Administrative Traditions – and the Problem of the “Trilemma”

Noralv Veggeland


The purpose of this paper is to show that the administration of a modern welfare state is a complex thing. The state
meets the challenge of the “trilemma”. Social policy formation does fundamentally relay on the outcome of the debate
about the future of the European welfare state. From the perspective of the political-economic approach, social policy
formation is a dependent variable to both European integration policy and national administrative traditions. However,
the national state does not act in a sovereign manner neither in relation to the European Union (EU) nor to domestic
member actors. All of them confronted with a so-called “trilemma” aspect, a term first introduced by the US social
scientist Torben Iversen (2005). In this paper, I follow up his analysis and shows the difficult choices that confronts
policy-makers on the different administrative levels because of this trilemma and its trade-offs. New Public
Management ideas are dominant and for the time being confront the other ruling administrative social traditions of
Western Europe. In this paper, I conclude that a European agreement on a social choice, related to the overcome of
trilemma, must be accomplished to save the welfare state model as we know it. The traditional Nordic welfare state
model gives an example.

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