Governance by discretion : civil service reform in post-communist Hungary
This thesis analyses civil service reform and policy developments in Hungary since 1990 as an extreme case of the discrepancy between attempts to establish professional, de-politicised civil services and the persisting politicisation of personnel policy in post-communist central executives. At the theoretical level, it applies the insights of new institutionalist approaches to executive politics, in particular the body of so-called 'delegation studies' rooted in the new economics of organisations. The thesis develops four ideal types of personnel policy regimes that are distinguished on the basis of the concept of formal political discretion, which is defined as the extent to which the government of the day, or its ministers, has the possibility to exercise personnel policy authority and the extent to which the exercise of this authority is subject to specific procedural constraints. The thesis argues that a low degree of formal political discretion built into civil service legislation can enhance the informational role of ministerial bureaucracies in policy-making. However, governments do only have an incentive to establish or maintain a low degree of formal political discretion built into civil service legislation, if they have no problems of political trust towards the bureaucracy. The empirical analysis of civil service reform outcomes in Hungary reveals that three reforms since 1990 have led to the emergence of a personnel policy regime that allows governments to exercise a considerable degree of political discretion over personnel policy, in particular, the allocation of civil servants in managerial ranks. The analysis of civil service reform processes shows that the communist legacy of over-politicised personnel policy, the radical anti-communism of centre-right parties and four wholesale changes of government since 1990 have tended to reproduce severe problems of political trust in the relation between governments and the ministerial bureaucracy. The thesis shows that incoming governments have therefore continuously exercised political discretion over personnel policy, in particular, by recruiting (often politically affiliated) senior personnel from outside public administration. At the same time, successive governments have been unwilling to make a commitment to a de-politicised civil service system because of their distrust in the loyalty of bureaucrats associated with previous governments. Moreover, as the group of senior bureaucrats who seek a career in public administration has shrunk, the de-politicisation of the civil service has increasingly come to contradict the career interest of senior bureaucrats whose tenure is bound to that of the government and who commute between public administration, politics and the private sector. Setting Hungarian civil service reform and policy developments into a comparative post-communist perspective, the thesis concludes that the context of post-communist transformation tends to lock in a pattern of civil service governance characterised by high levels of political discretion.