2022/ 2023

Dániel G. Szabó

Mobility Phase: Leiden University, Netherlands | Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Warsaw

Bureaucrats under Illiberal Rule

Dániel G. Szabó has been a Head of Department at the Municipality of Budapest responsible for participatory governance, the city council, and IT with a staff of 130 since 2019. He supervised the city’s first participatory budget process and he is currently working on bringing citizen-oriented digital services. Previously he worked on the rule of law and the independence of administrative courts at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. He has a background in social activism, worked as a journalist and as a think-tank analyst. Previously he was a consultant and intern for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He was a member of the Hungarian National Election Commission for two election periods. He holds an LL.M. in Comparative Constitutional Law from the Central European University.

Bureaucrats under Illiberal Rule

Civil servants working under illiberal governments are caught between two conflicting obligations: the duty to implement the policies of democratically elected illiberal governments and their professional responsibility towards good governance. Such dilemmas preoccupy civil servants in illiberal states across Europe. This project explores the dilemmas and the coping mechanisms of bureaucrats in European illiberal states. More broadly, it investigates tools to foster a resilient civil service against the backdrop of the free movement of persons in the EU: it is easy for senior civil servants to flee their countries (exit the bureaucracy) instead of activating resistance. Some of the questions are: Can civil servants rely on EU law to defend constitutional democracy from illiberal governments? Would the EU’s Whistleblower Directive protect outspoken civil servants? Can laws, staff regulations, a strong judiciary, civic education, unions, or authentic connection with the people protect bureaucrats? Focusing on Poland and Hungary, the project aims to explore these tensions from the perspective of government officials: the mid-level bureaucrats, just like the author, who are the backbone of policy making and public services. The mixed-method research project will draw on interviews and a survey of civil servants and experts in both countries.