Формирование региональной политики в Швеции: куда приведет противоречивая политика?
Несмотря на более 10 лет экспериментов и нововведений, роль регионов в будущем является дискуссионным вопросом в Швеции. Представления о будущем районировании уже сформировались, но есть негласная конкуренция во взглядах. Национальная комиссия предлагала региональную модель, единую для всей Швеции, предполагающую дальнейшую передачу власти новым регионам. Конечно, Правительство воплотило в жизнь некоторые нововведения, но отложило решение многих вопросов до тех пор пока не пройдут выборы в сентябре. Формирование регионов в Швеции является не только политическим вопросом, но также той сферой, в которой ведущие лица формируют стратегии и где большое значение имеют также факторы внешней среды. Различные проблемы и решения витают вокруг. Обсуждаются некоторые взаимосвязанные проблемы, такие как размер регионов (насколько крупные регионы могут быть сформированы), как федеральные органы власти смогут взаимодействовать с новыми регионами и в какой степени муниципальные органы власти должны выработать новые функции в рамках укрупненных регионов. Демографические и другие вызовы также накладывают отпечаток на все уровни власти и вынуждают пересмотреть функции и полномочия. В связи с этим, проблема будущего развития регионов в Швеции находится на той стадии, когда вопрос обрисован и коалиции сформированы, частично благодаря обсуждению, а частично за счет полемики по поводу различных перспектив. Сложившуюся ситуацию можно рассмотреть более подробно через линзы трех институциональных подходов. Социологический институционализм сфокусирован на содержании проблемы, на том, как общее понимание формируется. Исторический институционализм подчеркивает важность наследия, того, как решения, принятые ранее, влияют на текущую ситуацию. Институционализм рационального выбора может добавить понимание ситуации или обстановки, в которой сформировались проблемы. Эти подходы помогают нам понять, что будет иметь значение, когда региональные и национальные ведущие лица наконец-то сформируют свои мнения.
Несмотря на более 10 лет экспериментов и нововведений, роль регионов в будущем является дискуссионным вопросом в Швеции. Представления о будущем районировании уже сформировались, но есть негласная конкуренция во взглядах. Национальная комиссия предлагала региональную модель, единую для всей Швеции, предполагающую дальнейшую передачу власти новым регионам. Конечно, Правительство воплотило в жизнь некоторые нововведения, но отложило решение многих вопросов до тех пор пока не пройдут выборы в сентябре. Формирование регионов в Швеции является не только политическим вопросом, но также той сферой, в которой ведущие лица формируют стратегии и где большое значение имеют также факторы внешней среды. Различные проблемы и решения витают вокруг. Обсуждаются некоторые взаимосвязанные проблемы, такие как размер регионов (насколько крупные регионы могут быть сформированы), как федеральные органы власти смогут взаимодействовать с новыми регионами и в какой степени муниципальные органы власти должны выработать новые функции в рамках укрупненных регионов. Демографические и другие вызовы также накладывают отпечаток на все уровни власти и вынуждают пересмотреть функции и полномочия.
В связи с этим, проблема будущего развития регионов в Швеции находится на той стадии, когда вопрос обрисован и коалиции сформированы, частично благодаря обсуждению, а частично за счет полемики по поводу различных перспектив. Сложившуюся ситуацию можно рассмотреть более подробно через линзы трех институциональных подходов. Социологический институционализм сфокусирован на содержании проблемы, на том, как общее понимание формируется. Исторический институционализм подчеркивает важность наследия, того, как решения, принятые ранее, влияют на текущую ситуацию. Институционализм рационального выбора может добавить понимание ситуации или обстановки, в которой сформировались проблемы. Эти подходы помогают нам понять, что будет иметь значение, когда региональные и национальные ведущие лица наконец-то сформируют свои мнения.
1. Regional policy in Sweden
Like Denmark and Norway, Sweden combines a strong central state with very independent local governments. The regional level has traditionally not been as important and has also been a level where other actors have strong interests (Petersson 2005). For the past 20 years, the regions have been the focus of much activity with several reforms and a number of organizational experiments. These touch upon deep conflicts in the design of the Swedish welfare state and successive governments have found it hard to solve the “Gordian knot” of regional policy in Sweden.
There is a growing literature on regionalization in Europe. To mention just two examples, Patrick Le Galés has described the politics in France while Ian Bache has described the unfolding of events in the UK (Le Galés 2005, Bache 2008). France and the UK move generally in the same direction as Sweden, towards a greater role for regional actors, while starting with much less independent local and regional governments. Italy and Spain have moved further towards federalism. Restructuring has taken place in Denmark and Norway too, with amalgamations of local governments being the big issue in Denmark. There are still big similarities with Sweden, but the three countries seem to be moving in different directions. In Finland, which has a more fragmented structure (Sandberg 2005), there have been several waves of contradictory regionalizing policies.
Much interest has been focused on Europeanization, how the EU influences its member states to build up a regional level of administration. In Sweden, the EU opened a window of opportunity in the 90s which led to the adoption of “new regionalism”, emphasizing the need to develop all regions on their own merits rather than by transfer payments between regions (Regionalpolitiska utredningen 2000; Lagendijk 1997, Keating 1998) Working in partnership was inspired by the EU structural funds. However, in the present context, the question is more about the next step, after the first integration into the EU, to create greater coherence across the public sector and, possibly, greater capacity at the regional level. The EU has little direct impact on the organization of health care or sub-national democracy in the member states. Its role in economic development is very restricted, with the structural funds operating through the Swedish national government. Stronger regions may demand a more powerful role in the future administration of the funds (This was proposed by the parliamentary commission discussed below (Ansvarskommittén 2007).
At this point, we find it more useful to dig deeper into the Swedish case than trying to compare it in broader terms to other countries. The processes which go on within Sweden are potentially more dramatic than any previous reorganization at the regional or local levels. The handling of the issues is up to regional bargaining to an extent that hasn’t been seen before. There have been just a few slightly similar processes of regional bargaining to form regional partnerships and for collaboration on metropolitan development (“storstadspolitiken”), across local government boundaries. Amalgamations of regions took place in the 90s, but they were mainly about creating more coherent regions around two major cities.
Our ambition in this paper is to discuss where the present situation is leading, using methods from the social sciences. The purpose is to interpret the situation in the light of modern theory. It is an exploratory paper, without the ambition to fully track the processes going on. We proceed deductively, starting with the models and then look for examples of the factors they focus on. This gives us a broad and relevant but not complete picture of what goes on. At this stage, we don’t go into the debates on the contents of the theoretical models.
The issue of designing regions in Sweden is not just a political question for the parties. It is also an area where actors form strategies and external events have an impact. Various problems and solutions are floating around in something resembling a garbage can. Images of a regionalized future are formed and visions are competing behind the scenes. We can see several interrelated issues being discussed, such as how bigger regions can be formed, how national agencies can relate to new regions and to what extent local governments should work out new roles within larger regions. Demography and other challenges put pressures on all levels to rethink roles and responsibilities.
Hence, the future development of the regions in Sweden is at a stage where the issue is being framed and coalitions are formed, partly through debate and partly through the rivalry of the various perspectives. It is a situation which can be described through theoretical lenses such as the three “institutionalisms”.
These perspectives help us understand what will be important when regional and national actor finally make up their minds. Our ambition is to use the frameworks to describe the situation and point to the factors which will have an effect on how the issues will be solved (or handled) in the future. We have a good knowledge of the issues and debates and believe that a theoretical frame or model can help us make predictions on what will happen and what could affect outcomes (One of us has followed the events mainly from a regional perspective and the other mainly from a national perspective, before returning to academia).
2. Three ways to understand what is going on
We believe that the so called three institutional perspectives can shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes. The institutional perspectives have become standard tools for analysis over the past two decades and lots have been said about their merits. Peter Hall and Rosemary Taylor framed the issue of three institutionalisms in a classic article which is still much quoted (Hall & Taylor 1996). Other lists have been introduced by Guy Peters (Peters 1999), John Campbell (2004) and others. Recently these perspectives have been applied to studies of the European Union (Pollack 2009, Risse 2009), which is also about the development of relationships between levels of government, although on a larger scale.
The models or perspectives represent three important ways of thinking about politics, by emphasizing how norms and/or regulation guide the behavior of individuals and sometimes create unexpected outcomes. Individuals may do the best they can, but the frameworks within which they act can be of great importance as more or less conscious guidelines. The point of focusing on institutions is that they have a great explanatory value, especially when countries are compared. They are the key to understanding why policies are different; because they determine the room for action by political actors, in three different ways.
“Rational choice institutionalism” is very similar to neoclassical economics, applied to political phenomena. To some extent politics can be understood in terms of self-interested politicians fighting for power within the rules (institutions) of parliaments and constitutions. The institutions determine what is rational to do and, hence, can explain why actors behave the way they do. Much focus in this perspective is on the interaction between actors and how outcomes are structured by the situation (Hall & Taylor 1996:940, 945). Originally this framework was used to understand behavior in the US Congress, but a similar line of analysis has been applied to politics in European countries, even though European parliamentary systems are much more dominated by the executive government and not as open for political bargaining as the American system (Page 2006).
This institutional model works best when individual preferences are set and self-interested rationality will guide behavior in predictable ways. Political games at the national level can be understood in these terms, as conflicts between parties, but the play within and between regions is generally more open. The self-interest of politicians and bureaucrats can also be more long-term and more influenced by ideology, suggesting that the government may think in terms of principles rather than short-term utility maximization.
The ambiguity of the first type of institutionalism, in determining what is in one’s self-interest, is the starting point of “sociological institutionalism”, which focuses (among other things) on how preferences are formed. It focuses on the step before “rational” political conflicts take place, when issues are open for interpretation. Politicians need to figure out what the situation demands by asking questions like “what is the right thing to do?” and “which concerns should take priority?”. Sometimes decisions may be based on other things than self-interest, such as following norms or building up legitimacy in the face of other actors (Hall & Taylor 1996:949).
In this second institutional perspective, actors want to do what is appropriate or good enough, rather than calculating what is in their best interest. In a strong version, the claim is that this should replace the rationalistic conception as a more relevant way of explaining human behavior. In a softer version, this view is compatible with the previous perspective and is especially relevant when individual preferences are not yet settled (Risse 2009). This is, in other words, a way of understanding how individuals form their positions. Some norms can be very strong, like a dominant paradigm in the light of which all issues are interpreted, while in other cases there can be competing norms, leaving it up to individuals to interpret the situation.
Lastly, in “historical institutionalism”, the claim is that the past partly determines the future. Some choices have consequences at later stages, thereby creating a path which is difficult to reverse, for example by giving certain interests a privileged position (Hall & Taylor 1996:938, 941). In an international perspective, the particular constitutional traditions limit the range of possible options in each country. To shift models completely would demand very strong leadership to go against tradition and vested interests. Usually this takes place only if there is a crisis or a change of perception, as when countries join the EU. This could mean that there are several paths which could either come into conflict or work as closed doors for various alternatives, restricting the range of options open to the actors. The way the issues are handled may turn out to be very important in restricting the range of solutions available.
These perspectives don’t exhaust the range of possible explanations of policymaking since they only deal with the role of institutions (rules, regulations, norms) for making decisions. Other factors, such as levels of the economy and other variables used in statistical analyses, are only dealt with indirectly. Furthermore, in their pure forms the three make very different assumptions and aren’t necessarily compatible. Here, we follow John Campbell and others who have pointed out that the perspectives can be compatible and can be applied simultaneously, in spite of their differences. As Hall and Taylor say, “each seems to be providing a partial account of the forces at work in a given situation or capturing different dimensions of the human action and institutional impact present there” (p. 955). By applying all three versions of institutionalism we believe we can understand much of what is going on in relation to regional policy in Sweden.
3. The contested role of the regions
To understand the present situation in Sweden, one has to look at the context of how things have developed until now. The role of the regions has been a contested issue in Sweden at least since the 1960s (This is a brief summary only. For a longer overview, see Stegmann McCallion & Tallberg (2008).
The term region refers both to an area, a county, and to the elected body of the county (“landsting”), the bearer of the old tradition of free men gathering at the “ting”. The elected body is primarily responsible for health care, but also transport, culture and some other issues. It is a “local government on a larger scale”, with great independence and collects its own taxes (regional and local governments are parallel governments, under the national government). Together with the similarly independent local governments, it forms the Swedish model of welfare state, where parliament and the national government sets standards, while local and regional governments provide most of the services. An indication of the importance of local and regional governments is that Swedes pay around 30 per cent of their income in taxes to these levels of government.
One exception to the general model is the growing role of private providers. Another exception is that some services are provided by national agencies, like unemployment benefits and social security. A large number of national agencies - ranging from social security to customs services - run their own regional and local operations, often divided into other areas than the formal regions (counties). Finally, the counties are administrative units of the national government, each with an appointed prefect (“landshövding”) to be the representative of the king/government. The prefect and his or her county administrative board had (has) some control over the local governments, some administrative roles of their own and also the role of coordinating the regional operations of national agencies. Some agencies, like the environmental board, have no field organization of their own and therefore operate through the county administrative board.
Hence, the national and local governments are strong in Sweden, while the regions are arenas where several kinds of organizations intersect and produce what is often referred to as a “regional mess”. The regional governments (county councils) have gradually moved from being providers of health care to general spokespersons of the regions. Local governments can be powerful by themselves at the regional arena (especially big cities) and through federations for various purposes. A large number of national agencies have regional operations or operate through the prefecture (county administrative boards). In addition, various strategies have been applied to bring coherence, either a clearer separation of roles or integration through various kinds of issue-related partnerships. Devolution is one solution while a contract between region and state would be another solution.
In the 1960s the role of the prefects was questioned as elected politicians had become in charge of most of the welfare state, either in local governments or in regional governments. The latter were increasingly seen as the more appropriate spokespeople of the regions, which lead to a pragmatic solution in the 1970s, where the appointed prefect had to work with a board of elected politicians appointed by the county council.
In the 80s another debate was taking place, on decentralization to local governments. Schools were handed over from the national to the local governments and an opinion demanded that labor market programs should be turned over to local governments too. Some of them were turned over and some other programs were turned over to the county administrative boards. However, most of the huge resources remained with the labor market board, which at the time operated with very independent regional branches, as separate agencies with their own boards and chaired by the prefect, also a pragmatic solution.
In the beginning of the 90s, Sweden was an extreme example of multilevel governance, with lots of organizations, belonging to different levels and sectors of government and sometimes with overlapping leadership, holding resources for regional development (especially support for businesses and skills development). The situation was described as “the regional mess”, where the level of conflict or cooperation varied across the regions and depended very much on personal relationships. Regional planning processes were important instruments to bring about some coherence.
To summarize, there have been at least three regional debates in Sweden, one on democracy (elected versus appointed regional leadership), one on the design of the national agencies (regional integration or functional separation) and one on the more general issue of centralization versus decentralization. These perspectives are still competing over the development of regional policy. Several minority fractions are fighting each other within the public sector and in the major parties, making it difficult to form a coherent majority opinion. The agencies often find it easy to work with the elected bodies and want to avoid being merged with the prefecture. Partnerships and the prefecture are competing mechanisms for integration, which is something that some ministries are not interested in. Some say economic development has a regional logic while others think that Sweden is too small to diversify more. Some believe in bottom-up processes while others think that only a strong center can provide coherent policies and equal treatment across the country. Some think that local governments, rather than regional governments, are the appropriate bearers of bottom-up processes. And so on.
Membership of the EU in 1995 and the discourse on “new regionalism” gave a boost to the proponents of a stronger role for elected regional politicians. The balance shifted within the dominating party to embark on a set of experiments which included some devolution of powers to elected regional bodies as well as the encouragement of regional partnerships of public and private organizations (Statskontoret 2004a, 2004b, Niklasson 2004, 2005). The idea of the latter was to coordinate policies geographically rather than by (or, in addition to) policy sector (“silos”), in other words a “soft” kind of devolution. A small but very controversial experiment in one region integrated the labor market board and forestry board in the prefecture, as a kind of regionally integrated (national) state (Statskontoret 2005). At the same time, the leadership role in the region (Gotland) was transferred (devolved) from the prefect to the elected body, creating a French situation of one state body dealing with one regional body. This was when the structural funds of the European Union started operations with projects more or less related to other regional initiatives, providing funds to regional actors if they could agree on the use of these funds. Hence, Sweden entered a phase of increased regionalization but also ambivalence with several models operating in parallel and no unifying vision of where to move or why.
The delicate balance of the opposing groups soon shifted. No more regional governments than the original two were given devolved powers (region Skåne and Västra Götalandsregionen. However, the island of Gotland should be included too, since it is de facto both a local and a regional government, making a unique hybrid). Instead, another of the experimental models – an indirectly elected assembly of local and regional governments – was opened up for more regions. Since 2002 almost all regions have opted for this model, except for a few where the actors haven’t been able to work out an agreement, most notably in the Stockholm region. In the latter, the prefect still holds the leadership role in regional development issues. The proponents of strong national agencies triumphed with the abolishment of the regional boards of the labor market board, the social security administration and some other agencies. Later, the labor market board was given control of its programs in all regions, ending the odd experiment in one of the regions. In other words, the national government shifted its focus to centralization and conformity of welfare provision across the country, swinging the pendulum away from decentralization of the public sector, while the devolution experiment continued.
The confusing situation was and is a problem for the public sector and for the main political parties, with internal fights over who should do what. A parliamentary commission was appointed in 2003 to come up with an overall view of how to reorganize the public sector, i.e. how to allocate responsibility for various tasks across the levels of government. To some surprise, the commission favored continued devolution and published long reports on how to organize at the national, regional and local levels. One part of this was to create larger regions with greater capacity to adapt and develop policies for economic development. Some policies were suggested to be devolved from the national to the regional governments, while other policies should be transferred from local to regional governments.
Equally surprising, not very much happened after the report was published in 2007 (Ansvars-kommittén 2007). The report was not what the government in 2003 had hoped for. The prime minister at the time has later admitted in public that he was hoping for a chance to abolish the elected regional governments and find new solutions for health care, similar to what has happened in Norway (Sydsvenska Dagbladet 2008). That would have been a serious blow to the whole idea of devolution and regional integration of policies.
The present government (elected in 2006) is divided and has kept a low profile. First it asked the regions to propose how they could merge into larger regions, which started heated regional debates on whom to partner with. A coordinator was appointed to help filing applications before the end of 2008, to be processed before the elections in September 2010. Then the government decided that two small regions would be preserved as they are, taking them out of the discussions. Meanwhile, the various ministries pursued their own agendas, including the surprising suggestion to partly amalgamate the county administrative boards nationally, to have specialized functions placed in different regions. Specialization may bring savings, but it is rather odd to divide up a body designed for regional integration into little silos placed in different regions.
The proponents of a more integrated public sector (dominated by the regional development section of the Ministry of Enterprise) found a new way to pursue its agenda, through an experiment in 2007-09. More than twenty agencies were grouped thematically at the national level, to coordinate their implementation of policies related to innovation, skills development and transport, in order to provide better support for regional development. From an analytical perspective, this was an interesting attempt to meet the regional demand for a more coherent national government. In the end it was not strong enough to integrate the ministerial silos (“iron triangles”), even though it was part of the national strategy for implementation of the structural funds. Ironically, the government decided, before the experiment was over, to merge the four large agencies for transport (roads, railroads, air and sea transport), choosing formal integration over informal. How this will affect the operations at the regional level and integration with other organizations remains to be seen.
As far as the proposals by the parliamentary commission are concerned, the government has applied a tactic of postponing difficult issues until after the upcoming elections. It appointed a commissioner in 2009 to review the regional branches of the national agencies with the purpose of making the regional operations by the central government more coherent. He will report in December 2012, after the 2010 elections but before the 2014 elections. Originally, the mission had five main parts:
- to suggest a coherent regional structure for the national government (agencies and county administrative boards)
- to investigate whether increased coordination across levels would be beneficial (i.e. with regional and local governments)
- to prepare a new set of regions (names and capitals for new counties) if regional governments (county councils) want to amalgamate
- to prepare a legal framework for the processes of amalgamation
- to suggest revisions in the system of redistributive payments, as a consequence
In the instruction, the government stated a number of principles:
- The regional operations of the national government must be more coherent. The present diversity, where each agency designs its own regions and very few follow the counties boundaries, makes it difficult for local and regional governments to collaborate with the agencies
- amalgamated regional governments will have devolved powers similar to the experiments (in Skåne and Västra Götaland)
- further devolution is not on the agenda.
Later, the commissioner was also asked to comment on (future) proposed new regions and, if he agreed, prepare financial settlements between affected regional governments. What was originally a very passive role for the commissioner now changed into an active role in the negotiations as the commissioner was given a mandate to negotiate with all the regional governments. The need for such a role was seen in the problems with some of the applications for amalgamation so far. The government, in other words, gave hints on what it expected and introduced a new player in the game.
In essence, the regional issue is now primarily about how to draw new boundaries, rather than a discussion of what the regional governments should do or even why. The government will let regional actors (within certain limits) negotiate their own fate. The role of the commissioner can be interpreted as preparing an independent view of what would be best for the national government, while the regional actors take the lead role. Creating amalgamated regions is now very much up to the present providers of (mainly) health care, rather than a principled analysis from a distance.
Our ambition is to understand where these entangled processes will lead, especially the regional negotiations to form amalgamated regions. The other issues live in the background and will eventually come back to the surface when the discussion of devolution and/or integration of policy sectors are reopened.
4. The first interpretation: games on two levels
The first institutional perspective on the struggles over the role of the regions in Sweden highlights the various games that are going on. There are at least two games at the central level and several games within and around each region (with the possible exception of the two regions the government has accepted already). Here the focus is on who the actors are, what their preferences are and how the situation is structured.
Traditionally one would expect a fight between political parties but, as indicated above, there are many fractions involved. Divisions cut through the parties, where the former prime minister apparently hoped for a cross-party alliance against the regional governments. The strategy failed when the commission chairman began to see devolution as the preferred way to make the public sector coherent (in spite of being a prefect himself).
One possible key to understanding recent events is the role of the Center party, which is strongly pro-decentralization and even has talked about turning Sweden into a federal country. The experiments in the 90s were enacted when the Social democrats depended on the Center party in parliament. Now the Center party is in the ruling government but bound by compromises in the Alliance of four parties, dominated by a much more hesitant conservative prime minister.
Another game is played within the top levels of the civil service, where different parts of the public sector are defending their interests behind the scenes, constituting what is variously referred to as “iron triangles”, policy networks or epistemic communities. The Swedish cabinet can only make decisions by consensus - a very important “institution” to understand Swedish politics - which gives each ministry the right to veto any suggestions they don’t approve of. One example of the fragmentation this can lead to is the position of the labor market board, which aims for (national) control of its instruments and is generally supported by the big unions and several economists. Ministers of Labor have tended to keep other interests at a distance, either to defend the labor market board or to reform it, as with the present government. Traditionally, the labor market board was seen as a key spending instrument for the Social democrats’ hold on power, but the experiments in the 80s and 90s indicate that there were internal critics too. In either case, integration and decentralization are secondary or even contradictory concerns for this Ministry. An amalgamation of the Ministries of Labor and Enterprise (and Transport) didn’t change this situation and has been reversed. It was most likely an attempt to disarm one or several policy networks.
In the discussion of regional policy it should be noted that it involves several ministries. The question of devolution is “owned” by the Ministry of Finance, which has a section on the structure of the public sector, including local and regional governments as well as the prefectures. The specific policies are owned by their respective ministries like health care (Social affairs) and transport (Enterprise). The regional development issues are owned by a section of the Ministry of Enterprise, linking development strongly but not exclusively to business development. They oversee the regional planning processes conducted by the lead organization for regional development in each region. Finally, one should add the section for economic policy of the Ministry of Finance, which owns macroeconomic policy and tends to be skeptical towards regional development policy and support for individual business in general. An example of the influence of this section of the ministry was that the Swedish government tried to opt out of the structural funds, saying that they should only be for the newer member states of the EU. Any new policies will have to be accepted by all ministries or imposed by the prime minister (acting on behalf of the leaders of the four-party coalition). This can explain the odd experiment of 2007-09 as the only feasible option available. It is even more interesting as it involves a change of government. It was negotiated as related to the national strategy for the structural funds, by the regional development unit, for a junior minister (Social democrat). After lots of delay, it was enacted by the new minister who is also deputy prime minister (Center party).
Another way for ministries to influence issues like devolution is through the flow of other issues that are on the agenda at the same time (with or without intention). Over the last two decades, economic development of firms and regions has been high on the agenda, which favors devolution and regional integration of policies. Opponents of devolution have talked about welfare and the risk of unequal treatment across the country if regions get more influence. There has also been a heavy debate on health care, saying that either privatization or nationalization would stand a better chance to restructure and save costs, which hits at the elected regional governments as providers of health care. The latter linkages tend to work against the regions while the first work in favor of a stronger role for the regions.
The amalgamation of agencies for transport is a very relevant issue for the regions, but seems unrelated to regional policy, in spite of being put forward by the same ministry (Enterprise) and the same party (Center party). There have furthermore been attempts to open up discussions on democracy, by commissions on democracy and on the role of public agencies, but they have not been very influential. Neither have they worked through their issues to come up with large-scale solutions like the parliamentary commission on the public sector did (Demokratiutredningen 2000, 2006 års förvaltningskommitté 2007).
What is most interesting at the national level is that this government and the previous one have turned the issues away over the elections, by means of commissions and turning it over to regional negotiations. Both are indications of a desire not to risk upsetting vested interests or the citizens, i.e. to avoid losing face before the elections. Regional policy doesn’t seem to be a topic for winning elections.
Setting up the parliamentary commission was itself an important move by the previous government. There was a need to prepare a decision on the experiments in two regions, but the commission was given a much greater scope. As mentioned, the prime minister in 2003 has later indicated that he was looking for an end of the experiment and even the abolishment of the regional governments. Health care was (is) under tremendous pressure and the conservative party has argued for twenty years that the county councils should be abolished and a level of taxation taken away. It takes little imagination to think that a conservative chairman (a prefect) was chosen by the prime minister (a Social democrat) to do the job for him.
After delivery of the report, the initiative went over to the newly elected government. Its major decision was to abstain from having an opinion, leaving it up to the regional actors to come up with solutions. One of the main arguments was that the government wanted to avoid endless battles on how to draw new boundaries, an issue which was thought to produce many losers and, hence, something to be avoided in order to win the next elections. This set-up was an important move (a non-decision on substance) by the government. It abdicated on this issue and opened for a regional game of friendsmaking.
Leaders of the conservative party said that there was no demand from the people for devolution or the amalgamation of regions, and that these issues were only in the interest of local and regional elites. The government instead has focused its energy on fighting unemployment and social exclusion in general, with an emphasis on stronger incentives for work in the various public support systems, an agenda much in line with macroeconomic thinking by former president Clinton and various other European governments. The focus is on reforming individual agencies like the labor market board and the social security administration, rather than collaboration to deal with overlapping problems. Such collaboration regionally and locally has been very common and partly overlapping with the collaboration on economic development, where better use of public resources for skills development etc has been a main goal. A large number of joint projects are now funded by the EU Social fund in Sweden. Here, Norway is a contrast with its merger of the equivalent agencies, combined with a strong involvement of the local governments in the so called NAV-reform. The role of the regions is in this perspective secondary, though there are many pro-regional statements in the policies on economic development (Ministry of Enterprise).
It is important to add that the new government won the elections in 2006 partly through triangulation, using traditional slogans of the left and claiming to be better at providing jobs and economic growth than the Social democrats. It is very likely that the regional issue was put aside both because of differences of opinion and in order to focus on other issues where the alliance has a greater chance to win the next elections. If the latter is the case, then the issue may be reopened if the government is reelected and circumstances change.
Turning the issue of creating larger and stronger regions over to the regions themselves transforms it into a game of bargaining to find workable alliances. A decision to delegate issues can be explained, like other decentralization, in terms of blame-avoidance at the center (Pierson 1994). It is in the self-interest of central governments to maintain power over matters but delegate difficult decisions, especially cut-backs, to lower levels.
Obviously, there is a risk for suboptimal outcomes in these regional negotiations, creating lock-ins where regional actors settle on something which makes sense to themselves under the circumstances but where other solutions would be better from a bigger perspective. However, the regional actors are making their decisions “in the shadow of the state”, knowing that in the end it is the government which makes proposals to the parliament. So far, the government has given hints, including the rejection of some applications and acceptance of others (after hearing recommendations by the agency which handles issues of boundary change).
The government plays the role of arbiter but, as the appointment of the recent commissioner suggests, the national government has its own interests too. The ministries have in effect agreed, in the instruction to the commissioner, to ask for more coherent regions. They may also have opinions on what that means in practice, even though the commissioner is asked to figure that out. As the instruction reads, this can have to do with regional boundaries as well as with the allocation of tasks, which could open a discussion of consequences on costs and potential savings.
The individual regions have different interests due to such things as their regional economies and their position in the system of health care. Some regions have large hospitals and depend on patients from other regions, while other regions can sit back and hope to be free riders when such regions make big investments. The system of health care is based on voluntary agreements by the regional governments (county councils), though with some carrots and sticks by the national government. Negotiations can turn into a game of “Prisoners’ Dilemma” (if both parties gain in the short run by not cooperating) or “Chicken” (where unilateral defection is rewarded). Unfortunately, the two regions which the government accepted are without large hospitals and, hence, possible free riders of the health care system, placing a greater burden on other regions.
These comments are based on the logic of the health care system but, as noted above, there are other issues and logics at play too. Economic development issues are much more related to the composition of the regional business sector, which produces a different set of strong and weak partners in the dating game. Some are close to metropolitan areas whereas other regions find it difficult to choose partners for long-term economic development (not to mention the possible conflict between the implications of the different logics). The contents of the regional negotiations will be discussed further below.
It is obvious that the solutions depend on the set of issues to solve. Health care is taken for given as part of the solution but, at least in theory, the national government could opt for other health care providers and build regions around other policies. Many think that such regional governments would be too narrow to make up a level of the public sector with their own taxes, but the Norwegian experience suggests that regions in the Scandinavian model can survive such a change. The Danes have gone in the other direction, focusing on health care by taking away regional development issues from their regional governments.
To summarize, rational choice institutionalism helps us see the games that are going on. These games are very much – but not exclusively - about power and money, where self-interest tends to dominate. Further analysis of these games can help us see solutions and barriers to solutions. The key lesson is perhaps that non-regional perspectives are present in many parties and ministries, to the extent that they now dominate national politics. They seem to be based on a macroeconomic thinking where regions are irrelevant. For devolution to come back on the agenda, a new coalition of interests based on other theories is needed.
5. The second interpretation: competing logics
Sociological institutionalism can help us understand the negotiations which go on at the regional level and at the national level. In particular it can provide a broader view of how the actors make up their minds when several issues are at stake, when their “logics” come into conflict. The situation is similar to the famous analogy with a garbage can, where streams of problems and solution flow around and get connected by politicians in a short-term perspective, avoiding principled long-term perspectives on the issues at hand.
In our case this is highly relevant as there are many issues discussed at once. There are several issues involved for the regional governments, each with their own sub-bureaucracies for health care, regional development etc, but for the top level of regional politicians it is very much an open question of which issues to prioritize. There are several perspectives on what would be reasonable future regions. Each perspective has its own logic of what is the best thing to do.
Health care is the backbone of the elected regions, with something of a built-in logic in the relationships established within health care, a “health care regional logic”. This has primarily to do with who have the big hospitals and who provide patients, as mentioned above. Patterns of collaboration are different in the area of regional economic development, which is operating according to another “regional logic”. A general interest is to create alliances which make sense from an economic perspective, supporting future growth areas around big cities or airports etc. The regional governments work with transport and have a need to connect their mid-range services with national and local services. The need for public transport is endless and the area is riddled with conflict over priorities, in regions, between regions and between means of transportation. A holistic view on transport is easier said than done.
We see these conflicting logics at work in many regions. One example is Östergötland, where Linköping is situated, which is in an alliance for health care with its southern neighbors but sees its economic development in a northern direction, related to Stockholm. There are indications that representatives of the regional government (county council) say different things in discussions of health care and within the indirectly elected assembly which has the leadership role in regional development issues under the post-2002 model of devolution (Hedvall & Vestin, forthcoming). This is in line with the sociological perspective which brings attention to inconsistencies and de-coupling of issues in an organization, which is rational (!) until an overall decision is made. What we are witnessing is the process of forming an identity in the county council.
It is even worse in the Uppsala region, which is economically integrated with the Stockholm region in terms of its labor market, but has a strong desire to avoid an alliance in health care with Stockholm, believing that in the long run there can’t be two major university hospitals so close to each other. The desire to protect the hospital and the medical school of Uppsala University is a strong driver for an alliance with the weaker regions to the north and west. Here, health care won over economic development, or, to put it differently, the regional interest won over a national interest to integrate the economy of the metropolitan region (OECD 2006) and, possibly, to have a new structure in health care. A pragmatic solution is now to work within each industry to integrate the economies, for example in the alliance to develop life sciences in the Stockholm-Uppsala area.
The national agencies and their ministries have other needs which can be described as a third kind of “regional logic”. As indicated, the agencies have adopted a variety of regional divisions, often dividing the country into fewer and bigger regions than the 21 counties. One of the arguments for making “6-8 regions”, as the parliamentary commission suggested, is that such a number seems reasonable to most agencies as well as for health care and regional development purposes. For those who desire regional integration of the public sector, it would be of great value to have a set of regions which the central government can connect to. However, there may be great differences of opinion in the design of the regions across the ministries and vis-à-vis the regions, as in the example of health care and economic integration in the Stockholm metropolitan area.
To some extent the EU is operating with a fourth “regional logic”, the NUTS2-regions used for statistical purposes and for the structural funds. These are generally not seen as regions at all, but over time the partnerships created for the structural funds may produce loyalties and open up for new possible alliances. When everything else is messy they may provide a focal point for Swedish decision-makers.
In sociological institutionalism, national and regional actors are not necessarily motivated by self-interest, but also by new ideas and what others regard as legitimate. To some extent it is rational to do what others do (“go with the flow”) instead of making a complex calculus of interests. This can explain why concepts such as “new regionalism” are adopted rapidly in many different countries. It points to the importance of first-movers among the regions, the trend-setters which others follow. If one region takes a new course of action, it will be easier for others to follow. This is often how new policy tools spread across the country, but we haven’t seen any obvious leaders in how to handle the negotiations among the regions.
This type of analysis can also explain some of the actions in the past, such as why regional governments moved into the area of regional development at all. One reason may be that a diversification of tasks could reestablish the legitimacy/status of the regional governments when health care was (is) under attack. Their interest in regional development may have helped in adopting the “new regionalism”, as well as the reverse, that the new paradigm gave increased support for the role of regional actors. The new paradigm itself may be a result of the rise of economic geographers into a new “epistemic community” with a set of ideas in opposition to the epistemic community of macroeconomists. An epistemic community is a group of actors who think alike, usually based on some scientific school of thought. Furthermore, there was inspiration from the German case, when membership of the EU made German states a role-model for Swedish regions. The German states are envied for their broad mandate. The regional governments in Sweden are more restricted in scope than the German states, but have easier access to funding by raising their own taxes.
The point, according to sociological institutionalism, is that policy learning in this fashion can mean that certain details are picked up while differences in context are ignored. Such picking up of international concepts may in worst cases lead to the adoption of easy elements of these concepts while retaining contradictory policies in other areas. “New regionalism” may in practice mean different things in different countries. Such a situation is in contrast to a more rationalistic conception of politics, where actors are expected to be rational and take the context into careful consideration, adapting the new paradigm to the particulars of the individual country or region.
The regional issue itself is an example of changing expectations. In growth policy, regions are now seen as the natural arena. International economic geographers preach that economic development has a regional logic, that the best scale to handle business development is above the local level but below the national level (no matter how large or small the nation is). In more elaborate versions, there is an acknowledgement that some issues are better decided at the national level, such as how many biotech-clusters the public sector should invest in. In a parallel debate, some are saying that the national government should not have funded a university in each county, i.e. that national politicians can also be weak in prioritizing limited funds.
A final area where sociological institutionalism can be helpful is in the analysis of norms, especially the conceptions of democracy involved. It seems that actors have different views of what democracy is or should be, and that the vague discussion of democracy in the regions would benefit from making these conceptions explicit.
Devolution is partly driven by a desire to have self-rule at the regional level, which is very different from the conception of democracy which was dominant in Sweden after WWII, and probably still is. That view focused on the role of the dominant party in parliament (“the sovereign will of the people”), to take action and be held responsible. In this view, only the ruling elite can guarantee coherence and capacity for action. Other levels and agencies can have some room to adapt implementation to the specific context, but not more.
Many agree that a change of leadership from appointed prefects to elected politicians makes sense, but there is less agreement on how far to go. The regional development agendas tend to be agreed by all parties; can there be more politics at the regional level and should there? Would it be better if more legislative powers were devolved or would that lead to careless spending by the regions? Would amalgamated regions have more interesting political debates? What happens if voters ignore the regional level? Here Sweden may benefit from comparisons with federal countries with more pluralistic conceptions of democracy.
Similar debates take place on the future development of the EU, whether more politics is better or not. Simon Hix argues that the EU would benefit from a more open discussion of majorities and minorities, which are in fact already present in the European parliament, commission and council (Hix 2008). Opponents answer that people will not be interested in another set of politics, so the idea wouldn’t work. This is not exactly the situation of the Swedish regions, but there is a similarity in the search for a better working democracy at several levels simultaneously.
In practice there is a third conception of democracy already in place, a model where bargaining behind closed doors, for example in partnerships, is preferred over public debates. This is a very pragmatic (American?) way of looking at the operation of the public sector. Organized interests in the Swedish regions are invited to summits where they can contribute to the agenda. Also, many partners in the partnerships are agencies acting through civil servants on behalf of the national government, giving rise to a case of “politics without politicians” in the partnerships. The coordination of the partnerships seems to work better (from the agencies’ point of view) if elected politicians provide leadership rather than the prefect who is himself a civil servant (Statskontoret 2004b, Niklasson 2005).
One implication of the variety of perspectives on democracy is that these norms may support particular solutions or block them, for example with the partnership model of integration, which is often seen as efficient but “undemocratic” (unswedish!). The traditional view of the central role of the dominating party is challenged, but no new consensus has emerged. It is a meta-debate on a level above the daily issues and something that many actors are excluded from participating in. “Democracy” is a topic for the parties and independent thinkers, perhaps for the national government and only partly for the regional governments. Agencies have very little legitimacy in voicing opinions on conceptions of democracy.
To summarize, sociological institutionalism helps us pay attention to the complexity of the competing “logics” and how the “games” may be perceived differently. This is very relevant when the design of the structure is delegated to 21 individual regions. The perspective also helps us see the impact of trends and paradigms, that sometimes new ideas are accepted very quickly and sometimes refused for very long. Finally, norms about democracy are potentially very important and the complexity seems to increase, perhaps in something like contradictions to a dominant paradigm which is still holding on.
6. The third interpretation: paths determine outcomes
Finally, historical institutionalism directs our attention to paths. One path-creating event is the government’s decision to turn the issue over to the regional actors, which may lead to outcomes the national government doesn’t like. Appointing first a coordinator and then a commissioner indicates a desire to have an impact on the regional processes, while letting the regions take full responsibility for the outcomes and any public outcries they may result in.
Bargaining in the regions varies because of differences in the background conditions, which is another case of paths determining outcomes. As mentioned, some regions have large hospitals and need patients from other regions. Other regions may want to turn elsewhere or even free ride on larger regions. Some regions have large metropolitan areas which provide regional centers. Other regions lack such centers and find it much harder to place themselves under the influence of a particular center. In one case, two cities are marketing themselves as the fourth metropolitan region, which is a way to create a new metropolitan region. To some extent, these identities have been formed over long periods of time, starting when business was more local and the population more rural. A point of historical institutionalism would be to say that Sweden is stuck in an old-fashioned regional structure, unfit to meet the demands on state capacity made by increasing globalization. This could be used for, as well as against, a larger role for the regions.
A more recent choice of path is in the experiments in devolution. A majority of the regions have opted for the indirectly elected regional government, which was the only option available to them. Hence, the situation now is not the same as in 1995 or 2002, when local governments became involved on a large scale. This may have an impact on the regional bargaining processes where a continued influence will be demanded by the local governments, implying that amalgamated regions need to have a stronger link between local and regional levels than the informal links in the two regions where the regional government has devolved powers, designed in the 1990s.
A very interesting case of path dependence is the decision by the regional government in Värmland to merge with its counterpart in the much bigger region of Västra Götaland. One driving force may be the desire to merge with a regional government which already has devolved powers and thereby take a fast track to devolved powers in Värmland too. The government didn’t approve of this proposed amalgamated region, but the story of how the decision was made is very interesting. Basically, successive events led to the elimination of all alternative strategies for Värmland, giving the regional government only one option if it wanted to apply to the government before the end of 2008. It is not obvious that this option was the best; hence, the procedure rather than the contents determined the outcome (von Zedtwitz-Liebenstein 2009).
Coming back to the national level, the government is on a slow path to devolution. Driving forces are the EU, the new regionalism, regional politicians and, not least, the perception of success in the devolved regions. The speed is slowed down by other coalitions pushing in other directions, favoring conformity and national control. The new government chose a high profile strategy against unemployment , after an innovation in the parliamentary arena. In business terminology, a challenger exploited a weak spot of the previous government, which gave politics a new direction. This could be labeled a formative event, though of a negative kind for devolution. The question for the future is if there will be counteracting events or if the friends of the regions will be able to restate their case and be part of the new dominant perspective.
The policies of the present government have tended to have negative side-effects for the regions. The focus on the labor market board was not based on hostility towards regional integration, but rather on a desire to control the instruments that are important from an economist’s perspective. On the other hand, devolution seems to be a frightening topic to the present government, mainly due to the potential conflict it may let loose (assuming that regional and local politicians will not create conflicts). Centralization is generally desired by the government as a means for reform of various policies such as introducing private providers for welfare services, forcing local governments to open up for competition. Furthermore, the government has also desired to separate more clearly the roles of politicians and civil servants, criticizing agencies for telling politicians what to do. If there is a general pattern in this, it is of reducing complexity to make the public sector more governable from the center. This is a rational strategy in a majoritarian parliamentary system, where a government may not sit very long. This implies that more complex patterns of governance are the product of longer lasting governments and/or a greater influence by the civil servants over time (i.e. the bureaucracy suggesting policies to the government rather than the other way around). Hence, the logic of a top-down type of democracy reinforces itself.
To summarize, historical institutionalism highlights what has been mentioned before, that the individual regions are to some extent in very different situations. Their experiences have the effect of opening and closing doors, just as they do on the national arena. An implication is perhaps that it is best for the sake of regional integration of policies to adjust strategies and build on whatever building blocks there are. This is one part of the strategy of triangulation, applied by many successful politicians, i.e. to avoid grand visions and focus on the short-term tactics.
7. Where will the contradictory policies lead?
The perspectives help us see what goes on at the national and the regional levels. Rational choice institutionalism helps us see the games that are going on. A number of conflicts are present at the national level, often biased against regional solutions. Regional games are nested with the national games and vary across the country. Sociological institutionalism helps us pay attention to the complexity of the competing “logics” and how the “games” may be perceived differently. The last point means that games are not everything. Norms and “going with the flow” of other events may have a great impact on how the situations unfold. Historical institutionalism creates a bridge between the other institutionalisms, pointing to the sequence of events, how one event has an impact on the next. Only in rare circumstances do these paths change direction.
A paradox is that the parliamentary commission suggested solutions to the organizational dilemmas that would have moved in a pro-regional direction, while the prime ministers before and after seem to have preferred the opposite. Both indicate a desire, but not necessarily an ability, to restructure an ongoing process of political developments. With the previous prime minister it was a desire not known to many others. With the present prime minister it is part of the strategy for reform by a new government. None of the institutionalisms direct their attention to such forces of change. Historical institutionalism comes closest by acknowledging that there are formative events, but it has no elaborate theory to predict these or to catch the role of strong and innovative leaders. Hence, the three institutionalisms are better at explaining continuity than change.
To speculate on the future, the choice of government in September is important but still difficult to see the implications of. So far, the left of center opposition seems more interested in policy integration than the present government. The social democrats have a new leader which may mean that there is more support for the regional governments. A new leader could also be an opportunity to take radical action, in whatever direction.
If the present government is reelected the most important thing is how the conservatives perceive the issues. Now it is dominated by macroeconomic thinking, but there is a minority opinion in favor of decentralization, at least to local governments. It is unlikely that the alliance will change its rhetoric, but it depends on what the Center party gets in a package deal. Most likely, the government will continue to use its energy on jobs and breaking social exclusion by means of changing incentives (not by expanding and/or integrating programs). Other issues are likely to change only in small steps, perhaps creating a new region or two but not changing very much else.
For the long-term future, one may wonder if the EU will have a further impact. Are we perhaps witnessing the last battle by a national government before it is reduced to a level in a European system of multilevel governance? Or will such a European system conserve whatever governance structure is in place in the member states?
From a pro-regional perspective one may wonder what it takes to change from a top-down conception of democracy to a bottom-up conception. Decentralization has previously been driven to some extent by a problem of overload at the top, i.e. as a pragmatic solution. A more principled case would be that self-rule is better than rule by elites, or that variety and experiments are better than conformism. Such values were accepted around 1990, but later rhetoric has emphasized conformity, mainly to make cutbacks and reforms acceptable. A stronger economy may open for new strategies and rhetoric, whoever wins the upcoming election.
FORMING A REGIONAL POLICY IN SWEDEN: WHERE WILL THE CONTRADICTORY POLICIES LEAD?
devolution, decentralization, European Union, regional policy, Sweden.
The future role of the regions is a contested issue in Sweden, in spite of more than a decade of experiments and innovative solutions. Images of a regionalized future are formed and visions are competing behind the scenes. A national commission suggested a regional model for all of Sweden and further devolution of policy to the new regions. However, the government made few changes to the present situation and has postponed many issues until after the upcoming election in September. But the issue of designing regions in Sweden is not just a political question for the parties. It is also an area where actors form strategies and external events have an impact. Various problems and solutions are floating around in something resembling a garbage can. We can see several interrelated issues being discussed, such as how bigger regions can be formed, how national agencies can relate to new regions and to what extent local governments should work out new roles within larger regions. Demography and other challenges put pressures on all levels to rethink roles and responsibilities. Hence, the future development of the regions in Sweden is at a stage where the issue is being framed and coalitions are formed, partly through debate and partly through the rivalry of the various perspectives. It is a situation which can be described through theoretical lenses such as the three “institutionalisms”. Sociological institutionalism focuses on the creation of meaning, how joint understandings are formed. Historical institutionalism highlights the importance of paths, how previous choices restrict the current situation. Rational choice institutionalism can add an understanding of the setting where issues are made. These perspectives help us understand what will be important when regional and national actor finally make up their minds.
The future role of the regions is a contested issue in Sweden, in spite of more than a decade of experiments and innovative solutions. Images of a regionalized future are formed and visions are competing behind the scenes. A national commission suggested a regional model for all of Sweden and further devolution of policy to the new regions. However, the government made few changes to the present situation and has postponed many issues until after the upcoming election in September. But the issue of designing regions in Sweden is not just a political question for the parties. It is also an area where actors form strategies and external events have an impact. Various problems and solutions are floating around in something resembling a garbage can. We can see several interrelated issues being discussed, such as how bigger regions can be formed, how national agencies can relate to new regions and to what extent local governments should work out new roles within larger regions. Demography and other challenges put pressures on all levels to rethink roles and responsibilities.
Hence, the future development of the regions in Sweden is at a stage where the issue is being framed and coalitions are formed, partly through debate and partly through the rivalry of the various perspectives. It is a situation which can be described through theoretical lenses such as the three “institutionalisms”. Sociological institutionalism focuses on the creation of meaning, how joint understandings are formed. Historical institutionalism highlights the importance of paths, how previous choices restrict the current situation. Rational choice institutionalism can add an understanding of the setting where issues are made. These perspectives help us understand what will be important when regional and national actor finally make up their minds.
Муниципальная экономика и управление.
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