After the fall of the communist regimes and the adoption of the Copenhagen Criteria (1993) the borders in Central and East – Europe (CEE) have opened up as spaces of flows and cooperation. Some authors, like Strüver consider that border regions, by implementing territorial cooperation programmes and promoting the involvement of local administrations, NGO’s and Universities, do follow, to a certain point, the general objective on governance (cf. Anke Strüver: 2004, 27). Under this dynamic, interdependence becomes a strong reality in people’s daily life. Through these continuous developments, local governance builds itself under the more inclusive umbrella of cross-border governance. The latter, appears as a positive example of “institution building and multilevel governance network”, capable to address the regional needs in a more efficient way than the traditional governments. (idem)
Taking the sole example of the EU funds, Kohler-Koch considers that their national distribution and implementation represents a vocal example for the emergence of functional policy networks and multilateral policy communities (cf. B. Kohler-Koch, 2005: 20). Opposite to this perspective, extensive research argues that cross-border cooperation tends to impinge on the emergence of a good governance systems. On one hand, this situation is generated by the difficulty to develop legislation capable to regulate spaces of flows. We agree that governance cannot be built outside adequate legislation, especially in a representative democracy such as the EU (Lisbon Treaty: 2009, art. 8). On the other hand, local institutions of former communist countries tend to have low levels of accountability and transparency. The latter is the consequence of an organizational culture shaped by more than fifty years of communism, marginality and top-down approaches.
According to some scholars, democratic countries craft the democratization of less or non-democratic neighbors. Following the same logic, the economic development of a country can influence its organizational culture and make it more incline to support democracy (cf. Huntington, 1992: 3-13). Others link democratic transformations to specific social, economic or cultural preconditions, although it is much disagreement on what those preconditions are. A different school of thought, considers that political development is often punctuated by critical moments shaping the basic contours of political life (Pierson: 2000, 251). Thus, the speed and depth of the democratization process is path dependent on the type of communism a country experienced (Mungiu- Pippidi: 2008, 5). Path dependency deals with dysfunctional systems and is mainly visible in the transformations of the former centralized institutions and economies.
Yet, we point out that both crafting and preconditions have a role to play in understanding the ways in which CEE countries evolved in the past 25 years. As an example, Hungary managed to end its communist regime through Round Table negotiations and the involvement of the opposition parties. Thus, precondition arguments, going from pluralism to the freedom of speech, played an important role in Hungary’s transition to democracy (A. Oplatka, 2009: 66). Helmut Kohl, the former German canceller at that time, acknowledged the existence of these preconditions when he declared that, “it was in Hungary where the first stone was removed from the Berlin Wall”[i]. Although Oplatka insists in his book that the hastily unfolding movements of 1989 were neither controlled nor planned, but rather they possessed a partly unintended and unforeseeable dynamic, the events behind the Romanian revolution can be regarded from another perspective. Romania marked the overcoming of the communist period by a violent uprising. Many believed that the country’s path to democracy was the product of several political leaders from the second layers of the Communist Party who had the determination and the ability to craft their way to power.
For some authors, like Diamond, all the elite of the post-communist societies must account for a certain level of normative and behavioral commitment and regard democracy – together with its laws, procedures and institutions – as the most appropriate alternative for their society (1997: 3). It is this profound, even mechanical commitment to democracy that can shift the structure of a society towards democratic consolidation. For Dahl, this later concept creates common synergies among neighboring countries. (cf. Robert Dahl: 1994, 25).
At this stage, governance and cross-border cooperation become constituent parts of the more general discussion on sovereignty and representation. Dahl captures this dynamic and argues that the EU enlargement limits the role of local governments. Such a limitation leaves space for supranational institutions that are a constituent part of transnational democracies (1994: 27). Building on Dahl’s theory, we consider that a shrinkage in role for local governments leaves room for the cross-border governance to flourish. Despite the fact that cross-border governance splits from what Moravcsik sees as “the actual practices of national states”, such an evolution has a positive impact on the EU’s democratic deficit (Moravcsik, 2002: 621).
By their spill-over capacity, border regions are at the center of these transformations. Thus, understanding the forces shaping the democratization of a country can bring a useful insight to the study of cross-border cooperation and local governance. Democratization created the fertile ground and gave way for thoughtful discussions and scenarios on how to design modern states, capable to cope with the needs for democratic consolidation and development. (cf. Václav Havel 2006: 57-58).
Nowadays, after almost twenty five years, it appears that the shift of CEE countries from governments to governance inverted the inner functions of the societies. In other words, while the former political leaders had emphasized political and security objectives to block the adoption of market policies, governance promotes the dominance of economics over politics (cf. Anderson, O’ Dowd, Wilson, 2003: 19). However, for the past 25 years the central governments of former communist countries continued to play a key role in determining people’s life. For this reason, governance lacked a broad and deep legitimacy.
In this transition period, governance is a goal but not yet a mean. However, starting with the early 1990’s this complex evolution resulted in a stronger awareness among the EU leaders on the need to improve horizontal and vertical territorial coordination in a border-less Europe (S. Dühr, D. Stead & W. Zonneveld, 2007: 293). For this purpose, local governance becomes a goal and a mean for democratization and cross-border cooperation.
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MUNGIU – PIPPIDI, Alina, The EU as a Transformation Agent. Lessons learned from governance reforms in East Central Europe, Hertie School of Governance working papers, No. 33, 2008
OPLATKA, Andreas, The First Crack in the Wall, September 1989 – Hungary Opens the Border, ed. Zsolnay, Wien, 2009
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