Category Archives: Croatia

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2017

This post marks the third time that I have written about selected presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents (see 2015 and 2016 here), so that it is now becoming a tradition of its own. This year’s speeches differed only little in focus from last year, as the refugee crisis and security concerns continue to determine the public debate, yet speeches took a more political tone in a number of countries. At the same time, this year also saw some ‘firsts’ – newly-elected Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, gave her first New Year’s address and Austria (for the first time in decades) had no New Year’s address at all.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska reading out his New Year´s Day Address | © prezident.sk

Presidential Christmas and New Year’s Addresses tend to be a mixture of reflections on the political and societal events of the last year and general good wishes for the festive period or the new year. While the previous year had already seen an increase in political content, this year even more presidents referred to concrete events and policies – first and foremost the terrorist attack in Berlin on 19 December 2016. German president Gauck’s Christmas message was clearly dominated by the attack, yet stressed the need for compassion, highlighted efforts by volunteers both after the Berlin attacks and in helping refugees, and called for unity over sweeping judgments. Slovak president Andrej Kiska dismissed xenophobic sentiments in his New Year’s address even more directly, acknowledging a deviation from usual end-of-year reflection and highlighting his disagreements with the government over the issue. The Slovak government has not only strongly opposed taking in any refugees, but also includes the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and recently passed a more restrictive church law specifically targeting Muslims (which was promptly vetoed by Kiska). Quite in contrast to these conciliatory words, Czech president Zeman used the opportunity claim a ‘clear link between the migrant wave and terrorist attacks’. In his 20-minute address – far longer than any other presidential holiday speech – from the presidential holiday residence at Lany, he also attacked the governing coalition, spoke about banning internet pornography and expressed his admiration for Donald Trump and his ‘aggressive style’.

The Christmas speech of Polish president Andrzej Duda also took an unusually political turn as it started off with much praise for government reforms. Although the Polish government, too, refused to accept refugees under the EU compromises, references to EU crises remained relatively vague. Remarkable, however, was Duda’s call to ‘respect the rules of democracy’ which was clearly aimed at the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition which criticised what they in turn perceived as the unconstitutional behaviour of the governing party (see here). The address by Duda’s Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, was also in remarkable as she devoted the entirety of her speech to condemning recent increases in intolerance and the simultaneous glorification of past fascist and communist regimes which she then linked to the fact that “busloads of young people are leaving the country each day” and called the government and all parties to action. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella likewise urged parties to take action  to avoid the ‘ungovernability’ of the country, yet mostly focussed on listing the concerns of citizens and various tragic deaths rather than providing a very positive message.

Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev used his last New Year’s address as president to highlight more positive achievements, such as the ten year anniversary of EU accession (also mentioned by Romanian president Iohannis in his very brief seasons’ greetings), a rise in GDP and successful completion of the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. While stressing the need for further reform, President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades also provided a more positive message focused on the progress in the negotiations about a reunification of the island, also thanking people for their sacrifices in implementing the financial bail-out completed in 2016.

Hungarian President Ader with sign language interpreter (left); Latvian president Vejonis with his wife (right)

On a different note, Hungarians and Latvians might have been surprised to see additional faces in the recordings of presidential messages: Hungarian president Janos Ader’s speech was simultaneously interpreted into sign language by deaf model and equality activist Fanni Weisz standing in the background, whereas Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis even shared parts of the address with his wife. For those interested in ‘pomp and circumstance’, the address by Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro is highly recommended as the recording features a praeludium and a postludium by a military band in gala uniform inside the presidential palace (Youtube video here).

Last, for the first time in decades Austria lacked a New Year’s address by the president. Although Alexander Van der Bellen was finally elected president in early December, he will only be inaugurated on 26 January 2016. His successor, Heinz Fischer, finished his term already on 8 July 2016 and the triumvirate of parliamentary speakers (which incidentally include Van der Bellen’s unsuccessful challenger, Norbert Hofer), who are currently serving collectively as acting president, did not provide any New Year’s greetings.

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A full list of speeches is available for download here.

Croatia – Snap elections that made the moderate leader of the not-so-moderate HDZ the most likely candidate for Prime Minister

 

Dissolution of the Hrvatski sabor

In June 2016 a majority of deputies voted for the dissolution of the Croatian Parliament, which became effective July 15, 2016. This early dissolution came only a few months after the last parliamentary elections in November 2015. Unfortunately this election did not result in a clear majority for any of the two main parties (the nationalist, center-right HDZ and the center-left SDP). It was however expected that the then-ruling SDP and its Prime Minister Zoran Milanović would form the new government with the support of the newly established, and widely seen as independent, platform MOST. Yet, in a very surprising move, MOST formed a coalition government with the conservative HDZ. This coalition forced the SDP into opposition and was led by a widely unknown new Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković (Vlahovic 2016). The brief period of government until the dissolution of parliament in June was strongly influenced by the growing tensions between the main political representatives of MOST and HDZ, in particular between the MOST leadership and Tomislav Karamarko (then deputy prime minister and party leader of HDZ). MOST accused Karamarko of conflicts of interest by engaging into a public discussion of the national oil company (see for more detailed information Matijaca 2016).[1] Although it is widely reported that the calls of MOST for the resignation of Karamarko and thus the enduring conflict between MOST and HDZ were the trigger for the vote of no-confidence by HDZ deputies, the 5-months coalition government was also characterized by a growing gap between the policy interests of these two parties. What followed was an astounding act of self-destruction, the vote of no confidence initiated by the deputies of HDZ against their own prime minister. After the vote of no confidence was initiated and confirmed by a parliamentary majority President Grabar-Kitarović followed the provisions of Art. 104 of the constitution and dissolved the national assembly.[2]

Campaign between Andrej Plenković and Zoran Milanović

After the devastating experience of the 5 months government and the inability to form a new governmental majority the chair of the HDZ, Karamarko, resigned. Karamarko pursued a highly nationalist agenda and was partly responsible for increasing nationalist sentiments in the public discourse. He was succeeded by Andrej Plenković. Plenković pursues a very different agenda and started with the promise to push the HDZ closer to the middle. He was elected by the HDZ party members in July 2016 “in a sign it [HDZ] was distancing itself from ultra-conservative elements” (Byrne 2016). With the new party head of the HDZ, the duel between the two leading politicians – Plenković for the HDZ and Zoran Milanović for the SDP – started. And the campaign was right from the start personalized and at times left decency far behind. It became obvious that Milanović was prepared to fight against Karamarko but failed to find a proper way to campaign against Plenković. Personal insults were in particular made by Milanović against Plenković, one perceived offense against Plenković’s parents was widely reported. However, these personal attacks did not help Milanović, it rather helped HDZ in two ways: First, Plenković behaved differently in public and was thus inspiring more confidence and second, MOST aligned with HDZ in their pursuit to change the political culture in the country (Milekic 2016).

Election and election results

The election was held on September 11, and a total of 151 members of parliament were elected. According to the information provided by the Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) 140 members of parliament are elected in 10 territorial constituencies in Croatia. 3 are elected by Croatian citizens living abroad. 8 seats are reserved for ethnic minorities (Parliament of Croatia 2016). The deputies are elected in a proportional representation system and similar to other countries a 5 % electoral threshold is necessary.

The earlier mentioned rival parties, HDZ and SDP, each formed a party list. HDZ with Andrej Plenković run on the list called “Patriotic Coalition” and Zoran Milanović and the SDP on the list called “Croatia is Growing” (in cooperation with HNS, HSS and HSU).[3] In addition MOST and a number of other parties and coalitions stood for election.

Within this short campaign period between July and September, opinion polls frequently showed a tie between the two main competing parties. Yet, the official election results were different and presented a surprisingly clear winner, Andrej Plenkovic and the HDZ. Upon the report of the State Election Commission HDZ won 61 seats and the People’s Coalition only 54 seats (Milekic 2016a). The most likely option for a coalition will be once again HDZ with MOST – similar to the unsuccessful attempt earlier this year. Petrov, the leader of MOST, which won 13 seats in the National Assembly, obviously has this experience in mind when he announced after the election results were made public: “This time, we don’t expect only promises from them [potential coalition partners], but doing it as well. Parliament must be constituted, realise the conditions, and then only will the government be formed” (Milekic 2016a). The most likely coalition will however also need the support from the minority party representatives as they lack the absolute majority, necessary for example to investiture the government (Art. 111 constitution).

Literature
Byrne, Andrew (2016): Conservative HDZ wins Croatia vote. September 12, in: Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/278002c2-7874-11e6-97ae-647294649b28 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Croatian News Agency (2016): SDP to run in coalition with HNS, HSS and HSU. July 9, in: https://aboutcroatia.net/news/croatia/sdp-run-coalition-hns-hss-and-hsu-28485 (accessed September 10, 2016)
Matijaca, Danni (2016): It’s Official: Tomislav Karamarko Was in a Conflict of Interest. June 15, in: total croatia news, http://www.total-croatia-news.com/item/12461-it-s-official-tomislav-karamarko-was-in-a-conflict-of-interest (accessed September 10, 2016)
Milekic, Sven (2016): SDP Leader’s Tirades Leave Croats Bemused. August 30, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/leftist-leader-tries-antagonizing-croatia-s-elections-campaign-08-29-2016 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Milekic, Sven (2016a): HDZ Looks to Form Croatia Govt After Surprise Win. September 12, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/hdz-wins-on-croatia-elections-promises-government-09-12-2016 (accessed September 13, 2016).
Vlahovic, Natko (2016): Opinion. Business-minded PM could transform Croatia. January 25, in: EUobserver, https://euobserver.com/opinion/131967 (accessed September 10, 2016).

Parliament of Croatia (2016): http://www.sabor.hr/English

[1] Karamarko has over the years faced a broad range of accusations but has politically survived everything thus far.

[2] Grabar-Kitarović’s own term as president is characterized by partisanship towards the HDZ.

[3] Initially Plenković announced that HDZ will not run on the coalition platform. The abbreviations stand for Croatian People’s Party (HNS), the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU), see Croatian News Agency (2016).

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2016

In the first blog post of 2015, I explored the origins of and various customs and conventions surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state. This year, I will look more closely at the content of these speeches (although focussing – for the sake of brevity – only on presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state this time).

Finnish Niinistö records his New Year's speech for 2016 | photo (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö records his New Year’s speech for 2016 | (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

As I noted in my post last year, Christmas and New Year’s addresses rarely rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies and often include a short summary of the last year’s events in the country. Common themes (apart from holiday wishes) are relatively rare. This year, however, many presidents directly addressed the refugee crisis in Europe. The presidents of Austria and Germany who have had to deal with extraordinary refugee streams both called for compassion and tried to strengthen the ‘can do’-spirit that has so far characterised the reactions of Federal Chancellors’ Merkel and Faynmann and volunteers in both countries. Presidents of other countries hit by the surge of refugees did not address the issue so clearly. Hungarian president Ader referred to it among other unexpected events of 2015, while the Slovenian and Croatian presidents Pahor and Grabar-Kitarović in their – significantly shorter seasons’ greetings – did not raise the issue at all apart from vague references to difficulties.

The refugee crisis featured more prominently on the other hand in the speeches of Slovak president Kiska and Czech president Zeman – yet taking almost diametrically opposed positions. Kiska largely downplayed the issue stating Slovakia was much less affected than other countries and the issue should not dominate the national agenda. Zeman on the other hand, called the influx of refugees as “an organized invasion” and called for young male refugees to return to their country to fight ISIS. Given Zeman’s previous statements this is hardly surprising, yet it is generally unusual for a Christmas message to include such controversial material. The refugee crisis also took centre stage in speeches by Finnish president Niinistö as he justified the steps taken by the government to limit the number of people receiving help.

Another theme in presidential speeches were national tragedies and the security. The Paris attacks featured strongly in French president Hollande’s speech, so did the Germanwing air crash in German president Gauck’s Christmas message. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and potential conflict with Russia as well as the war in Syria were included in a number of speeches. Yet presidents also focussed on the economic situation and way of the recession – most prominently included in the messages of the presidents of Greece, Portugal and Iceland. The latter’s speech was however mostly reported on due to the fact that president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced that he would not run for a sixth term as president.

Overall, this once again highlights that presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses can be important indicators of the political situation or the importance of particular events throughout the year. Until now, there has nevertheless been only very limited academic research on presidential statements on these occasions. So far, I could only find an analysis of the role of religion in new year’s addresses by Swiss Federal Presidents – showing an overall decline in biblical references throughout the years. [1] In most European republics appear to follow this trend – explicit biblical references beyond a mere reference to the holiday can only be found in the speeches of the presidents of Malta and Hungary.

Christmas - NY presidents 2016 + Wulff 2011

From top left to bottom right: Presidents Higgins (Ireland), Duda (Poland), Wulff (Germany; 2011), Coleiro Preca (Malta), Iohannis (Romania).

Last but not least (and partly inspired by the DailyMail’s analysis of the photographs on Queen Elizabeth II’s desk), I think it is worth looking at the setting of presidents’ speeches. Where speeches are broadcast on TV (or recorded and then put on youtube), the setting is surprisingly similar with the president usually sitting or standing in front of flags or a fireplace. In Germany, this set-up had so much become the norm that Christian Wulff’s walking speech among a group of surprisingly diverse citizens (see centre image of above collage) caused great excitement among editors trying to fill the seasonal news slump. More unusual however was Swiss Federal President Adolf Ogi’s address of 2000 – he stood in front of a railway tunnel (watch the video here).

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[1] Kley, Andreas (2008). ‘”Und der Herrgott, Herr Bundespräsident?” Zivilreligion in den Neujahrsansprachen der schweizerischen Bundespräsidenten’. In: Kraus, Dieter et al. Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Kirchenrecht. Bern, Switzerland, 11-56.

A list with links to the 2015/2016 speeches can be downloaded here.

Thomas Sedelius – Semi-Presidentialism and Intra-Executive Conflict

This is a guest post by Thomas Sedelius, Dalarna University, Sweden.

Thomas Sedelius

The journal East European Politics (EEP) has awarded the 2013 EEP prize  to Thomas Sedelius & Olga Mashtaler for their article “Two Decades of Semi-Presidentialism: Issues of Intra-Executive Conflict in Central and Eastern Europe 1991-2011” as “the most outstanding article in the field of study from the previous year’s volume”. This post summarises the argument in the article. 

As semi-presidentialism has become a very popular form of government worldwide and has appeared as the most common one in Central and Eastern Europe, there are strong reasons for the academic community to go further into analysing the operation of semi-presidentialism and its sub-types.

A built-in risk of semipresidentialism is the occurrence of intra-executive conflict between the president and the prime minister. Although there are few empirically oriented studies substantiating the assumed risks associated with intra-executive conflict, there is a belief in the literature that intra-executive conflict is a “peril” of semi-presidentialism. With few exceptions (e.g. Protsyk 2005, 2006; Sedelius and Ekman 2010) the phenomenon of intra-executive conflict in semi-presidential regimes remains underexplored. From Eastern Europe there are a number of cases where we can observe that intra-executive conflict has been present and has resulted in negative effects such as political instability and stalemate policy situations, e.g. between President Walesa and several prime ministers in Poland 1991–95, between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych in Ukraine 2006–07, and between President Basescu and Prime Minister Ponta in Romania 2012, just to mention a few.

Our article systematically examines intra-executive conflict in eight semi-presidential countries in Central and Eastern Europe from 1991-2011. We ask: To what extent is intra-executive conflict a persistent phenomenon in post-communist semi-presidential regimes? How does the type of semi-presidentialism matter to the frequency of conflict? Has the nature of conflict shifted over the course of the post-communist period in terms of issue and character? Do intra-executive conflicts primarily include differing policy orientations between the president and the cabinet, or do they predominantly reflect power struggles over constitutional prerogatives and domains of influence? Our premier–presidential cases are Bulgaria 1991–2011, Croatia 2000–2011, Lithuania 1991–2011, Moldova 1991–2000,3 Poland 1991–2011, Romania 1991–2011, and Ukraine 2006–10.The president–parliamentary cases are Croatia 1992–2000, Russia 1991–2011, Ukraine 1991–2006, and 2010–2011.

We adhere to the standard academic definition that semi-presidentialism is where the constitution includes both a popularly elected president and a prime minister and cabinet accountable to the parliament (Elgie 1999). In addition, we separate premier-presidentialism, where the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible solely to the legislature, from president-parliamentarism, where both the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to both the legislature and the president (Shugart and Carey 1992). Intra-executive conflict is defined by us as struggles between the president and the prime minister/cabinet over the control of the executive branch. In order to have a more operational definition, the relationship between the president and the cabinet is considered as conflict-ridden when there has been an observable clash between the president and the prime minister and/or between the president and other government ministers, manifested through obstructive or antagonistic behaviour from either side, directed towards the other. The level of intra-executive conflict is then compressed into ordinal estimations of low and high conflict.

Initially we formulated some theoretically derived propositions regarding the trend and issues of conflict. We expected:

1) more frequent occurrences of intra-executive conflict under premier–presidentialism than under president–parliamentary systems,

2) more frequent occurrences of intra-executive conflict under cohabitation (premier-presidentialism only) than under a united executive.

3) more frequent occurrences of intra-executive conflicts in the earliest period following the transition and then a gradual decrease as the institutionalisation process continued.

4) conflicts emanating from confrontations over formal rules of the game to be most frequent in the earliest period following the transition and then a gradual decrease as the institutionalisation process continued.

Based on expert survey data as well as indicators derived from documents and literature analysis, 76 instances of intra-executive relations between 1991 and 2011 were examined.

Strong support was provided only for the second proposition above, i.e. intra-executive conflict has clearly been more frequent under periods of cohabitation than under united executives. The remaining three propositions found weak or no support in our data. Intra-executive conflict has occurred frequently under both types of semi-presidentialism, and has persisted at similar levels throughout the post-communist era. In addition, we found that over time the character of conflicts have only slightly changed from being predominantly power struggles over formal rules and competences to being more issue-specific and policy-oriented.

Reservations regarding the limited number of cases are of course necessary, especially when separating between premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism.

Intra-executive conflict illustrates one of the main challenges of semipresidentialism, i.e. the often vaguely defined, and partly overlapping, competences between the president and the prime minister. Many conflicts are essentially a pure struggle for domination, power, and influence within the executive branch. Clashes over appointments, dismissals, policy reforms, and constitutional prerogatives are often logical expressions of the institutional competition embedded into the dual executive structure of semi-presidentialism. Apparently, intra-executive conflict has not led to the collapse of democratisation in the premier–presidential systems of Central and Eastern Europe. Periods of strong conflict may in fact demonstrate a normal and healthy sign of any maturing political system and the absence of such manifest conflicts (e.g. Putin’s Russia) could be a worrying sign of increasing authoritarianism. But intra-executive conflict poses considerable strains on transitional countries since it negatively affects cabinet stability and policy effectiveness. We need to know more about if, when, and under what conditions intra-executive conflict may also pose a serious threat to democratisation and regime stability.

References

Elgie, Robert, ed. 1999. Semi-Presidentialism in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Protsyk, Oleh. 2005. ”Politics of Intra-executive Conflict in Semi-presidential Regimes in Eastern Europe.” East European Politics and Society 18 (2): 1–20.

Protsyk, Oleh. 2006.”Intra-executive Competition between President and Prime Minister: Patterns of Institutional Conflict and Cooperation in Semi-presidential Regimes.” Political Studies 56 (2): 219–241.

Sedelius, Thomas & Joakim Ekman. 2010. “Intra-executive Conflict and Cabinet Instability: Effects of Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe.” 45 (4): 505–530.

Sedelius, Thomas & Joakim Ekman. 2010. “Intra-executive Conflict and Cabinet Instability: Effects of Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe.” Government and Opposition 45 (4): 505–530.

Shugart, M. S., and J. M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

The full text article is free to download here [http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21599165.2012.748662#.VNS56k10ylY]

Thomas Sedelius is Associate Professor in Political Science at Dalarna University, Sweden. His research covers semi-presidentialism, political institutions, transition, democratisation, and East European politics. In addition to a number of articles, his publications include The Tug-of-War between Presidents and Prime Ministers: Semi-Presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe (Örebro Studies, 2006) and Demokratiseringsprocesser: nya perspektiv och utmaningar (Studentlitteratur, 2014, with Joakim Ekman & Jonas Linde). Thomas currently leads a research project (2015-2018) financed by the Swedish Research Council on semi-presidentialism and governability in transitional countries.

Olga Mashtaler is a researcher and PhD student at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Kiev. She currently (2014-15) holds a guest scholarship at Örebro University granted by the Swedish Institute. Her research covers political culture, political institutions, semi-presidentialism and East European politics.

Croatia – Presidential election to be decided in runoff between centre-left incumbent Ivo Josipovic and conservative Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic

Presidential elections were held in Croatia on 28 December 2014. Incumbent Ivo Josipovic of the ruling Social Democratic Party ran for re-election and had three challengers. He finished the race almost neck and neck with Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the candidate supported by the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union. As none of the candidates passed the 50% threshold, a run-off will be organized on 11 January 2015.

The Croatian Electoral Commission reported a turnout of 47.14%, slightly higher than in 2009, and the following results:

  • Ivo Josipovic (Social Democratic Party, SDP) – 38.46%
  • Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ) – 37.22%
  • Ivan-Vilibor Sincic (Zivi Zid) – 16.42%
  • Milan Kujundzic (Croatian DawnPeople’s Party, HZ) – 6.30%

Due to the limited powers of the head of state, the presidential contest was regarded as a key test for political parties before the 2015 general election. A severe economic crisis during which Croatia’s economy shrunk for six consecutive years has dented the popularity of both SDP and President Josipovic. Grabar-Kitarovic – NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy since July 2011, a former Ambassador of Croatia to the United States (2008 – 2011) and minister of European Integration (2003-2005) and Foreign Affairs (2005-2008) – has particularly focused her campaign on economic issues and constantly challenged President Josipovic’s ability to deal with the deep economic and social crisis.

The presidential election also drew attention to the good performance of the new populist parties set up by 25-year-old activist Ivan-Vilibor Sincic and Milan Kujundzic in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

The Croatian presidency is nowadays seen as a largely ceremonial institution, after the 2000 constitutional amendment shifted considerable power from the presidency to the parliament. Under the 1990 Constitution, the head of state had the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister (Art. 98). Moreover, the government was responsible to both the parliament and the head of state (Art. 111).

Under the 2000 Constitution, the president has been constrained to nominate as candidate for the Prime Minister position the person who enjoys the support of the majority in the parliament after the distribution of seats (Art. 97). Moreover, the cabinet is solely responsible to the legislature (Art. 114). Thus, although the President retains some influence over the process of government formation and may be able to decide on the organization of early elections under certain circumstances (Art. 109-111), the head of state’s involvement in the making and breaking of governments has been considerably diminished.

Thus, among semi-presidential states, Croatia is classified as a president-parliamentary sub-type between 1991 and 2000 and as a premier-presidential sub-type since 2001.

Despite the decrease in the extent of presidential powers, the 2000 Constitution does grant the head of state several prerogatives that are not negligible. Although lacking the power to veto legislation, the President has the right to challenge parliamentary bills to the Constitutional Court before signing them into law (Art. 88). Additionally, he or she has an important say in the formulation and execution of foreign policy (Art. 98), is the commander of the armed forces (Art. 99), and has exceptional powers during the state of war (Art. 100). The president also has the right to initiate constitutional changes, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority of all MPs (Art. 142-144), and to call for a referendum at the government’s proposal and with the counter-signature of the Prime Minster (Art. 86).

Both candidates who will contest the runoff on 11 January promise to increase the influence of the presidency over internal politics. Ivo Josipovic has pledged to initiate a constitutional amendment so that citizens can ask for any subject that is supported by at least 10,000 signatures to be debated in parliament. Additionally, he is supporting the adoption of a mixed electoral system and a territorial reform that would reorganize Croatia’s 20 counties into 5 to 8 regions, for which he would be ready to call for referenda.

While Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is against any modification of the Constitution, her presidential programme includes a wide range of social and economic measures. She promises to strengthen the rule of law, to protect the rights of the members of the armed forces and war veterans, to promote economic growth, and to solve the economic crisis for which she holds the centre-left government and President Josipovic responsible. However, she has not indicated the means through which she would be able to push these reforms given the absence of presidential powers over these domains.

Ultimately, the ability of either candidate to enforce their electoral promises after the 11 January poll depends not only on their formal powers but also on their relation with the government and the parliamentary majority. If Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic wins the presidency, then her influence on the political system might be limited during the period of cohabitation with the SDP-led government that would ensue until at least late 2015, when the next general election is scheduled. However, cohabitation might not be avoided after the next parliamentary election even if Ivo Josipovic wins the presidential runoff, as current polls show SDP losing ground in favour of a new left-wing rival, while HDZ remains the most popular party in the country.

…and a happy New Year! Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state

Every year millions of Britons gather in front of their ‘tellies’ to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas message. This year, over 7.8m viewers saw and heard her speak on the topic of reconciliation in the light of the WW I centenary and were delighted by references to her visit to the set of ‘Games of Thrones’, making it the UK’s Christmas TV highlight (it attracted 1.5m more viewers than the ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special and 2m more viewers than the Christmas episode of the period drama ‘Downtown Abbey’). Given that this blog deals with presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state, writing about the Queen’s Christmas message might be peculiar for some readers. Nevertheless, the tradition of addressing the nation has – in the European context – first been documented for monarchs, with presidents continuing this tradition.

Queen Elizabeth's (left) Royal Christmas Message is one the most watched Christmas address by a head of state worldwide; German president Gauck (right) is one of only two presidents in Europe to deliver his holiday address on Christmas.

Queen Elizabeth’s (left) Royal Christmas Message is one the most watched Christmas addresses by a head of state worldwide; German president Gauck (right) is one of only three presidents in Europe to deliver his holiday address on Christmas Day.

British monarchs have only addressed the nation at Christmas since 1932 (on proposal of the BBC’s founding director). Earlier examples of public addresses to the nation on the occasion of Christmas or the New Year have been documented for Kings of Denmark and the German Emperor since the late 19th century. Starting with general well-wishes for the New Year and/or Christmas, holiday addresses have now developed into more elaborate speeches which are designed to reach a wide audience. Apart from general remarks about the holiday season and a short review of the last year, heads of state also often highlight specific themes in their message. Thereby, the degree to which the content is ‘political’ tends to vary with the constitutional position of the head of state. In the European monarchies the content is often coordinated with the government (although much this process – like so many interactions between constitutional monarchs and elected representatives – remains shrouded in secrecy) and themes or highlights tend to be rather uncontroversial. Likewise, indirectly elected presidents – with some exceptions – only rarely include strong political statements or use speeches to express entirely new opinions. In Switzerland, New Year’s Day coincides with the inauguration of a new Federal President (the head of the collegial executive), so that the president’s New Year’s Address is simultaneously an inaugural address and does not necessarily follow this pattern. Popularly elected presidents are generally more likely to use this annual tradition to talk about (specific) policy. For instance, French president Francois Hollande spoke about economic reforms (several of which take effect 1 January 2015) and Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiadis outlined plans for modernisation of the state.

Map_of_EU_presidents-monarchs-xmas-ny

Apart from this divide, a less relevant albeit interesting division between presidents and monarchs appears in Europe. Apart from Germany, the Czech Republic and Malta, presidents address the nation on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day (the Irish president provides a combined message), while the majority of monarchs (with Norway, Denmark and Monaco being the exception) deliver their message on Christmas Day. Hereby, it needs to be noted that German presidents until 1970 delivered their speech on New Year’s Day (which means they switched with the Chancellor). Czech presidents also gave New Year’s addresses until president Zeman returned to the pre-1949 tradition of delivering his speech at Christmas after his inauguration in 2013. I have tried to find reasons for the divide between presidents and monarchs, yet have not found any palpable evidence. Monarchs’ tendency to deliver Christmas messages might be related to their role in national churches (although this does not explain the Danish and Norwegian exceptions). Presidents on the other hand, deliver messages on the relatively world-view-‘neutral’ New Year’s Eve/Day. In Central and Eastern Europe, Communist leaders naturally avoided giving speeches on or related to Christmas Day. After the fall of Communism, this tradition was retained by the new democratic leaders. The Lithuanian and Romanian president form the general exception from all other European heads of state. While both issue short press statements to wish their citizens a happy Christmas and New Year, neither gives a specific speech. The Prince of Liechtenstein does not even that.

Although Christmas and New Year’s messages rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies. Nevertheless, they reflect – although in varying degrees – not only the institutional arrangements of European democracies. Furthermore, they shed light on how political traditions develop (be it formally or informally) and can carry on from one regime to another (monarchy to republic; autocracy to democracy).

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A list with links to this year’s Christmas and New Year’s Addresses can be found here (if available the link is to an English version) –> Links to speeches 2014-2015
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Should you know more about the history and practice of Chrismas/New Year’s messages by heads of state in the countries discussed above, please let us know in the comment section below.

Presidential term lengths and possibilities for re-election in European republics

I recently read up on the amendments made to the Czech constitution to allow for popular presidential elections and stumbled across Art. 57 (2) – ‘No person may be elected President more than twice in succession’ (which already applied to indirectly elected presidents) and wondered how it looks in other European republics and how it relates to term length. The results of my study of each country’s constitution are summarised in the bar chart below.

While Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) can only serve a single term of five years, Italy’s Giorgio Napolitano (right) has recently been elected for his second 7-year term and there is no term-limit |photos via wikimedia commons

While Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) can only serve a single term of five years, Italy’s Giorgio Napolitano (right) has recently been elected for his second 7-year term and there is no term-limit | photos via wikimedia commons

Term length

Term length is relatively uniform across European republics – in all but six countries a president’s term is five years. Exceptions can only be found in Iceland and Latvia (4 years), Austria and Finland (6 years), and Italy and Ireland (7 years). Interestingly, all presidents serving terms of six or seven years are popularly elected; yet, so is the president of Iceland who is only serving a four-year term.

Presidential term lengths and re-election provisions in the EU member states_presidentialactivism.com

Term limits

A limitation to two consecutive terms can be found in twelve out of 22 European republics, i.e. a former president who has already served two consecutive terms could theoretically be re-elected for a further two consecutive terms after ‘taking a break’. In Latvia, the constitution states that an individual may not serve as president longer than eight consecutive years (which equates to two terms in office). In Portugal, the constitution specifies that a president who has already served two consecutive terms can only be re-elected as president after a break of at least five years. In other countries with a limit of two consecutive terms no such provision exists.

In seven out of the ten remaining republics, presidents can only be elected for two terms – irrespective of consecutiveness. In Malta, a president can even only be elected for one term (although the constitution is rather imprecise on the subject). In Iceland and Italy, there are no regulations on re-election. While it is the norm in Iceland that presidents serve several terms – since 1944 all presidents have served at least three consecutive terms (the current president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is in his fourth term at the moment), Italian president Giorgio Napolitano is the first Italian president to be re-elected.

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This post first appeared on presidentialactivism.com on 22 August 2013.

Who’s in charge when the president is gone? Acting presidents in European republics

The premature termination of a presidential term – be it by impeachment, resignation or death of the incumbent – is generally a rare phenomenon so that the respective regulations belong the constitutional provisions that are applied least often in political practice. Nevertheless, in recent years a number of European republics had to activate these stipulations, often for the first time. This post compares the regulations on acting presidents in European republics and discusses the consequences for the separation of powers and potential for conflict.

Acting German Federal President, Speaker of the Federal Council and Minister-President of Bavaria Horst Seehofer in 2012 | © German Presidential Office

The resignations of German Federal Presidents Horst Köhler in 2010 and Christian Wulff in 2012 presented the first instances in which speakers of the Bundesrat had to take over presidential duties. Similarly, the tragic death of Polish President Lech Kaczyński in 2010 was the first event in post-1989 Poland that required the Sejm Marshal (speaker of the lower house) to temporarily fulfil the role of president. In Romania, the two impeachment attempts against president Traian Basescu in 2007 and 2012 also meant that the speaker of the Senate acted as president while the population was consulted in referenda. On the other hand, when Slovak president Schuster needed to receive specialist treatment in an Austrian hospital in 2000, the speaker of parliament and Prime Minister fulfilled his duties in tandem.

The above examples show that European republics show a great variation in who becomes acting president. In fact, Bulgaria and Switzerland are the only European republics with a functioning vice-presidency (although due to the collegial nature of the Swiss executive its position/relevance differs significantly) [1] and In the remaining countries it is not always obvious who takes over presidential duties in the case of presidential impeachment, resignation or death. The default option is to temporarily devolve the function to a representative of parliament (in all but Bulgaria, Finland and Switzerland representatives of parliament are involved), yet even here differences exist that have consequences for the division of power.

In France, Germany, Italy and Romania the speaker of the second chamber of parliament. As – except for Italy – the government is not responsible to the second chamber this arrangement guarantees a mutual independence of acting president and other institutions. Even though Austria and Poland also have bicameral system, presidential duties here are performed by the speakers of the first chamber and thus by politicians that are more prominent in everyday politics and usually belong to the governing party. In Austria this is partly mitigated by the fact that the speaker and the two deputy speakers perform this role together, yet in Poland the stipulation proved to be controversial – not only because the generally more political role of the Polish Sejm Marshal but also because of the fact that acting president Komorowski was the government’s candidate in the presidential elections. In the Czech Republic, likewise a bicameral system, presidential duties are also fulfilled by the speaker of the first chamber, yet in cooperation with the Prime Minister.

Map_of_EU_presidents away2_

Countries with unicameral systems cannot generally choose a more independent political candidate, yet as the examples of Iceland and Ireland show it is still possible to create less political alternative by pairing them (among others) with the Chairman of the Supreme Court in multi-member committees that jointly fulfil the position of acting president. Estonia shows another way of ensuring independence of the speaker of parliament as acting president in a unicameral system. The constitution foresees that speaker of parliament temporarily gives up their function to act as president and a new speaker is elected for that period to maintain a clear separation of powers.[2] Last, only Finland and Malta place the role of acting president in the hands of the Prime Minister which is even more exceptional when considering the great differences between the two political systems.

The comparison above has shown that variations in who becomes acting president do not vary according to the mode of presidential election or presidential powers and their origin often predate the current political system. An example for this are the regulations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia which both based their regulations on constitutional drafts that still were still designed for the countries’ functioning within a federal Czechoslovakia. Once the break-up was agreed and quick adoption of new constitutions was needed, the presidency was merely added and the actors that previously represented the republic at federation level became the designated acting presidents (Slovakia only introduced a co-role for the speaker of parliament in 1998 as it turned out that the constitution did not transfer enough power to the Prime Minister as acting president to maintain a functioning state after parliament failed to elect a new president).

The question of who is in charge when the president is gone might appear relatively insignificant at first glance given the rarity of early terminations of presidential terms or long-term absence of presidents during their term. Nevertheless, the different stipulations strongly affect the degree to which the presidency can or is likely to still fulfil its function as check-and-balance on other institutions while it is vacant. While this becomes more relevant the longer there is a vacancy in the presidential office, it still changes the balance of power within a political system already in the short term and therefore merits attention. For instance, during the one month that Slovak president Rudolf Schuster spent in hospital in Austria in 2000, Prime Minister Dzurinda and National Council speaker used their position as acting presidents to veto three bills to which Schuster had previously declared his opposition. Only shortly afterwards, the government majority passed the bills again and thus made sure that Schuster could no longer veto the bills or request a review before the constitutional court.

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[1] The Cypriot constitution also institutes a vice-presidency which is reserved for a Turkish Cypriot while the post of president is to be held by a Greek Cypriot. Initially a Turkish Cypriot vice-president served alongside a Greek Cypriot president, yet the vice-presidency has been vacant for about 50-40 years. The start date of the vacancy is difficult to establish – while Turkish Cypriots have not participated in government or parliament since the 1963 crisis, the title of vice-president appears to have been used by Turkish Cypriot leaders until the coup d’état in 1974.
[2] Estonian members of government are also required to give up their place in parliament upon appointment and another MP enters parliament in their place for the time of their appointment.

Croatia – Referendum criticised by the president and prime minister passed with large popular support

On December 1, Croatia held a referendum on whether the constitution should include a definition of marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”. Although the president and the government urged the population to vote no, the proposal was supported by almost two-thirds of the people who turned out to vote. As a result, the Croatian Constitution will be amended, effectively banning same-sex marriage.

The referendum was called as a result of a civil initiative and is the first of this type to be organized in Croatia.

According to the Croatian Constitution, the Parliament must call a referendum when so requested by ten percent of all voters (art. 87). A petition signed by 750,000 citizens calling for the organization of a referendum on the amendment of the constitution was presented to the Parliament by a conservative group called “In the Name of the Family” in June 2013. As a result, although the centre-left government enjoys majority support, the parliament voted to organise the referendum on 8 November 2013.

The popular initiative was strongly backed by the Catholic Church and came as a reaction to the centre-left government’s plans to introduce a Life Partnership Act that would grant same-sex couples equal rights to married couples.

President Josipović, a former member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), actively campaigned against the referendum and expressed his decision to vote against it. He called the referendum unnecessary and urged the population to reject a constitutional amendment that would discriminate against minorities.

Similarly, PM Milanović, the SDP leader, along with other cabinet members advised the population to vote no. The prime minister characterised the referendum as pointless, given the government’s determination to pass the bill on common law partnerships. Thus, the prime minister assured the public opinion that the result of the referendum would not have negative consequences for same-sex couples.

Nevertheless, the constitutional amendment received the support of almost 65 percent of the people who took part in the vote. Although the turnout was less than 38 percent, the referendum was declared valid, as the Constitution does not set a minimum participation threshold. President Josipović confirmed that the Constitution will be amended according to the referendum results. He nevertheless endorsed the government’s plans to introduce legislation that recognises same-sex couples living together as life partners with legal rights.

The results of the referendum may be interpreted as an increase in the support for the centre-right opposition. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which campaigned for a Yes vote, has been in opposition since 2011, when it lost the general election to the centre-left coalition led by the SDP. However, a public opinion survey conducted in November 2013 showed that SDP maintains its position as the strongest Croatian party. The SDP also controls 61 seats out of the 151-seat parliament. Together with its coalition partners, SDP can count on the support of a 80-seat parliamentary majority to pass the bill on life partnerships. The survey also indicates that, one year before the next presidential election, Ivo Josipović remains the most popular politician in the country.