This book describes a sociological expedition to the core of the relationship between farmers and government in the Netherlands. It focuses on the concept of mediation of agricultural policies between government and the farming target group. A starting point in this expedition is the rejection of the idea of policy-formation as a rational-synoptical chronology, in which policy is the result of a well-defined rational choice by politicians and administrators from different scenario's. Instead, policy formation in this context is understood as an incremental process: policies as a result of interaction between context induced actors. However, instead of being coincidental the interactions show up patterns of regularity that formed the motivation for this study.
Policy mediation is defined as:
- the interrelated moments of preparation, formation, implementation and evaluation of policies,
- which by means of interactive processes, in which various actors (public servants, politicians, citizens, farmers, etc.) participate with their groups and projects (strategically),
- are geared to one another in such a manner, that
- exactly therefore a legitimacy is obtained which otherwise would definitely be absent.
The target group of agricultural policies is a so-called difuse one. That is, in need of intermediary structures able to mediate policies. The Dutch Agricultural Board (Landbouwschap) played this intermediary structure role between 1954 en 1996, when it promptly disappeared.
In the meantime, several farmers' cooperative initiatives in one way or another have assumed the role of intermediary organizations. Central government tended to standardize their attitude towards these structures, in order to manage the policy mediation fluently. The objective of this investigation, however, is to analize and maintain the diversity of intermediary organizations. The reason is the assumption that succesful policy mediation depends on the taking account of the specifity of each structure.
The central questions therefore are:
- in which different arrangements has the mediation of agricultural policies taken place so far,
- by which means could be obtained more success in terms of dynamic and legitimated policy mediation.
Chapter 2 provides a theoretical approach of the relation between farmer and government, defining it as a particularisation of the relation between actor and structure. Instead of adhering to dualistic theories, which focus upon the complete determination of the individual by its surrounding structure (determinism) or upon the complete absence of such a determination (voluntarism), this study prefers duality as a key concept. Duality focuses upon the co-existence of contraint and enableness of the individual versus itssurrounding structure. Individuals actively make and remake social structure.
The relation between citizen and government is subject of a process of legitimation. Public administration and policies are legitimized by:
- the procedure, with given objectives (the instrumental side of legitimation);
- the objectives of policies (the social contract side); and
- the interchange of both.
The chapter ends up presenting a social scientific tool to capture this legitimation process: policy-mediation.
In chapter 3 policy mediation is surveyed in the Dutch socio-cultural heritage. In the Netherlands a strong tradition of subsidiarity and functional decentralization was founded in past centuries. The social charter of neo-corporatism is known because of its emphasis on consensus, compromise and consultation.
Growing claims, policy overload, role distortions between public and private parties and he public opinion have shocked the traditional charter and caused a legitimation problem. Different answers are possible, varying from enforcening the state to enforcening the consensus model. In this report, there is a strong case for investing more in interdependency and participative democracy. The Dutch case shows different examples: coproduction of local policies, convenants between public governement and private parties, the socalled Green Polder Model. Although there is room for doubt because of (a) gaps between frontiers ans crowds, (b) interaction used only for self-interest. That is the risks of pseudo-participation. Therefore, field investigations are urgently needed.
In chapter 4 an overview is given of the legitimation of agricultural policies in the Netherlands since the 19th century. The co-production tradition of farmers' organizations and central government, founded on a consensus about (a) the type of agricultural development to be nagestreefd, and (b) the need of consultation and compromise, ended up in a policy-community or - more precisely - iron triangle between farmers-leaders, ministry of agriculture and national politicians. From the late 60's, tensions grew between these parties and the iron triangle eroded. A vacuum in policy mediation became clear. Farmers reacted by protest, adaptation, individual initiatives and creating new collectivities, that became seeds of new arrangements. The following chapters describe the investigation of these new arrangements.
Chapter 5 is a methodological intermezzo. It motivates why the sociological expedition is founded in daily reality, by describing caracteristics of factual initiatives as many and as detailed as necessary to get a sharp distinction between policy arrangements.
In chapter 6 and 7 an inventory is made of the variation of possible arrangements, making use of 14 real collectivities in the Dutch countryside between 1980 and 1997. By adopting a cluster analysis 6 different arrangements are identified: product cooperative, horzelorganisation, farmers' association, policy cooperative, investigation cooperative and sindical organisation.
Describing various cases in the Netherlands, in chapter 8 each arrangement is examined on its potential in terms of producing more dynamics in policy mediation. Chapter 9 also examines this potential, but now by evaluating an official policy experiment with 8 socalled environmental cooperatives (milieucoöperaties) from 1995 to 1999.
In chapter 10, the conclusions of the expedition are summarized. The experiences of farmers' collectivities up to 1997 make clear that the state and its institutions (first of all the ministry of agriculture) are rather confused when defining an attitude against the calls for self-regulation that come from below. The state seems to get paralyzed by pleas for self-regulation on one side and the necessity to maintain principles of Good Governance on the other, one of which is gelijkberechtiging. Tailor-made policy solutions may come in conflict with the tendency to govern unilaterally from a cockpit.
By way of recommendations, several triggers are derived from the expedition process, triggers that may give impetus to a more dynamic and prosperous relation between government and farmers. First of all, the actual situation should be understood better and more systematically by all of the parties involved. Potentials for succesful policy-mediation often aren't recognized as such.
Next, cooperative initiatives shouldn't be put in one category too soon. Regionality, local culture and specifity are important factors for succes in policy-mediation along more selfregulation. The recognition and admission of the role local initiatives can play in succesful policy-arrangements should result in more incentives instead of penalties. State institutions should provoke and belonen a more entrepreneurial attitude of farmers. Another factor that may trigger a more dynamic relationship is the maintenance of the face-to-face caracter of policy-mediation. The personal committment of the parties involved, crucial within the agricultural population with so many individual interests and responsabilities, depends on the involvement of face-to-face contacts. This means more emphasis should be laid on local government instead of national.