SOCCOH The Challenge of Socio-economic Cohesion in the Enlarged European Union

February 2006 - April 2008
Georgy Ganev, Antoinette Primatarova and Yana Papazova

The research project, which is structurally based on the comparative analysis of the role of social capital and civil society in achieving the goals of development policy through stimulating social partnerships and improving levels of administrative capacity, is based on research conducted in non-Cohesion countries (Germany and Italy), old Cohesion countries (Greece and Spain), CEE (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland) and candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania) of the EU. The project was led by  EsocLab, London School of Economic and a network with participation from 7 European Union and 2 candidate countries, this 6th Framework Project was conducted in the period 2006-2008.CLS was the partner for Bulgaria.
The empirical part involved: comparative case studies on policy networks in development policy in all the participating Cohesion, CEE and Balkan countries, based on Social Network Analysis (SNA), quantitative and qualitative analysis of socio-economic data of the relevant case studies and detailed analysis of a large number of official and unofficial documents related to development policy and the participating countries.
Based on the findings of the empirical research we: first, identified the possible differentiation in the interaction between strength of social capital/civil society and level of effectiveness and efficiency of development policy among the Cohesion, the three CEE and the Balkan countries; second, explored the possibly emerging patterns in type(s) of social capital/civil society and policy styles among the participating countries; third, modelled the role of Europeanization in improving the level of social capital/civil society and hence facilitating sustainability at the domestic policy-making structures; and fourth, in light of the next enlargement towards the Balkans, drawn lessons for the development policy reforms that the Bulgarian and Romanian systems of governance should adopt, if their capacity for sustainability and adaptation to the European environment is to be improved.
Conclusion from the SNA report for Bulgaria: EU and Bulgarian regional policies. In the case of Bulgaria, the EU is by far the most important factor with respect to regional policy-making structure and performance. The presently existing regions in the country were created in the last two years of the 20th century in an institutionally, politically and socially empty space, with the country completely lacking regional traditions or experience for a number of decades. The EU integration prospects and the understanding on the part of the Bulgarian governments that the Union has an established system of policies for regional development, with respective availability of opportunities and resources, are the sole reason for having regions in Bulgaria today.
The necessity to adopt regional development legislation, to set up respective bodies, and to prepare a regional development operating program is the major factor making the regional policy-making process move in Bulgaria. It is also the major factor shaping the way in which the different actors are involved, and will be involved in the future.
Most of the future of regional policy-making and its structure in Bulgaria is seen by the relevant social actors through the prism of EU regional development visions and funding. Given the fact that regional development structures and policies start from a tabula rasa in Bulgaria, they, as well as the accompanying policy networks, will at least initially be highly dependent and responsive to signals, coming from the various EU-level bodies, involved in the regional development policies.
Thus, the EU is also set to be the major agent of change in the Bulgarian governance structures with respect to regional development policies. The EU is pressing for regionalization in a traditionally highly centralized country. Its push from above with respect to the central Bulgarian government is added to the pull towards decentralization from below, improving significantly the political chances for further reforms in this direction to take place.
One way, in which the regional actors in Bulgaria see clearly how the EU can encourage the decentralization and regionalization processes in the country, is by being less shy about contacting the regions directly, rather than through the national government. They see as crucial in this respect the programming phase for the 2014-2020 period, when separate regional operating programs will have to be developed. The EU will, formally and informally, have a strong say about the influence and strength of the regional actors, relative to the central government, in this process. In this way it will inevitably shape the direction in which the regional policy-making networks and their practices will develop in the future.
Still, with all the importance of the signals from the EU in shaping the emerging Bulgarian regional policy-making, one crucial issue of purely national competence remains to be resolved. It is the issue of introducing some level of self-governance between the local and the national, and its backing with respective resources and capacities. The regional and national actors in the country clearly recognize the importance and pertinence of this choice, facing the Bulgarian society. Regardless of the EU-related pressures and signals, the way in which the Bulgarian society decides whether and how such a mezzo-level of governance will be introduced, will define and direct the further evolution of regional policy-making structures and networks in the country. 

To see the ppt presentation prepared for the final project conference by the CLS project team, please click here.

For detailed project information, please visit http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/ESOCLab/researchActivitiesAndProjects/soccoh/

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