EU-driven public sector reforms

AuthorWalter Kickert,Edoardo Ongaro
Published date01 April 2020
DOI10.1177/0952076719827624
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue: Public Sector Reforms in a Changed EU Governance under Conditions of Fiscal Consolidation
EU-driven public sector
reforms
Edoardo Ongaro
The Open University Business School, The Open University, UK
Walter Kickert
Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Abstract
This paper is the introduction article to the special issue on EU-driven public sector
reforms. European Union (EU) governance has dramatically changed since the outburst
of the financial, economic and fiscal crises in 2007–2008. The dramatically changed
circumstances have led to heightened EU influence in the field of the organization of
the public sector of Member States, leading to major reforms of the public sector of
Member States under conditions of radical fiscal consolidation. We call these ‘EU-driven
public sector reforms’. The Greek, Hungarian, Irish and Italian cases of reform of the
public sector in recent years, accounted for in this special issue, are different instances,
with diverse outcomes, of this phenomenon. This article reviews the theoretical per-
spectives that can be employed for the study of EU-driven public sector reforms – these
include notably the policy of conditionality; Europeanization; and a combination of
learning, leadership and multiple streams theories – and the evidence about the fea-
tures, doctrinal contents and effects of such reforms arising from the four case studies
in the special issue.
Keywords
Administration and democracy, administrative theory, public administration, public
management, public sector reform
Introduction
European Union (EU) governance has dramatically changed since the outburst of
the f‌inancial, thensubsequently economic and then f‌iscal crises since 2008.As part of
the EU response to the multiple f‌iscal crises that menaced to tear apart the EU
edif‌ice, a set of far-reaching measures aimed at modifying the architecture of the
Public Policy and Administration
2020, Vol. 35(2) 117–134
!The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0952076719827624
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Corresponding author:
Edoardo Ongaro, The Open University Business School, The Open University,Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.
Email: edoardo.ongaro@gmail.com
EU economic governance. These are known as ‘Six-pack’, ‘Two-pack’ and ‘Fiscal
Compact’ (the f‌irst two being regulations, the latter an international treaty adopted
by 26 Member States,with the exclusion of the Czech Republic and the UK). Jointly,
these regulatory changes have introduced or further developed a set of instruments
whereby EU institutions may pervasively inf‌luence socio-economic and f‌iscal con-
solidation in Member States (these instruments include the Stability and Growth
Pact, the Excessive Def‌icit Procedure, the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure,
and the ‘European Semester’ see also Verdun and Zeitlin, 2018).
This shift in EU governance has encompassed also the f‌ield of the organization
of the public sector at the national level, although this area is not (or is only
limitedly and indirectly) a formal competence of the EU under the extant treaties.
The dramatically changed circumstances during the unfolding of the multiple crises
have led to heightened EU inf‌luence (f‌lanked by IMF inf‌luence in certain cases) in
the f‌ield of the organization of the public sector of Member States: the Greek,
Hungarian, Irish, and Italian cases of reform of the public sector in recent years
accounted for in this special issue: EU-driven public sector reforms are dif‌ferent
instances, with diverse outcomes, of this phenomenon (for reasons illustrated in
detail in the individual papers). We will call these ‘EU-driven public sector
reforms’, by this label meaning that such reforms have been, at least partly, trig-
gered and signif‌icantly inf‌luenced in their developments by EU actors – hence ‘EU-
driven’ – and that they encompass the form of the public sector at the national level
in Member States – hence ‘public sector reforms’.
To further clarify def‌ining issues, by public sector reforms we here mean delib-
erate attempts to reconf‌igure the public sector, or signif‌icant portions of it, broadly
intended – the regulation and organization of public services at large (thereby
including social security, taxation, economic regulation, etc.) – in order to make
the public sector work better, according to given criteria of ‘goodness’ and
‘improvement’ (Ashworth et al., 2010); public sector reform is in this sense a
notion broader than administrative reforms (focused on attempts to reconf‌igure
the public administration of a given jurisdiction) and public management reforms
(focused on the structures and processes of public sector organizations – their
management systems). In a nutshell, public sector reforms encompass a larger
phenomenon; administrative and public management reforms concern subsets of
the broader public sector reforms. Our focus is on the broader phenomenon of the
EU inf‌luence on the processes of reconf‌iguration of the public sector.
A set of both theoretical and empirical questions arise (see also Ongaro, 2014).
Theoretically, we may ask the question of what theories can explain the dynamics
of EU-driven public sector reforms. Empirically, we may ask: what are the dynam-
ics whereby EU actors inf‌luence the organization of the public sector of Member
States? What features do these EU-driven public sector reforms display, and what
doctrines inspire such reforms? And what ef‌fects – intended or unintended by the
EU actors – do they produce?
The special issue: EU-driven public sector reforms investigates empirically the
features and dynamics of such reforms by means of four selected single-country,
118 Public Policy and Administration 35(2)

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