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Bureaucrats, Politicians and the Politics of Administrative Reforms in France (1988-1997)

Abstract : Characterizations of the French State in comparative literature have long been developing the idea that France constituted a clear case of the ‘strong State’ with large capacities, highly centralized system and powerful autonomous State action. Main empirical studies,2 however, revealed that the relationships between political roles and bureaucrats have been far more complicated. By exploring the politics of administrative reforms in the French context, this chapter would like to suggest that the French reorganization exercise may be relevant to observing struggles for the control over bureaucracy and policy guidance between different institutional players who seek to maintain and reassure their political and administrative roles. Following a neo-institutionalist approach (Hall, 1986; Weaver and Rockman, 1993), we suggest that administrative reforms result from complex institutional dynamics made of interests, forms, regulations and routines between institutions such as the Presidency, the Prime Minister, the Civil Service Ministry, the Finance Ministry’s Budget Department, the Home Office Ministry (and its top generalist corps, the Prefectoral corps), the grands corps,3 the Civil Service unions and the local authorities. All these institutions have distinctive interests in administrative reform policies and they have all developed offensive or defensive beliefs and skills on those topics. Indeed, there is a strong reason why our multiple relational and institutional approach should be preferred. Administrative reforms are attempts to challenge the preexisting institutional order and, thus, are reflexively shaped or constrained by what they try to control and define. As a consequence, many governmental actors and bureaucrats will take a strong interest in influencing and/or controlling the policy design but the institutions involved may not be synchronized in their initiatives or convergent in their efforts. We allot a significant role to the idea that ‘political institutions, both singly and in their interactions, characteristically manifest ordering patterns that are conflicting and contradictory’ and that the ‘contingent temporal alignments and simultaneous movement of relatively independent institutional orderings riddle political action’ (Orren and Skowronek, 1993). In this perspective, our chapter will specifically take stock of how the complex of various political visions and various bureaucratic institutions mediate and filter reorganization issues and solutions as well as how they are affected by them.
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Submitted on : Friday, March 11, 2022 - 4:00:54 PM
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Philippe Bezes. Bureaucrats, Politicians and the Politics of Administrative Reforms in France (1988-1997). Guy Peters; Jon Pierre. Bureaucrats, Politicians and Institutional Change, Routledge, pp.47 - 60, 2001. ⟨hal-03606221⟩

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