Assessing strategic policy transfer in Romanian Public Management

AuthorRichard Common,Irina Gheorghe
Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(3) 287–307
Assessing strategic policy
! The Author(s) 2017
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transfer in Romanian
DOI: 10.1177/0952076717730427
Public Management
Richard Common
The University of York, UK
Irina Gheorghe
Independent Policy Analyst, UK
The notion of strategic policy transfer builds upon existing accounts of policy transfer
that assume selectivity in terms of what governments choose to learn from abroad.
This article analyses the case of public administration in Romania, which, at first glance,
appears to have embraced policy transfer as part of the process of Europeanisation and
other modernisation initiatives emanating from international institutions such as the
World Bank. Based on interviews with policy elites in Romania, the authors establish
that those elites were not interested in learning about administrative improvements
from abroad because they were self-evidently workable but because it satisfied
key external actors. Furthermore, the high degree of politicisation of the Romanian
bureaucracy, which remains a legacy of its Communist past, continues to act as a barrier
to change, and may result in the reversal of reforms now EU membership is fully
Country analysis, EU accession, Europeanisation, international organizations, policy
learning, policy transfer, public administration, public services, Romania
The enlargement of the European Union (EU) in 2004 gave fresh impetus to inter-
national policy transfer activity across Europe. Although Romania, along with its
neighbour, Bulgaria, did not join the EU until 2007, it was among the f‌irst of the
Central and Eastern European Countries (CEE) to seek closer integration with
the EU, a process that began in the 1990s. Therefore, an alignment with the
Corresponding author:
Richard Common, The York Management School, The University of York, Freboys Lane, York YO10 5GD, UK.

Public Policy and Administration 34(3)
requirements of EU membership began well before the symbolic act of accession.
However, although the reform of public administration in Romania appears to be
explained easily by EU accession and the demands of democratisation, other exter-
nal agencies have had a role to play such as the World Bank and the International
Labour Organisation (Poor and Plesoianu, 2010). The article thus seeks to go
beyond the standard accounts of the reform process that ascribe dominance to
the theoretical explanation provided by Europeanisation by arguing that context-
ual factors can mitigate against policy transfer activity. Although the article
considers the interplay of external agents in the reform process, the role of the
EU cannot be easily dismissed.
A key assumption of this article is that strategic policy transfer has a key role
in the process of Romanian administrative reform. At f‌irst glance, this seems
a rather simplistic assumption to make. As the article demonstrates, political
elites in Romania appear to have sought EU support and advice to expedite
EU accession. Thus, in this case, the outcome of any strategic policy transfer is
predictable: to comply with EU requirements. However, this assumption masks
alternative patterns of policy learning and transfer that a single country can engage
with. This is an aspect that is explored given that administrative reform is deeply
problematic in Romania, in line with most states in the former communist
CEE and the former Soviet Union. As the article explains, some of these explana-
tory factors are generic to these countries but the case of Romania often dif‌fers
The empirical data draw upon a series of interviews obtained in the aftermath of
accession from both middle- and top-management Romanian civil servants, as well as
from members of academia, former diplomats and members of the Romanian Senate
support staf‌f. The role of policy transfer in altering an entrenched and highly politi-
cised bureaucracy is more subtle than assumed by the suggestions of international
reform movements and is also subject to considerable contextual barriers. These will
be highlighted before reaching conclusions that add to theorisation about policy trans-
fer in Eastern Europe, an area that remains poorly developed in the comparative
public administration literature. Another assumption is that EU accession countries,
including Romania, are eager to modernise their administrative systems in line with
New Public Management (NPM) practices in Anglophone countries. This is in add-
ition to the ‘technology of government’ ideas f‌lowing from the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and the OECD (Pop, 2006: 135).
In the following section, we begin with a brief examination of the role of the EU
in relation to administrative reform in Romania before a consideration of some
of the characteristics of Romanian administration that inhibit the movement of
management practices. Thus, the contextual challenges to policy learning are
evaluated before a description of the methodology. The interviews provide insights
into the extent of both the communist legacy and Europeanisation and the scope
for policy learning before considering attempts to establish human resource
management (HRM) in the Romanian civil service, as an instance of a public
management reform trajectory (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2004).

Common and Gheorghe
The influence of the EU
In 2007, Romania joined the EU, thus fulf‌illing several long-standing desires of the
political elite; membership of a powerful supranational organisation, achieving the
status of a ‘developed’ country, and rejoining the European geopolitical equation.
Thus, administrative reform was high on the country’s agenda However, in the f‌irst
instance, and in line with its Eastern European neighbours, a civil service needed to
be established in Romania which would guarantee the political neutrality of bur-
eaucrats, bring in systems of accountability and remove discretionary behaviour
(Grzymala-Busse, 2006). Yet it was not until 1999 that the basis for a modern civil
service was established with the passing of Law 188 although the momentum
towards EU accession had already begun in 1993, when Romania signed the
Agreement of Association to the European Union. Therefore, the process of
Europeanisation had started prior to the foundation of a civil service in Romania.
Given the overwhelming dominance of the Europeanisation literature in the f‌ield
of administrative reform in CEE, it is dif‌f‌icult to embark on this article without a
brief exploration of the concept, especially as most accounts of administrative
modernisation in Romania emphasise the pivotal role of the EU in driving civil
service reform. As Papadimitriou and Phinnemore (2004: 621) remark, ‘attention
has predominantly focused on the way in which existing Member States are being
transformed by EU membership’. Although the concept of Europeanisation
appears to have intuitive appeal when explaining reforms across the EU, it
masks the complexity involved when explaining policy outcomes. Radaelli’s
(2003: 30) def‌inition of Europeanisation provides a potentially useful starting
point as it involves:
Processes of (a) construction, (b) dif‌fusion and (c) institutionalization of formal and
informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms, styles, ‘ways of doing things’, and
shared beliefs and norms which are f‌irst def‌ined and consolidated in the making of
EU public policy and politics and then integrated in the logic of domestic discourse,
identities, political structures and public policies.
Papadimitriou and Phinnemore (2004) utilise Radaelli’s (2000) somewhat broa-
dened def‌inition of Europeanisation when analysing administrative reform in
Romania and more specif‌ically, the ‘twinning’ programme to facilitate the imple-
mentation of the Acquis Communautaire. Following their analysis, Papadimitriou
and Phinnemore (2004: 635) conclude that Europeanisation provides a ‘valuable
resource in understanding the complex and unpredictable process of post-commu-
nist transition in central and eastern Europe’ although they are keen to stress its
limitations, with their own research reaching the conclusion that there is no single
‘European’ model of public administration and that the ‘missing link’ in
Europeanisation studies is a failure to appreciate important contextual factors.
The imposition of a meta-theory such as Europeanisation thus only tells half the
story. Borzel and Risse (2012) observe that the interesting question is the extent to
which Europeanisation results in institutional change and the extent to which the

Public Policy and Administration 34(3)
EU directs that change. However, there is nothing inevitable about the process as
this article will reveal.
The apparent explanatory power of Europeanisation has not prevented com-
mentators, such as Matei and Matei (2008), from interpreting administrative
reform in Romania as an assertion of convergence on a European model of
public administration. We contend in this article that this form of argumentation
is also too simplistic. Allied to the convergence thesis is the idea of a European
public space or ‘Administrative Space’, which is the direct product of SIGMA/
OECD interventions in EU accession states. However, the intention appears to be
legalistic rather than administrative convergence. Balan et al. (2010) apply this type
of institutional analysis to Romania. While their study highlights the usual def‌i-...

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