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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Bureaucratic Autonomy vs. Political Leadership: Successful Decentralization in Local Government

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Local Government
Comparative Perspective
Decision Making
Lucie Nemcova
Charles University
Lucie Nemcova
Charles University

Can bureaucrats alone represent or replace politicians in local government? Do they produce successful public policy through inherent objectivity, rationality and professionalism? This paper analyses the relationship in local government between politics and bureaucracies from the methodological as well as empirical perspective and creates, based on own original criteria, a systematization of this relationship in three areas that most influence the success of policy-making – (1) the delegation of tasks, (2) delegation of competences, and (3) impact of outputs. The paper then derives basic parameters of bureaucratic autonomy and finds that indeed, among the negative consequences of the absence of political leadership are mainly the pluralization of units, differing priorities, bargaining and loss of legitimacy and accountability. However, under optimal conditions, which this paper focuses on, negative consequences can be controlled and bureaucratic autonomy can guarantee complex problem-solving and legitimate and reliable long-term public policy solutions. Today, bureaucratic autonomy is a natural phenomenon in Scandinavia or in Germany, where local politicians and bureaucrats are on equal footing and share their powers. On the other hand, countries in Eastern Europe are still lagging behind. Decentralization, the favoured first step to successful autonomous government, has become a trend only recently, due to the different social, cultural and political development in this region. Combined with the increasing pressure of Western democracies to empower local governments, bureaucratic autonomy is becoming a hot political topic mainly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland. The systematization created in this paper is subsequently applied in such regional case comparison of Czech Republic and Germany and can be further used to define cases of bureaucratic autonomy and to identify its effects on the functioning of cities and municipalities.
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