Introduction: think tanks in Austria, Switzerland and Germany - a recalibration of corporatist policy making?
The German-speaking countries share a multitude of commonalities which separate Germany, Austria and Switzerland from other developed democracies. One prominent commonality of the German-speaking "family of nations" (Castles 1993, 2004; cf. Armingeon/Freitag 1997) is the broad integration of interest organizations into the process of policy deliberation, policy decision-making and policy implementation (Katzenstein 1987).
The dominant role of interest organizations in public policy making is, however, not mirrored in standard attempts to measure the integration of interest-groups or, as it is called, neo-corporatism. While Austria ranks very high in most of the various empirical investigations (cf. Lehmbruch 1984, Siaroff 1999, Traxler/Blaschke/Kittel 2001), Germany usually is positioned in the middle of the range. Switzerland ranks low in most cases or is perceived as representing a very specific form of corporatism. As Isabelle Steffen and Wolf Linder (in this volume) argue, core institutional features classically associated with corporatism, such as strong trade unions or centralized wage bargaining patterns, are missing in Switzerland. Nevertheless, there are some "functional structures equivalent to neo-corporatist arrangements" (Kriesi 1995: p. 342), such as the institutionalized consultation procedure in policy deliberations ("Vernehmlassung"), which together with other institutional arrangements fosters and stabilizes the crucial influence of interest groups on policy decisions in Switzerland.
The same might be argued for Germany. In contrast to Nordic-style corporatism, German wage bargaining was never centralized, nor did powerful, centralized peak associations of labor and capital dominate German politics after World War II. Nevertheless, interest groups and especially those from capital and labor are deeply involved into public policy-making patterns, either through parliamentary commissions or through their powerful position in agencies that implement welfare policies in Germany. Furthermore, self steering of interest groups in several sectors of the German welfare state is a prominent feature of the German Model, such as in wage bargaining or vocational training, to mention only the most important examples (cf. Czada 2003, Siegel 2003, Streeck 1997, Thelen 2004). This meso-corporatist interest mediation is furthermore segmented between different policy fields, and as a consequence, different logics of interest mediation rule at the same time the development of the German democracy (Dohler/Manow 1997).
The clearest example of classical corporatism in the German-speaking family of nations is Austria. As Karlhofer (this volume) summarizes, the Austrian case is a prominent example of institutional corporatism because of centralized wage bargaining patterns and, especially, the extensive chamber system. These chambers have quasi-public functions and channel the interest of associated interest groups directly into policy deliberations and policy decisions. At the same time, these chambers have far reaching competences, covering broad areas of the welfare state as well as economic policy making. This leads Karlhofer to conclude that Austria may indeed be called a "Kammerstaat" (state of chambers).
Hence, the role of interest organization in public policy-making is an important feature in the democracies of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Since the early 1980s, however, the traditions and institutions of corporatist interest mediation were challenged by several developments. Firstly, "old" interest groups from capital and labor had to face organizational problems. While German unification might be interpreted as a specific challenge to German trade unions and employers' associations to organize their own camps (Schroeder 2000), in all three countries membership figures and density rates stagnated or revealed a shrinking capability of the respective organizations to attract the rank-and-file. In the employers' camp, internationalization of big business further contributed to this organizational malaise. Large multi-national firms more and more follow their own lobbying strategy (Streeck et al., 2006).
Secondly, the classical welfare state paradigm shifted since the early 1980s from Keynesian demand management towards economic and fiscal stability. While the German-speaking countries traditionally followed the course of fiscal and monetary stability, the employment performance now became - with the partial exception of Switzerland - a critical issue in reform politics. Given the blocked road towards employment growth in the public sector, labor market deregulation and liberalization as well as a reduction of early retirement became political goals which should enable it to combine economic stability and employment growth. This ideational development mirrors the trend of intensified competition in...
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