be relatively modest – the main purpose of his initiative seems to be to survey public opinion and generate some resonance rather than crafting a consensus among the different positions.



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.

Download the full paper: Brusis_StudiaEuropaea

Bachelor Graduation Ceremony at Cluj University

On 27 May 2017, the Faculty of European Studies at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj held its annual Bachelor graduation ceremony. Professionally prepared by our students, the event turned out to be both solemn and lighthearted – a balance rarely achieved in German academic culture.

I was very delighted to award our students with their graduation diploma, recognizing three years of tough work and intellectual exchange in our German-language European Studies program.