Author: Lena Sophia Thurau

Publisher: Doctor's thesis at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Freie Universität Berlin,

Year: 2012

Language: English

Since 1989 Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) have been characterized by an unprecedented transformation dynamic. The interplay between state and market was fundamentally redesigned within shortest time. Facing high economic and political pressure, these countries also had to rebuild their welfare states. At the core of this stood the renovation of what used to be the key socialist steering mechanism: the labour market.
What is the nature of the emerging capitalist welfare after 20 years of transformation? Starting point of this dissertation is the fact that today, despite their common historical and socialist welfare experience, labour market regimes in the CEECs show considerable variation. Although all CEECs have indeed established similar formal institutions based on historical experience, the political effectiveness of these institutions markedly differs.
The first part of my comparative policy analysis examines the labour market transformation in the cases of Poland and the Czech Republic. Unlike the fairly rapid formal institutional change towards the Bismarck model, many lower level reforms have occurred in marginal and country-specific steps, recombining historical traditions, communist legacies and marketization trends. Elements of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ frames of reference coexisted and produced a mix. A central finding of this dissertation is that these new labour market regimes can be called consolidated hybrids. Moreover, country-specific variations have emerged: the Czech labour market regime shows higher decommodification, meaning stronger individual autonomy from the market. By contrast, the Polish labour market is characterized by stronger marketization, combined with paternalist elements.
The second part of the dissertation examines the factors accounting for this variation. Linked to actor-centred institutionalist explanatory variables, the hypotheses focus on the interplay of domestic and external factors. Both countries share comparable institutional legacies and similar external influences based on the policy-engineering of the International Financial Institutions and the countries’ pathway towards European Union membership. But the reconfiguration of domestic actor constellations strongly differs: instability and conflict in Poland contrast with the long lasting stable and coherent actor constellations in the Czech Republic.
In consideration of the dissertation’s findings, institutional continuity and the impact of international actors provide only limited evidence for the underlying variation in hybrid welfare. Considerably more important has been the unequal reconfiguration of domestic actors: in Poland, the early opposition movement and social stratification are linked to higher fragmentation and political instability in favour of market oriented reforms. Contrary to this, the stronger corporatist structures of Czech actor constellations are associated with significantly higher political continuity and social inclusion. The dissertation’s findings thus lead to the conclusion that while history matters, politics is decisive.