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Closed Symposium

Getting Policy into Government: the Greek and European Experiences

Date  Thursday, 19 May 2016

Bank of Greece, Athens

Time 14:00-19:00
Introduction & Welcome Address

Kevin Featherstone

Head of the European Institute, LSE

Keynote Speech

Yiannis Stournaras

Governor of the Bank of Greece


Spyros Economides

Director of the Hellenic Observatory, LSE


Peter John

Professor of Political Science & Public Policy, University College London


Kevin Featherstone

Head of European Institute, LSE

To commemorate its 20th anniversary, the Hellenic Observatory organised a closed symposium in Athens on the topic ‘Getting Policy Knowledge into Government: the Greek and European experiences’.

The event, which was strictly by invitation only, was held under the Chatam House rule at the Bank of Greece.

This major conference explored the extent to which governments are able to access and effectively utilise expert advice and high quality research during all phases of the policy-making process. In so doing, it sought to address two broad questions: How far are public policies informed by the best expertise available? Are relevant policy experts, think-tanks, and academics able to channel their expertise effectively into government policy-making? An additional focus included how governments recognise the needs for such technical knowledge, how such inputs are approached and managed, and the nature of the public response to these.

These topics were approached from various angles in three different panels. First, the experiences of other European countries, in particular Italy and Portugal, were explored. For the latter, it was not clear that government recognises the importance of policy-based advice. There are cultural barriers to overcome. But, such advice can also be used as ‘weapons’ against the recommendations of the Troika. For its part, the Troika insisted on funding for public foundations being cut, an aspect of micro-management that seemed self-defeating.  Portugal also lacks strong civil society institutions, a tradition of philanthropy, and social capital: meaning the environment was not conducive to effective coordination or independent evaluation. In Portugal, some 80% of laws are drafted outside government – a similar pattern to Greece. In Italy, the development of policy-making capacity within government had proven crucial to the will to engage and seek external advice. Several initiatives had been taken up to open-up the policy process in the 1990s. Yet, political leaders also used outside experts as scapegoats to protect themselves if policies went wrong. 

The second session focussed on the distinctiveness of the Greek case. A number of parallels with Portugal and Italy were evident. The turnover of government personnel – following elections or changes of minister – was not conducive to policy-making and ministries lacked an in-house capacity. Clientelism undermined the quality of human resources and the culture of policy-making.  There is a lack of institutional reflexivity that might identify weaknesses and address them. Greece has only a small number of credible institutions able to offer policy advice (e.g. ELIAMEP; KEPE; IOBE). There is, for example, no structure to the relationship between the Foreign Ministry and ELIAMEP and no exchange of staff. The Bank of Greece is in a different position: notably, it can choose its own policy agenda for research, but access to ministers and their receptiveness is still a problem.  Changing this environment would require legal reforms, but also a shift of mentality.

The final session began with Yiannis Stournaras, Governor of the Bank of Greece, delivering the keynote address. Panellists then reflected on their own experiences and considered the priorities for reform. Again, the ‘demand’ problem was raised: government is not looking for outside policy advice. There is an over-emphasis on political will and a phobia about expertise. Ministries lack their own policy units and each ought to have their own strategic planning units. There is a lack of policy assessment and evaluation. The intervention of international organisations could be helpful, but often the particular personnel sent to Greece were not those with the necessary expertise. Often policy-making in Greece is undermined by the lack of data or data that is reliable. Even with more input of knowledge, the institutional capacity to absorb it is questionable. Others raised the risk that evidence is politically-tainted, science is not neutral, and that resource allocation was political.  Greek researchers often do not utilise what data is available for their research.  There is also a supply problem of how government funds and structures research: a more effectivenational plan is needed.

The Conference took the following form:

 Panel 1: ‘European patterns and lessons

 Panel 2: ‘The Greek experience’

 Panel 3: ‘How to move forward’

For more detailed information on the programme and the speakers' presentations and biographies please follow the links below.

Conference Programme

Conference Booklet


The Experience of Portuguese Foundations in Informing Policymaking - Nuno Garoupa, Professor of Law, Texas A&M University; Chair in Research Innovation, Católica Global Law School, Portugal

The role of Central Bank research- Dimitris Malliaropulos, Chief Economist and Director of Economic Analysis and Research, Bank of Greece; Professor of Finance, University of Piraeus, Greece








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