Southern Europe's historic “exceptionalism” has been replaced by a convergence with Western Europe in several important aspects of public policy: inadequate and regressive taxation systems have been reformed; aggregate levels of spending on social programs have greatly increased; a distant and repressive state has given way to democratic accountability and responsiveness. But the judiciaries and bureaucratic structures remain unreformed; social welfare coverage remains particularistic and incomplete; and environmental policies lag. Delayed socioeconomic modernization helps to account for some of the earlier exceptional characteristics (e.g., lagging social welfare policies and environmental awareness), while development after the 1950s and 1960s pushed all four countries over the threshold for policy development. Democratization made possible rapid social policy advances, fiscal modernization, decentralization (in response to regional demands), and respect for civil and political rights. Europeanization forced some reforms as prerequisites for EU membership (abandonment of autarkic protectionism, harmonization of taxation systems, and adoption of environmental policies). However, efforts at reform may be hindered or blocked by subsystem autonomy from the former authoritarian regime (blunting demands for judicial or bureaucratic reform), or by institutional resources that enable privileged sectors (e.g., bureaucratic cuerpos or organized labor) to block change.
Keywords: Southern European exceptionalism, convergence, socioeconomic modernization, democratization, Europeanization, bureaucratic reform, judicial reform, social welfare policy, environmental policy, taxation
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