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Between Power Concentration and Fragmentation: Transformation of the State and Multilevel Governance ꟷ Contradicting Trends in Territorial Politics

Federalism
Governance
Government
Institutions
Public Administration
Regionalism
Power
State Power
Arthur Benz
Technische Universität Darmstadt
Arthur Benz
Technische Universität Darmstadt

Abstract

Over the last decades, two conceptual changes in political science reflected the political development of the so-called OECD-world: One was the revival of the state as a relevant theoretical category, the other the rise of the concept of multilevel governance (MLG). Focusing on Western democratic governments (or “modern states”), the paper takes MLG as cause and consequence of state transformation. It thus combines the two different conceptualizations of MLG, which emerged in different contexts. As a cause of state transformation, it means the dynamic change of public authority, which is driven by the mobilization of actors and functional requirements of society (Hooghe and Marks). As a consequence of state transformation, it describes patterns of policy-making cutting across different levels (Scharpf). Against this theoretical background, the paper outlines tendencies of state transformation, explains how they are linked to MLG, and outlines why they result in various problems. As a cause of state transformation, MLG is driven by changes in society which became both transnational and regionalized, and at the same time interdependent. Accordingly, different interests are voiced on how politics should be reorganized, and the evolution of MLG leads to contradicting pressure for institutional change. Caused by MLG, states have changed accordingly, but apart from contradicting demands, reorganization and adjustment are constrained by path-dependence of institutions and vetoes against a redistribution of power expressed in multilevel policy-making. Therefore, institutional change remained incoherent. While state transformation is affected by functional, society-driven logics, the resulting patterns of MLG are in conflict with the logics of democratic politics and bureaucracy within the state. Both processes shape the evolution and operation of an emerging multilevel political order, yet in quite different ways. The diverse reforms and incremental adjustments of state structures, which appear incoherent and unplanned, seem to amount to an increasing institutional “fragmentation” (Zürn and Leibfried). This fragmentation affects the territorial dimension and the executive-legislative dimension of state structure. It can mean separation or sharing of powers. If powers are separated, actors have nonetheless to coordinate their decisions to manage policy interdependence, if they are shared, the effects of coordinated policy-making can vary from deadlock to a fusion of power. Effective multilevel coordination mainly takes place in administration, and the more constitutions divide legislative powers between levels of states, the more administrative coordination intensifies, with executives often coordinate their decisions with private organisations. Hence, MLG evolves outside the institutions of the state, however these institutions might have been reformed, while the institutional core of the democratic state remains bound to a territorially defined jurisdiction, which MLG transgresses. In consequence, state restructuring inevitably leads to a contradictory configuration of politics. However, these contradictions are not the real problem of state restructuring, rather it is inappropriate reform policies and populist reactions which ignore the inevitable complexity of the emerging political order.