The quality of governance in democratic states is declining. Crises are only accelerating this process, says Juraj Nemec

19 Dec 2022 Jana Sosnová

Juraj Nemec at Faculty of Economics and Administration MU | Photo: Martin Indruch

The financial crisis, pandemic, war in Ukraine. These are the biggest recent crises to which European governments have had to respond. How can they learn from them and govern more efficiently? That is what researchers participating in the international ROBUST project will try to answer. One of them is Juraj Nemec from the Department of Public Economics.

What have the crises recently faced by our society shown us?

In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that crises for which governments are not prepared and to which they are unable to respond can have extremely negative effects on governance and the overall socio-economic situation. My colleagues and I have published several articles highlighting the pandemic’s impact on public finances, the risks associated with the massive borrowing that governments have undertaken in response to revenue shortfalls, and the increased public spending associated with dealing with the current problems caused by the pandemic. We also looked at the quality of governance, which has declined dramatically during the pandemic. But is it at all surprising these days that the “quality of democracy” is declining and that this trend accelerates in moments of crisis?

We cannot predict what crises we will face in future. In the ROBUST project, we will look at three recent crises – the financial and economic crisis, the Covid-19 crisis, and the war in Ukraine. We will use the knowledge gained to define the principles and tools of robust crisis management.

Could you explain what exactly do you have in mind?

Creating a precise definition is one of the tasks that awaits us in the project. We’ve tentatively defined ‘robust crisis management’ as a system of governing, managing, or designing solutions that build on lessons learned from crisis moments. In particular, flexibility, adaptability and proactive action are key. Thus, the means for achieving effective management is innovation, which must fulfil the core values of all democratic institutions, such as respect for the rule of law or basic human rights.

Are the current crises different from those we have faced in the past?

I wouldn’t say that, although I cannot give a qualified answer. The historical assessment of crises is not my speciality, and the recent crises we’ll be analysing are those that I’m personally familiar with. But it’s clear that global social problems are increasing rather than being resolved. The various crises then reinforce each other, and their negative – but often also positive – consequences multiply.

In the context of the pandemic, we have heard talk of a return to the ‘pre-crisis’ era. Does it make sense to think of such a thing?

Here I’ll give you a very short answer: No, it doesn’t. I think the saying “you never step into the same river twice” is quite apt in this regard.

The Faculty of Economics and Administration will be doing two major case studies in the ROBUST project. What will they focus on?

An important part of the research will be to discover how robust crisis management has or has not manifested itself in practice. To achieve this, we’ll examine how the response to the Covid-19 crisis played out in different European locations. The research team members will carry out a total of sixteen case studies in eight European Union countries. The specific sites have been chosen to represent the European environment's diversity, including the Czech Republic.

The aim of these studies will be to monitor anti-civil society measures related to multi-level governance, hybrid governance, and social learning. In addition, we’ll assess public administration's robustness in the wake of a pandemic crisis.


The article was written as part of project No. 101061272 entitled "ROBUST Crisis Governance in Turbulent Times - Mindset, Evidence, Strategies", funded by Horizon Europe.

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Prof. Ing. Juraj Nemec, CSc. has been a university teacher and researcher for 40 years, and has been working on public sector and public administration issues since the beginning of his academic career. Today, he is one of the most important academic experts in this field, certainly in the CEE region. He is currently serving his second term as a member of the United Nations Commission of Experts on Public Administration. In the past, he was the President or Vice President of major professional organisations in his field.

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