Academic journal article German Policy Studies

The Long Shadow of Corporatism: Scope and Limits of Think Tank Activities in Austria

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

The Long Shadow of Corporatism: Scope and Limits of Think Tank Activities in Austria

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the bulk of the literature on corporatism Austria, together with the Nordic countries, has been ranking at the top of the various scales (cf. the overview by Dell'Aringa and Lodovici 1992; Molina and Rhodes 2002). Some twenty years ago, Lehmbruch and Schmitter stated "strong reasons to place Austria first on the scale of neocorporatism, since it ranks high on all relevant dimensions" (1982: p. 16). In a more recent study by Siaroff (1999: p. 198), covering 24 democracies, Austria achieved the maximum of 5.000 scores (followed by Sweden and Norway with 4.625 each). Indeed, a couple of factors back and support the effectiveness of corporatist arrangements in Austria: a small number of labour and employer organisations holding a monopoly in representing their respective socio-economic groups; a high degree of organisational concentration and centralisation; a high degree of autonomy of the elites from the rank-and-file; coordination and control of sectoral collective bargaining by the national peak organisations; inter-organisational networks of interest representation allowing for stable and calculable political exchange (Karlhofer, 2006). Although some of these properties have been challenged in recent years, they still provide the basis for cooperative relations between the actors involved in socio-economic affairs.

Given the strong role the labour market parties play in Austrian industrial relations, we can assume that, with regard to socio-economic issues, they also exert some control over the provision of policy advice to political decision-makers. The question that arises is to what extent a weakening of corporatist policy-making structures (what is, albeit to a lesser extent, the case in Austria, as elsewhere) has an effect on the government's openness to the advice provided by associations, too. And, furthermore, are there newly emerging, independent think tanks which manage to bridge the gap that has opened up with the--more or less enforced--retreat of corporatist actors?

Addressing these questions this article proceeds in three stages. Section one provides an overview over the growing number of think tanks in Austria, hereby distinguishing between academic think tanks, contract researchers, advocacy think tanks, and political party think tanks. The second section deals with the nature of corporatist policy advice restricting the access of "independent" think tanks to policy-making processes in social and economic questions. In section three the broader context of the recent changes in the relevance of corporatist decision-making for the legislative process, and the scope and limits for "independent" think tank activities resulting from this, are discussed.

1. The landscape of think tanks: expansion of independent think tanks

In a recent comparative study on think tanks in Europe (Boucher, 2004), Austria stands, somehow surprising, in the forefront: It ranks third with regard to the number of think tanks and the total number of staff (behind Germany and Great Britain), and even second (behind Germany) with the total number of researchers (Table 1). The study quoted here focuses on think tanks with an explicit European orientation concerning research and commitment. Yet, given the author's own definition of think tanks(1), the coverage for Austria (11 think tanks)(2) is incomplete, and must be supplemented.(3)

In the following (the list is not exhaustive as well), the Austrian landscape of think tanks is described based on the typology provided by Weaver and Stares (2001: pp. 14-16) who distinguish four types: (1) academic think tanks, (2) contract researchers, (3) advocacy think tanks, and (4) political party think tanks.(4)

(1) Academic Think Tanks.

Such as in Germany and Switzerland (see the respective contributions in this volume), most institutions are academic think thinks. Most prominent are the leading economic research institutes IHS (Institut fur hOhere Studien--Institute for Advanced Studies) and WIFO (Osterreichisches Institut fur Wirtschaftsforschung-- Austrian Institute of Economic Research). …

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