Book Review: Sindaci e manager nel capitalismo municipale

Maria Tullia Galanti, Sindaci e manager nel capitalismo municipale. Saggio sui vestiti nuovi dell’imperatore (Bologna: il Mulino, 2016). 224 pp., €20.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9788815263490.

Some topics, for their relevance in everyday life, are heavily debated often also among the public opinion but they may be quite neglected by scholarly research. This book addresses one of these under-explored topics in political science: the relations between local authorities (municipalities and mayors) and the private-law companies in the provision and management of local public services.

Those relations are multifaceted and extremely complex and Galanti tries to disentangle them by employing some traditional analytical distinctions and concepts of the public policy analysis. By exploring four major cases in the Italian context, this book provides an insight on the new forms of corporatization in Italy and on their cha(lle)nging relations with (and within) the local powers.

The so-called municipal capitalism – that is the ownership and control of enterprises by local (mainly municipal) governments acting as the main shareholder – was the consolidated pattern in the recent past. Within this context, the privatization of the most important local public services (water and energy supply, waste management) occurred since the 1990s and hence the rise of private-law companies owned by municipalities (partecipate) replacing the traditional municipal firms (municipalizzate), both reshaped the public/private relations and challenged the status quo of local power. Moreover, in the last decade, the trend towards consolidation, by aggregating several companies in big multi-utility corporations, rendered also the private side much more complex and articulated.

This current situation is thus fit to be analyzed by exploiting the dual nature of the involved subjects: these private-law companies for local public services are actors in more arenas of power and an arena of power themselves. Arenas of power are doubtless a central concept in political science and a pivotal one for public policy scholars. Galanti’s book explicitly employs this perspective and provides an insightful and accurate portrait of the Italian situation and of the four representative cases investigated, also relying on a remarkable bulk of often-difficult-to-retrieve data.

The first chapter devotes to the theoretical part by stressing the pivotal concepts, which will build the overall framework of the book. The relational nature of power, the garbage can decision-making model, the decision-making process in itself are the main public policy analytical tools to be employed. But also, the analytical steps are displayed: the role of the municipalities, in particular of the big cities, and the role of the mayors between municipal capitalism and personalization, do shape the set where the local public services’ private-law companies are analyzed in their dual nature. As actors, Galanti argues those companies are hybrid entities: partly committed to public service and partly prone to market logics, as well as torn between accountability towards the relevant local authorities and the striving for increasing autonomy. As arenas, private-law companies for local services are definitely public decision arenas, where also representation and oligarchic relations are at stake.

The second chapter provides the portrait of the Italian situation and the starting conditions on which this study relied on and on which the previous theoretical assumptions and aims will apply. The first starting condition is the new role of the mayors in an era of crisis of political parties and their power, on the one hand, and of presidentialization of politics (with the empowerment of executive roles) and of personalization of politics where leadership features become more and more important, on the other hand. This first condition is crucial to understand the changing municipal capitalism. The second starting condition are the reforms enacted in the public administration sector, which led to two major process of change in local public services: the corporatization (internal change) and thus the separation, differently from the traditional municipal capitalism, between management and regulation of the public services; and the liberalization (external change) and the consequent competition on the market. The first process broke the tight and privileged bond with the local authorities, promoting (partially) the New Public Management and corporate governance’s principles and putting municipalities in a more and more ambiguous position between public and private. The second process of liberalization occurred within a national normative blurriness and a EU normative discretion, which determined strong conflicts between center and periphery as well as differentiated implementation of these changes at the local level. These two processes frame the research design.

The third and fourth chapters gather the empirical evidence and go into details of the four cases by scanning them systematically as actor and as arena, respectively. The four cases chosen for the field research are the main multi-utility companies operating in the Centre-North of Italy (A2A, ACEA, HERA, IREN). After the analysis of these private-law companies as actors – and thus with their environment and their relevant degree of autonomy – the A. draws the conclusion that a generalized striving for more autonomy, although in different degrees, is detected in all cases: the relations with the market, with the stakeholders and with the public authorities respectively determine in all cases both a territorial expansion out of the original core territory (even abroad) and a business expansion in other sectors. Instead the analysis of the multi-utilities as arenas of power and on “who decides” in them, focused on the relations between mayors and top managers under the perspective of the municipal capitalism’s evolution. These relations turned out to be reversed in comparison with the past: the more stable the top management, on the one side, and the more fragmented the (public) stakeholders, on the other side, the more the top managers overcome the mayors in the arena of power.

The fifth and final chapter discusses the remarkable quantity of quantitative and qualitative data gathered in the research and proposes – by combining the actor perspective (the degree of autonomy) and the arena perspective (“who decides”) – four different models of the new municipal capitalism, that is the governance of the private-law companies delivering local public services.

The book is extremely dense and rich of in-depth investigation. Nonetheless the accuracy of the field research and the systematic and consistent presentation of the evidence, if allowing to appreciate both this thickness and the complexity of the studied phenomenon, also permits the reader to find his/her own way through this nest and to appreciate the interesting A.’s final stances on this topic. True, this particular topic is hard and puzzling and empirical research on it is particularly hard. But this is exactly the reason for it is worth exploring it, and Galanti’s book definitely accomplishes this task.

Silvia Bolgherini, University of Naples Federico II

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