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“Politicians are puppets in the hands of bureaucrats”. Discuss.

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"Politicians are puppets in the hands of bureaucrats". Discuss. Above mentioned quotation refers to the expansion of the modern state and the increasing complexity of governmental tasks, which has led to an increase of the importance of civil servants, whose task is no longer merely administrative but also political to the extent that their advice and expertise influences agenda-setting, policy-making as well as policy implementation- a development, which has been labelled "bureaucratisation of politics" or alternatively "politisation of bureaucracy". I will argue that the role of bureaucrats clearly does no longer perform a purely administrative role but do shape policy-making processes and thereby politicians decisions but their degree of influence seems to vary substantially across countries and that they do not seem to dominate over politicians and I will therefore reject the stated hypothesis. The following will present the scholarly debate notably the findings of E. Page, who argues that the political decision-making process tends to increasingly favour the bureaucratic point of view rather than the politicians' stance followed by G. Peters who claims that the bureaucratic degree of influence depends fundamentally on a number of aspects related to the topic at stake as well as organisational factors such as size, managerial skills and goals of the bureaucracy. Empirical research has shown that whilst there has been a general increase in bureaucratic political power, their potential degree of influence depends substantially on the state's legal and bureaucratic traditions ...read more.


One of the standard complaints about the civil service is that they are inefficient and bound up in many of the commonly cited managerial dysfunction of government. Even though acknowledging the bureaucratic power in the policy making process, Peters seems to suggest that there are severe limits of bureaucratic control and effectiveness, which tends to support ministerial leverage in the policy making process i.e. their choice of advisors and implementers of policies to the detriment of bureaucratic power. What seems to follow from both authors is that the traditional Wilsonian model describing politicians as policy-makers and bureaucrats as implementers is long out of date, which had also been proven in an empirical study undertaken by Aberbach and his colleagues in 1988, in which they found three alternatives to the traditional model. None of the alternatives depicted by Aberbach suggest that politicians have become the puppets of bureaucrats but recognise that politicians have become dependent on politicians in policy-making to the extent that even the traditional distinctions between the two have become blurred. Moreover, Page and Peters seem to disagree on the extent to which bureaucratic power has increased. While Page seems to support the idea of bureaucratic dominance, Peters affirms the idea political dominance in the policy making process as bureaucrats are constrained in a number of ways in their efficiency and effectiveness. ...read more.


and Scandinavian countries which indicates that legal and bureaucratic traditions do have repercussions on the structural conditions of bureaucratic political influence which can increase as well as weaken during the policy process. In light of these findings and given the politicians' superior role to bureaucrats in terms of democratic legitimacy, we do not have enough evidence to suggest that politicians are puppets in the hands of bureaucrats. To conclude, in an attempt to discuss above mentioned thesis stating the subordinate role of politicians to bureaucrats, which has been commonly termed "bureaucratisation of politics", I have shown the importance of bureaucrats in the political decision-making process by referring to the works of E. Page and G. Peters that agree on the bureaucratic weight and pressure in the policy-making process but would probably disagree over the question of whether politicians are subordinate to or dominated by bureaucratic power. In an effort to account for bureaucratic political influence, I have referred to a study undertaken by the OECD that classifies European countries into two broad categories opposing Continental European to Scandinavian/Anglo-Saxon ministerial bureaucracies. The study shows that bureaucratic political influence is more important in Continental Europe than in Anglo-Scandinavian countries. It is fair to say that legal and bureaucratic traditions in any particular state do affect bureaucratic political power positively as well as negatively leading to the conclusion that the hypothesis about the dominance of bureaucrats over politicians can not be maintained. ...read more.

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