Concertation, Unilateralism and the Pursuit of External Legitimation. Explaining Government Choice Under Acute Crisis Conditions

Ms. Arianna Tassinari

Under what conditions do governments of crisis-struck countries recur to formal and visible tripartite social concertation (e.g. social pacts) to implement crisis-responsive reforms, and when instead do they prefer to proceed unilaterally? In contrast to arguments which stress how the recent crisis corresponded to the death of social pacts across Europe, this paper shows that modes of governance of crisis-responsive adjustment have actually been more varied; and puts forward an original theoretical argument to account for the observed variation. Using case studies of Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy and drawing on 100 original interviews, the paper argues that under acute crisis conditions, government’s choice of whether or not to recur to ‘visible’ forms of tripartite concertation is primarily motivated by their legitimation interests – not only vis-à-vis domestic electorates, but also, crucially, vis-à-vis international stakeholders such as creditors, financial markets and European institutions. Drawing on the theoretical tools of historical and discursive institutionalism, the paper argues that policy-makers’ perceptions of the prior historical legacies and experiences of tripartite concertation play a crucial role in motivating their decision to recur or not to visible forms of concertation in the governance of the crisis. In contexts where ‘positive’ historical legacies of concertation are present, governments can use visible concertation as a positive tool of impression management vis-à-vis external stakeholders, to project images of responsibility, social peace and domestic reform ownership. Conversely, in contexts where prior legacies of concertation and their outcomes are more problematic or contested, the marginalisation of social partners from the policy process is used instead to gain external legitimation and demonstrate domestic commitment to the implementation of difficult reforms bypassing domestic veto players.