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The Role of Partnership Strategies in Delivering European SF to Roma-Inclusion Initiatives in Spain and Slovakia

Joanna Kostka

European cohesion policy makes its financing mechanisms, the Structural Funds(SF), contingent on 'partnership principle' that calls for the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders in regional development. The 'opening-up' of policy-cycle tostakeholders operating outside public bureaucracies generates opportunities for influencing reform agendas by marginalized and politically excluded Roma populations. However, the alleged open access to SF decision-making processes and escalation of political commitments to tackle Roma-exclusion with EU financial instruments has not generated satisfactory outputs. Research on cohesion policy predominately concerns macro-level variation in adjustment of domestic governing structures to European standards and regulations. Lessoften it investigates whether these adjustments actually improve SF delivery to disadvantaged groups and enhance their abilities to interact with higher authorities.Arguments are based on normative assumptions rather than on empirical evidence, which remains fragmented and thin on the ground. This paper fills this gap by presenting empirical findings, which demonstrate that compliance with EU partnership regulations does not automatically translate into effective, legitimate and equitable administration ofSF. It challenges the conventional wisdom of cohesion policy literature that blames policy failure on member states' reluctance to comply with EU regulations and lack ofmobilization capacity at the local level. The paper investigates variation in targeting of SF towards Roma-inclusion in two extreme cases, i.e. Spain and Slovakia. Building on policy implementation theory it analyzes different types, means and aims of partnership strategies. The semi-structured interviews conducted with major SF stakeholders demonstrate that effective targeting of SF to Roma-inclusion is determined by empowerment strategies promoted by central governments that systematically expand decision-making to non-state actors andconstruct inter-organizational resource synergies. Such top-down partnership leadership operating in Spain appears to breed more effective SF outputs for marginalized groups than bottom-up initiatives often based on ethnic mobilization and project-based focus inSlovakia

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