Where did the Bureaucrats Go? Role and Influence of the Public Bureaucracy in the Swedish and French pension reform debate

Patrik Marier (2005)
Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 18(4): 521-544.


This article has two key objectives. First, despite having been considered as a key element to favor the expansion and elaboration of the welfare state in industrial countries, bureaucrats have been largely ignored by the “New” Politics of the Welfare State. This article demonstrates that bureaucrats still matter in times of retrenchment, because they can facilitate or obstruct various phases of the policy process. The degree of independence of the bureaucracy vis-à-vis the government, the government’s level of dependency  and  trust  on  public  expertise, the locus of ministerial power, and political deadlocks contribute to either accentuate or decrease the influence of the bureaucracy in the retrenchment of social policies. Second, these elements are analyzed via a comparison of the pension reform processes in France and Sweden. This article argues that the French bureaucracy, despite its high degree of centralization and powers, has been far less successful than its Swedish counterpart. The Swedish institutional structure, the predominance of social ministries in pension affairs, and the trust given to an independent agency account for this puzzling outcome.