This article aims at contributing to a better understanding of the role of junior ministers (JMs) in contemporary parliamentary governments. Using principal–agent theory, we attempt to shed light on the content of the delegation relationship between JMs and their principals, mainly cabinet ministers and the prime minister. By applying categorical principal components analysis, we examine recruitment patterns in order to clarify whether JMs tend to focus on policy outputs, party building or political projection and management. The analysis employs data on all the Spanish Secretarios de Estado (SEs) from the creation of the office in 1977 until 2010. The results suggest that delegation to SEs mostly emphasizes policy outputs, since expertise dominates as a recruitment feature, though political skills and party connections are also valued complementary assets.
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This is a broad definition that aims to encompass the great institutional diversity we can find in different countries. It basically coincides with that of Blondel (1982, p. 211). In turn, Müller and Strøm (2000, p. 23) propose to define junior ministers as ‘political appointees who do not have voting rights in the cabinet’. Considering the problems of this definition (actual voting is not frequent in cabinets, and in some countries JMs may be cabinet members – for example, in France), Manow (2005, p. 6) proposes to define JMs as ‘government positions and political appointees that do not formulate policy and prepare legislation on their own’. This definition is also questionable, as it would consider as JMs other political appointees that do not formulate policy nor prepare legislation, but which occupy mostly top administrative positions (senior civil servants) such as the Beamte Staatssekretäre in Germany or the subsecretario in Spain.
Through the rest of this article, when we refer specifically to the Spanish junior ministers, we will use the abbreviation ‘SEs’ while when dealing with junior ministers in general, we will use ‘JMs’.
In the following, we use the feminine for the principal, and the masculine for the agent.
We have examined the following countries where we find junior ministers (the denomination of the JM in parentheses): Austria (Staatssekretär), Belgium (sécretaire d’État), France (sécretaire d’État), Germany (Staatssekretär), Greece (undersecretary), Ireland (minister of State), Italy (sottosogretario di Stato), Luxembourg (sécretaire d’État), The Netherlands (staatsecretaris), Norway (staatssekretaer), Portugal (secretário de Estado), Spain (secretario de Estado), Sweden (Staatsekretarare), The United Kingdom (minister of State). Basic sources of information have been the respective country chapters in Laver and Shepsle (1994), Müller and Strøm (2000), Strøm, Müller and Bergman (2003), and Dowding and Dumont (2009).
For instance, in Spain, secretaries of State meet weekly at the General Committee of Secretaries of State and Undersecretaries (see below); in Portugal there is also an institutionalized Meeting of JMs (Reunião de Secretários de Estado).
The exceptions are Norway, Spain and Sweden. In Germany, they are not constitutionally members of government but de facto they are; and in Greece, it is on the PM to include an undersecretary as a government member.
However, although legally SEs are allowed to be MPs, since the mid-1990s it is customary that they resign from parliament after their appointment to the office.
None of these variables has a significant relationship with gender.
Party affiliation became a particularly relevant factor in the appointment of ministers and top executive officers in 1982. Prime Minister Felipe González emphasized partisanship in these appointments in order to reinforce political control and loyalty to his executive, in a context marked by economic crisis and the first-party alternation in government after the transition to democracy (Rodríguez-Teruel, 2011, pp. 149–151, 288; see also Almunia, 2001, p. 149).
In the operationalization of the ‘portfolio’ variable, we follow closely the distinction made by Keman (1991, p. 101) between economic management, social welfare, and external and security (political) ministries. The first category encompasses the ministries of economic affairs, finance, industry, trade, labour, agriculture, environment, transport, public works, and science and technology. Social welfare includes the ministries in charge of education, universities, health, social security, culture and social affairs. Political ministries are those of foreign affairs, interior, justice, defence, public administration and the ministry of the Presidency (see Real-Dato and Jerez-Mir, 2009). We have also considered separately the Office of the Prime Ministry (Presidencia del Gobierno).
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This work was supported by the SEJ-113 research group of the University of Granada, and the project ‘Dynamic Analysis of Political Careers in the Spanish Political Systems’, funded by Regional Plan of R&D&I of the Junta of Andalusia (P08-SEJ-04032). The authors wish to thank Miguel Jerez-Mir and the participants in the workshop ‘Political Parties and the Recruitment of Appointed Elites in Contemporary Democracy’ (ECPR Joint Sessions, Mainz, 2013) and in the panel ‘The Politics of Selection at the Top of Ministerial Bureaucracies’ (IPSA World Conference, Montreal, 2014) for their comments on previous versions of this article. The authors are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on this version. Finally, this article would not have been possible without the competent research assistance of Rafael Camacho-Muñoz.
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Real-Dato, J., Rodríguez-Teruel, J. Politicians, experts or both? Democratic delegation and junior ministers in Spain. Acta Polit 51, 492–516 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2016.6