Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Governing by Commission: A Way to More Effective Governance or a Loss of Democratic Accountability?

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Governing by Commission: A Way to More Effective Governance or a Loss of Democratic Accountability?

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The different forms of political advice, its relevance for the decision-making process, and its normative implications have gained widespread academic attention. In Germany, this discussion has been particularly stimulated by the first and second German government led by Gerhard Schroder. Think tanks not being as common and as influential as in other countries like the United States, other institutionalized forms of permanent and temporal political consultancy have fostered the debate on the role political advice can and should play. Especially non-permanent commissions installed by the government as an instrument to prepare political decisions and/or to negotiate policies with private actors have become popular and raise questions concerning their practical relevance and their effect on the legitimacy of the democratic decision-making process. Schroder's so-called Council-Republic ('Rate-Republik') has been seen either as a means to come to a broad societal consensus to allow for necessary fundamental reforms (Steinmeier 2001) or as a threat to parliamentary democracy and the principle of political accountability (Papier 2003).

The use of commissions as a means of governing can also be discussed under the question of the implications of a changing role of the state often marked by the term of "Governance" (Benz 2004: 14). As the research on the many different bodies providing political advice or serving to prepare political decisions has not agreed on one coherent typology so far, I will, firstly, outline a typology of commissions. Secondly, I will present empirical findings which provide an answer to the question under which conditions and to what extent commissions have relevant influence on the decision-making process. Finally, I will discuss the effect of commissions on the legislative process in the light of different theories of democracy.

2 A Typology of Commissions

Neither governmental commissions nor other informal forms of institutionalized political advice or negotiations between the government, the governing majority in parliament, the opposition, and private actors are new phenomena or peculiar to the German political system. Corporatist negotiations between the state and interest groups have been taking place for decades. But the composition of the individual commissions and the reason for their existence differ. As a result, the scientific research has come up with various classifications based on the formal status (Gross 1999; Unkelbach 2001) or on a set of criteria which includes the permanent or non-permanent character, the mandate and the composition (Siefken 2006: 560). Other authors concentrate on the structure, the mode of arguing and the type of policy the respective commission deals with (Sebaldt 2004: 190).

The following typology of commissions is based on the role of commissions within the constitutional framework and their composition because applying these criteria we come to a differentiation adequate for the following normative discussion of the effect of commissions on the input-and the output-dimension of democratic legitimacy (Schmidt 2003). The typology only includes commissions that are formed by the government and in which actors from outside the government participate, be it from the private sector or public sectors outside the government (Blumenthal 2003: 9-10). It concentrates on temporary commissions that are created for a certain purpose. Permanent commissions do exist in a broad range of political fields but their effect on the political process is often less obvious because they act as purely advisory bodies. Their creation follows different rules and aims, their character is often less political. Therefore, they do not raise the same normative questions as do the non-permanent commissions discussed in this paper. The same is true for expert commissions called into being by the parliament because they remain under parliamentary control. …

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