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Cerlin Pesti and Tiina Randma-Liiv

Abstract

The aim of this article is to explore and explain the 2012 civil service reform in Estonia. The study builds on the concept of public service bargain, which facilitates the operationalization of changes in the civil service system. Although public service bargain has attracted a lot of interest of public administration scholars, it has not been previously applied in the civil service research in Central and Eastern Europe. The theoretical part synthesizes previous literature on typologies of public service bargain, thus elaborating an analytical framework for the empirical study. The empirical study addresses the following research question: did the civil service reform change the public service bargain in Estonia and if so, how ? The empirical research was carried out by relying on desk research, secondary literature on Estonian administrative reforms and participant observation. The study builds partly on the materials collected for the EUPACK case study on Estonia. The analysis shows that the civil service reform brought along changes in all three components of public service bargain: reward, competency and loyalty, although the agency-type bargain was retained. The shift towards the managerial public service bargain is evidenced in the greater emphasis on flexibility in employment relations, the use of fixed-term contracts, increased private-sector-style practices at all levels of the civil service, an emphasis on performance management, and the reduction of job security. Despite the widespread criticism of NPM, the Estonian civil service reform presents a “textbook case” of managerial NPM-oriented reform. It is argued that substantially diminished rewards may contribute to a vicious circle of temporary civil servants, including problems with recruiting new officials and a further increase in their turnover, ultimately leading to a “temporary state”. The loyalty of civil servants may in turn shift towards instrumental, short-term and easily influenced or changing loyalty, thus challenging the fundamental values of democratic governance.