Department of Comparative Politics

What drives economic preferences of regional bureaucrats?

Comparative politics professor Michaël Tatham reveals new insights into decisions on the European recovery.

stock illustration
Illustration photo: www.colourbox.no

Main content

A UiB scholar is shining new light on why regional officials co-managing the European economic recovery make the decisions that they do.

In a recent article, political scientist Michaël Tatham examines the factors influencing regional officials’ attitudes toward the role of the free-market versus government regulation in the economic-recovery effort.

Tatham co-wrote the article with Michael W. Bauer of the German University of Administrative Sciences in Speyer.

Contextual factors most important
Tatham and Bauer conclude that contextual factors, such as a region’s quality of government and the severity of market failure it experienced, are more important than officials’ individual characteristics, such as age, education, or professional ambition.

Specifically, the authors found that officials were more likely to favour government regulation if their region was well-governed and was hit hard by the economic downturn.

“We expected that elites’ preferences towards economic governance would be mostly determined by their individual characteristics,” Tatham explains. “We were surprised to find regional-level variables to have such a strong impact.”

“What is interesting is that these contextual factors are robust to other environmental variables such as levels of regional authority or post-communist legacies. In a way, top-level regional civil servants seem to be quite responsive to their environment when considering different types of economic governance models.”

These findings provide new insights into efforts to grapple with the European economic crisis. These efforts have seen intense debates over the appropriate role of government versus the free market.

Regional actors’ views on economic policy
While scholars had previously focused on the views of national and supranational players, little attention had been paid to the European regional actors who increasingly play a key role in choosing and implementing economic-recovery strategies.

To learn more about the motivations of these actors, Tatham and Bauer asked 742 regional officials in 11 countries about their views on economic policy. They then analyzed the responses using fully Bayesian methods – specifically, random-intercept and random-slope models.

Tatham and Bauer’s article is entitled “The state, the economy and the regions: Theories of preference formation in times of crisis.” It was published in the October 2016 issue of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

JPART is the world’s top-ranked journal on public administration, with a five-year impact factor of 4.545. Published by Oxford Journals, it is the official journal of the Public Management Research Association.

At UiB, Tatham works on federalism and regions in the EU, public policy analysis, and theories of European integration. He teaches introductory and specialized courses at BA and MA levels on these topics.

He has previously published articles in Comparative Political Studies, International Studies Quarterly, the Journal of European Public Policy, European Union Politics, the European Political Science Review, the Journal of Public Policy, and Regional & Federal Studies.

His latest book entitled “With, Without, or Against the State? How European Regions Play the Brussels Game” was published this summer at Oxford University Press.

Tatham is also the co-chair of the Council for European Studies research network on “Territorial Politics and Federalism” (CES, Columbia University), co-editor of the journal Regional &Federal Studies (Taylor & Francis, Routledge) and of the book series on Comparative Territorial Politics (Palgrave Macmillan).

He graduated from the European University Institute, Florence (PhD) and the University of Oxford (MPhil), and was previous an assistant professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany.