Can policy instruments shape the policy problems they aim to solve? How interest registers redefined conflicts of interest

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Sofia Wickberg University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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By analysing the policy process leading to the introduction of interest registers in France and Sweden, this article argues that their use as a policy instrument was crucial for acknowledging and defining conflict of interest as a problem. It challenges rationalist approaches to public policy that focus on how the adoption of policy solutions follows the identification of policy problems, instead, favouring the acknowledgement of how problems and solutions can exist independently. To identify how interest registers became a preferred policy solution, the article traces how policies from the UK and US were integrated in the global anti-corruption toolkit in the 1990s and subsequently adopted in France and Sweden in the 2010s. It uncovers the sequencing of events, and, specifically, the evolution of public discourse on conflicts of interest around the adoption of public interest registers. It shows that interest registers contribute to (re)define the problem of conflict of interest in new contexts of adoption. The sequencing of events suggests that the problem of conflict of interest was rarely used before the instrument’s adoption and, what is important, did not have a clear ‘stabilised’ shared meaning. Interest registers thus give reality to the problem and modify its definition. By establishing which interests are to be declared in standardised forms, interest registers define new ‘risk areas’ for corruption. They also convey the idea that the problem relates to an asymmetry of information between elected officials and voters that can be corrected through transparency measures, shifting the locus of problem-solving responsibility to the public.

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Sofia Wickberg University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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