Do Ideas Matter in the Politics of Institutional Change?

The creation of a coordinating policy discourse is a key explanatory variable for the emergence and consolidation of social pacts in labor relations. The paper will highlight the limit of functionalist accounts that only focus upon macro-exogenous forces such as European Monetary Union (EMU) entry (or macroeconomic crisis) for inducing the emergence of social pacting. These accounts, whilst necessary, cannot sufficiently explain the continued institutionalisation of social pacts after EMU entry in EU member states (or the passing of an economic crisis). The paper will also highlight the limit of micro-endogenous accounts that only focus upon the organisational politics of trade unions, employers and government. There is a need to integrate both the structural (macro) and actor (micro) centred approaches to fully explain why conflicting economic actors institutionalise concertation strategies in the form of social pacts. It is my argument that focusing upon the tri-partite economic and social councils that enable the discursive-interaction of actors in the policy making process is an essential variable in trying to explain the success or failure of social partnership agreements. To make this argument I will use the evolution liberal corporatism in Ireland as a case study. Tri-partite public policy forums enabled the state to facilitate discursive interaction amongst organised interests on the need for coordinated collective action. Social pacts, in this regard, increase the strategic capacity of the state to manage the public policy process.

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