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Who is responsible for what? Clarity of responsibilities in multilevel states: The case of Spain


Sandra León Alfonso, Centre of Political and Constitutional Studies, Plaza Marina Española 9, 28071 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


There is a theoretical disagreement between the classical normative positive view on decentralisation, which states that the fragmentation of power shifts policy more closely into line with citizens' preferences, and a more recent critical view that states that decentralisation blurs attribution of responsibility. This disagreement can only be resolved by refining the understanding of specific institutional designs. The theoretical claim in this article is that the relation between multilevel governance and clarity of responsibilities is contingent upon the type of decentralisation in place. To test this proposition, individual data from an asymmetrically decentralised system – the Spanish State of Autonomies – are used. Results show that the relationship between decentralisation and clarity of responsibility has a u-shape. Responsibility attribution is clearer in regions with high and low levels of decentralisation, where one level of government clearly predominates over the other, than in regions with a more intertwined distribution of powers.