The impact of political leadership on bureaucratic institutions in France : the case of DATAR
The thesis questions the common assertion that only exceptional political leaders can implement their aims, such are the institutional constraints on their action. This assertion is examined in relation to DATAR, the regional development agency of France, where the self- confident and compartmentalised bureaucracy would be expected to provide leaders with a difficult challenge. The analytical framework is derived from Blondel's Political Leadership, one of the few texts to assume that a full spectrum of leadership potential exists. The thesis starts by showing that political leaders could shape bureaucratic organisations to their own needs. Ministers interested in regional policy adapted its structures from a weak ministerial division to a model inter-ministerial agency, DATAR, whose reputational power was substantially affected by the political leadership's support for the policy. Political leaders were able to recruit DATAR's top staff on the basis of the criteria they chose; and to make DATAR's size, budget and work activities respond to their own policy aims. Through DATAR they could create, modify and direct interministerial committees and budgets to fit their particular objectives. The thesis then assesses the leadership's impact on policy instruments in two contrasted domains to judge how much leaders are helped or hindered by bureaucratic and other institutions, including DATAR. Whether on roads policy or on regionalisation, the political leadership mostly achieved incremental change, either because that was what it sought, or because its ambitions were curtailed by internal conflict and local politicians as much as by bureaucratic opposition. Sometimes leaders failed to make headway, and occasionally they asserted their political will in a dramatic fashion. Overall, the variety and strength of outcomes demonstrate that political leaders have a capacity to make an impact on bureaucratic organisations and to re-orient bureaucratic activities towards their particular political goals that is far greater than even Blondel anticipated.