L’Etat de la France.
La « fin d’une exception » mise en perspective comparée ?
The French State and its territorial challenges
University of Cardiff, Wales, UK
A renewed interest in studying the State is one consequence of research into governance which has been in vogue for the past 20 years. Contemporary governance istypically analysed as a loosening of older forms of vertical command, as the weakening of traditional models of state authority and as the creation of a porous institutional and ideological environment that is more welcoming to endogenous innovation and externally driven changes (Le Galès, 2002, Kooiman, 2003, Loughlin, 2009). The decline of the state lies at the heart of the otherwise distinctliteratures on rescaling, multi-level governance and international political economy (Cole and Palmer, 2008; Faure and Muller, 2005). Rather than a weakening of the state, per se, some argue that the type of state activity has changed (Levy, 2006). Arguably, states can be more effective as regulators than they ever were as distributors of services. The French case, traditionally viewed as the exemplarof a powerful state, is a particularly interesting one to confront arguments about convergence and isomorphism with the resistance of national administrative and institutional structures and state traditions (Di Maggio and
Powell, 1991; Schmidt, 2002). This article focuses upon one core dimension of these broader debates about State decline: the territorial challenges to the State and itsstrategic responses to these.
Reflecting upon the French state and its territories is facilitated by a set of preliminary hypotheses, or, in our preferred terminology, frames that set out to elucidate one or more dimensions of state reconfiguration. Our first policy frame is that of convergence. In some accounts, European countries are converging under the impact of the common pressures ofglobalisation, Europeanisation, post-materialism and pan-global technical expertise (Loughlin, 2005, Held and McGrew, 2000, Dolowitz and Marsh, 2000, Bennett, 1991). If in most accounts convergence is economically driven, converging pressures can spill over into mimetic political and institutional behaviour. There is a tendency for similar countries to imitate each other’s institutional arrangements andbehaviour (Di Maggio and Powell, 1991). Political systems are not hermetically sealed entities. As systems influence each other, we can never be sure what is systemic and what results from trans-national diffusion (Dogan and Pelassy, 1990). The ideational version of convergence takes the form of benchmarking, of imposing ‘best practice’ on a trans-national basis. In the European Union, the OpenMethod of Co-ordination gives an institutional basis to informal pressures being brought to bear upon member-states to conform to ‘best practice’ in areas such as employment policy (Dehousse, 2004, Surel, 2000). The convergence perspective emphasises institutional isomorphism, ideational/epistemic transfer and the relatively weak role of domestic interests as veto players. These accounts fit withtheoretical approaches based on policy transfer, epistemic communities, political economy and new public management. From a convergence perspective we would expect the adaptation of traditional methods of public administration to international norms of new public management, whether by creating new institutional forms such as agencies, or, with a weaker definition, the adaptation of older forms to fitnew purposes.
Our second policy frame is that of state traditions. The concept of the state tradition is suggestive of the parameters which determine the conditions within which democracy, at both national and subnational levels, is understood and practiced (Loughlin and Peters, 1997, Dyson, 1980). France has often been seen to represent a statist pole amongst European states, whether in...