From islands of excellence to state professionalisation: European integration and the management of bureaucratic elites in post-communist Europe

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Politics & International Relation


This research seeks to investigate the impact of European Union (EU) integration on the professionalisation of bureaucratic elites in post-communist Europe. The establishment of a professional and depoliticised civil service has been a precondition for the success of the 'dual transformation' (Bartlett 1997) from one party to multi-party democracy and from a state-planned to market economy. It was also a condition for EU accession of the new member-states from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) (Dimitrova 2010).

Despite its significance, the process towards depoliticisation in the region has been partially successful at best. On the one hand, it has been shown that the politicisation of the bureaucracy, in particular at the senior level, has persisted (Meyer-Sahling/Veen 2012). On the other hand, it has been argued that EU accession created clusters of exceptionally-skilled, non-partisan personnel, or 'islands of excellence' (Goetz 2001), with two possible consequences - sustained concentration in the institutions, most exposed to the EU, leading to state fragmentation, or spillage to the whole system, thereby increasing the professionalisation of the entire state administration.

However, the existence of such 'islands of excellence' or 'pockets of efficiency' (Bersch et al. 2017) has not yet been theoretically developed and empirically researched in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. This is especially true for the level of senior bureaucrats at the interface of politics and administration.

Based on a similar study of Hungary (Meyer-Sahling 2008) for the first ten years of post-communist transition, the research will conduct an in-depth analysis of appointments and dismissals of senior bureaucrats within governments, within ministries and over time in one crucial case, Bulgaria. A main objective of this project is the creation of a large dataset for the post-communist period, containing the biographical, demographic, professional and political information of the top two layers of civil service - secretaries-general and vice secretaries-general in various ministries. The dataset will permit an in-depth investigation at different points in time, as determined by varying degrees, policy domains and types of EU exposure in the individual ministries.

Consequently, the research has four main objectives:

(i) Develop hypotheses based on relevant bodies of literature on post-communist transformation, the politicisation of bureaucratic elites in Western democracies, the Europeanisation of public administration and the emergence of 'pockets of effectiveness' in developing country administrations, especially Latin America.

(ii) Build a dataset of senior bureaucrats in one Central and Eastern European country, Bulgaria, which will consist of appointees to the top two layers of civil service in all government ministries for the post-communist period, research and coding of their biographical information.

(iii) Map the patterns of appointment and dismissal, including modes of politicisation, selection, deselection and the demographic and professional features of senior bureaucrats.

(iv) Empirically test the hypotheses by evaluating the extent to which exposure to EU integration - different types, degrees, periods - shapes the selection and deselection of senior bureaucrats.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2271620 Studentship ES/P000711/1 30/09/2019 31/03/2024 Nora Leach