Bernadette Connaughton, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
Arnost Vesely, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
As a theme, politico-administrative relations have been a focus of interest and discussion in numerous NISPAcee conferences. The focus included features of politico-administrative relations in CEE, with particular attention to the policy work and institutional arrangements of public officials and politically appointed advisers. In all, four papers focusing on politicisation research (patronage, types of politicisation/work positions, civil service appointment) and ministerial advisers (Slovak case) were presented.
By way of context, Verheijen and Rabrenovic argued in 2001 that politico-administrative relations were one of the most difficult issues to address in public administration development in CEE. They added that the role of civil servants in the policy process had not been clearly defined, a decade after transition. Civil servants were described as actors who should provide impartial and professional expertise to elected politicians. Hence, serving as a platform between politics and society. That was 18 years ago. Their study was surveyed politico-administrative relations at a time when a number of CEE states were preparing their public administrations for EU membership.
Eighteen years on, the political-administrative environment has changed and become more volatile. This is evident given the rise in populist parties, a general mistrust of the role of experts, how social media has become part of our lives, greater security concerns, and a decade of crisis in the EU. The scholarship on politico-administrative relations has moved on too. Politicisation remains a strong theme and reflects circumstances and practice. The literature on reform has reflected on the impact of the last decade’s crisis. In addition, literature on ministerial advisers/political appointees has flourished in terms of theory focus and extending the empirical contributions to new country cases. Further, the literature on policy work has sought to provide better explanations of what policy workers do, their beliefs, and relations with politicians. In turn, forming part of the features (internal and external) of a policy advisory system.
No shortage of literature was published on politico-administrative relations in CEE over this period. Some generally accepted conclusions on these contributions were offered to frame the discussion.
The first proposition was that there is no distinct ‘type’ of PA structure in CEE countries, and that there are more dissimilarities than similarities. Moreover, there are different types of politicisation. The second proposition suggests that although the formal structures are important, they are far from determining. Post EU membership has resulted in a lot of divergence and in variable dynamics. The same with the civil service code in that it was assumed to set clear guidelines for PA structures. Yet, as we know, after EU accession and the adoption of civil service codes, politicisation has not decreased. Thirdly, politico-administrative relationships are strongly influenced, and can be explained by many other factors. This includes political culture and level of trust. A potential factor to study in more detail is the roles and actual work of public officials. A very strong factor is also the level of policy capacity inside and outside public administration i.e. the so-called externalisation of policy advice is related to PA.
Three of the papers presented in the panel dealt with the theme of politicisation in their presentations. Katarína Staroňová and Marek Rybář’s papers explored patronage. While we know a lot about the extent of patronage practices, the authors note that little attention has been paid to the internal logics of the patrons, namely politicians. The paper focused on a highly politicised country, Slovakia, and offered a typology of ministerial alternations in patronage practices based on party and patron changes. It presented an original dataset that observes the top three layers of the permanent Slovak civil service and changes over 2010-2018. The conclusions reached challenged the general assumption that hyper-politicised countries tend to rely on party patronage practice, rather, our presenters’ data shows the significance of personal, rather than party roots of patronage. Jan Kohoutek and Martin Nekola, Charles University, explored politicisation through quantitative enquiry, taking the Czech Republic as their country case. This paper highlighted how politicisation is a "slippery concept” and demonstrated that the different types of politicisation in practice are not necessarily all bad. The paper moves away from the qualitative conceptualisations to draw on a large N study into the Czech Republic ministries, which sheds more light on what the authors refer to as "functional-hidden” politicisation and ministerial reach.
Overall, the enquiry suggests that Czech ministries are moderately politicised at best, showing a lesser degree of direct political influence than generally suspected. The third paper, by Eva Vanyi, Corvinus University, viewed politico-administrative relations from the perspective of recruitment into the top civil service positions in ministries. This paper seeks to investigate whether there is an increase in appointments of loyalist partisan outsiders to the significant executive secretary positions in Hungary after 2010. It takes a bibliographical approach in terms of seeking to learn about who these officials are, whether they are professionals or politicians, and what their career pathways are. In particular, do they have the skills and attributes to work in public administration? Data was extracted from a database on members of Hungarian cabinets, including political and bureaucratic leaders serving between 1990 and 2018. She argues that the Hungarian executive secretaries are not outsiders, but appear to be illustrative of a tendency to appoint politicians or party clientele.
The fourth paper, by Samuel Krajnak and Heath Pickering, KU Leuven contributes the first ever analysis of ministerial advisers in Slovakia. Drawing on methodology used in previous adviser studies their overview of the Slovak case examines who the advisers are and how they became senior political advisers – by looking at the age, education and professional background. They also concentrate on the pre- and post adviser career paths of personally appointed advisers to Slovak ministers under the last four governments between 2010 and 2019. This offers a new country case to the ministerial adviser research and focused on some 150 people employed as advisers in the Slovak government between 2010 and 2019. The findings indicate that the Slovak advisers differ from their counterparts in other European and Westminster systems since Slovak advisers are generally older, more educated, and serve for shorter periods of time. As in other countries, those advisers serving the Prime Minister and leadership are a distinct group.
In all, the four papers covered three CEE countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary; explored different conceptualisations and interpretations of politicisation - including offering new typologies; acknowledge the significance of location; indicate what may be gleaned by examining bibliographical information; emphasise variations in recruitment; the prevalence of patronage and personalisation of trust; and the study of advisers widens the scope of politico-administrative relations. Based on these contributions alone, there is a lot of potential to continue our conversations about politico-administrative relations further....