This dissertation examines how new European Union (EU) member states manage and implement European Cohesion Policy (CP). It assess the administrative and political factors that might explain the variation in the financial absorption of Structural Funds (SF), with a specific focus on two homogeneous cases from Central and Eastern Europe (CEECs). Whilst there is a dense literature on the potential socio-economic impact of CP in the EU, less attention has been paid to the factors affecting CP and SF governance at the national domestic level. Questions of financial absorption, delivery effectiveness and quality of the spending remain open and are puzzling for both academics and practitioners. Subsequently, one of the main aims of this thesis has been to provide an in-depth investigation of, on the one hand, the structural administrative capacity employed by states to manage this policy and, on the on the other hand, the political factors and dynamics that influence its delivery of SF in new member states. The study carries out an archaeology of the capacity of the specialised institutions involved in the different stages of the absorption process with the general aim of explaining some of the determinants of absorption performance, particularly in the countries assessed. It proposes an absorption capacity model in order to assess these claims and the original empirical evidence collected. The thesis fills in several empirical and theoretical lacunae in knowledge. Empirically, the study draws on multiple comparative case studies from Bulgaria and Romania, two problematic yet diverging cases in terms of absorption performance, during the 2007-2013 implementation period. These countries first experience in managing and implementing SF provides empirically rich insights. Theoretically, this thesis offers a more nuanced account of the governance of CP and SF in CEECs. It builds and refines the concept of administrative capacity as well as several political factors (stability, support and clientelism) in order to examine the complexity and problematic issues surrounding SF absorption. Insights on CP governance, administrative capacity-building and the impact of politicisation at the national and local level are outlined and discussed. The main argument put forward in this thesis is that the variation in absorption performance is generated by the interplay between administrative and political conditions. In other words, the way in which administrative and political factors have interacted has shaped the ability of the two countries to govern EU Cohesion Policy and influenced their performance in absorbing EU funding. This argument is developed in line with several key findings. First, administrative capacity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for countries to deliver effectively CP. Second, political conditions can facilitate or hinder the development of national administrative capacities and have often influenced the different stages of the absorption policy process. The thesis highlights the need to critically reflect on the overall dynamics between structural administrative arrangements and domestic political conditions, in order to advance our understanding of how EU policies are governed and implemented at the national level. Finally, the thesis formulates several recommendations, for the different stakeholders involved, on how to facilitate the delivery of SF in order to improve cohesion and development in Europe.
Surubaru, N. (2018). Governing EU Cohesion Policy in central and eastern Europe: the interplay between administrative capacity and political factors. The case of Structural Funds absorption in Bulgaria and Romania (2007–2013). (Thesis). Loughborough University