Category Archives: Cyprus

Cyprus – Challenges to Presidential Authority

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bicommunal state in 1960 after 82 years of British colonialism. The Constitution of the Republic provides for a clear separation of powers. Executive power is exercised by the president, who appoints the cabinet and is not held accountable to the parliament, which plays a secondary role within the political system. Thus, the power vested in the president’s office places the elected president at the heart of the political system: he serves as head of the state and the government at the same time and may be seen as an ‘elected absolute monarch’.

The role of the president grew even stronger after the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots from the governing institutions in 1964 following incidents of intercommunal violence. According to the Constitution the president is elected among the Greek Cypriots -the major community of the island- and the vice-president among the Turkish Cypriots. The only effective check and balance regarding the president’s authorities provided in the Constitution was the veto of the vice-president. After the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots there was no effective check and balance for the elected president. This, combined with the importance attached to the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem that have been taking place since and for which the president is responsible, adds moral weight to the presidential powers.

Despite the heavily weighted power of the president in the Cypriot political system, there have been some signs of change in recent years. In particular, three specific challenges to the presidential authority are more obvious than ever in contemporary Cypriot politics.

The first, relates with party system dynamics and the increased power the political parties have successfully claimed throughout the years. Party competition dynamics refer primarily to changing political alliances. Cypriot presidents are elected in office through some alliance between parties that usually breaks down at some point during their tenure. This has important implications for the implementation of government policies. Although the government retains the privilege to enact laws that inflict financial costs, these laws are subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, parliamentary majority is crucial for any president.

The current President, Nicos Anastasiades (elected in February 2013), has lost parliamentary majority just one year after his election and, as a result, faces difficulties in implementing his programme. As the leader of the governing right-wing party Democratic Rally (DISY), A. Neophytou, has acknowledged: ‘the government is dependent upon the (opposition) left-wing AKEL for promoting its goal for reuniting the island and on the (opposition and former governing partner) Democratic Party (DIKO) in promoting its economic programme’.

Moreover, the political parties have developed mechanisms to exercise pressure on the president that include the mobilization of public opinion and parliamentary voting. This has been most evident in recent years with the parties utilizing certain powers of the parliament they previously didn’t, thus, openly challenging the president’s authority. This could have long-term effects and ultimately change the balance of power between the two institutions (executive and legislature).

The second challenge concerns the ‘scandalology’ that has broken out in Cyprus in recent years and some unfortunate appointments made by the President in important public offices. Both phenomena had the same cumulative effect: levels of trust towards the President (and politicians in general) have declined and public life has been under severe scrutiny leaving the President little room for manoeuvre.

‘Scandalology’ followed the dramatic worsening of Cyprus economy and the ‘bail-in’ agreement in March 2013 when a number of scandals involving a number of public officials plagued the public sphere making the public opinion very suspicious towards politicians and state officials which are all seen as corrupted. Some of these scandals touched upon the president himself and his family or people directly appointed by him; a condition that increased levels of distrust towards the institution, as well as the holder. The most significant scandals in this regard were (a) the indictment of the General Attorneys’ Assistant for a serious criminal offense that led to his removal from office by the Supreme Court, and (b) the enactment by the President -through the Attorney General- of the process for removing the Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus from her office following accusations for deliberately falsifying the terms of her contract.

Another source of grievances was a number of high profile appointments in independent authorities and public offices made by the President that have subsequently been involved either in fraud scandals (see above) or severe conflicts with members of his cabinet or even with the President himself, thus turning a boomerang for him. The new Auditor General is a case in point here, whose tenure thus far has been characterized by tension with a number of minsters, mayors and MPs.

All these must be placed in context. Expectations of public officials are significantly higher now in Cyprus than they were in the past, which means that their personal and professional careers are subject to much pressure and scrutiny from a number of institutions that were not present in the past, in particular, the mass media and the rising numbers of NGO activists, as well as the citizens. Both factors work against a ‘quiet’ service in office. Public officials are today more easily expendable: mistakes and/or bad judgments are difficult to hide and may easily result in an officials’ loss of position.

The third challenge relates with the ongoing negotiations for reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem. The Cyprus problem has been the object of continuous discussion and often tension among political parties and the public opinion for many years, especially during negotiations. 41 years after the Turkish invasion and the subsequent division of the island many people believe that the time is ripe for finding a solution. Amidst the ongoing process of negotiations between the leaders of the two communities both parties and public opinion are again forming blocs favouring or opposing a possible solution.

The President is committed to making everything possible to reach a solution; a commitment that prompted reactions against him for being too compromising to Turkish demands. Regardless of his success or failure, the net result will comprise a challenge to the further enactment of his duties. If he succeeds in finding a solution he will have to campaign for passing the solution in a referendum within a turbulent and tense environment. Moreover, if a possible referendum returns a positive vote then the challenge of guiding the people through this new state of affairs will be enormous. If he fails and regardless of his responsibilities, a large number of people that reposed their hopes in him will be hugely disappointed. Consequently, in either case, the President will face a very difficult and divisive terrain which many think that will find him in the losing end anyway. However, the challenge of reuniting the island could entail the prospect of economic development which could benefit him in the long run.

The 2015 Turkish Cypriot elections: Towards a redefinition of the relationship with Turkey?

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bicommunal state in 1960 after 82 years of British colonial rule. While the bicommunal state was constructed as a unitary system, its constitution stipulated consociational features that ensured firm checks and balances between the two communities (Bahcheli 2000). For example, the constitution provided for a Greek Cypriot (GC) president and a Turkish Cypriot (TC) vice-president who were elected by members of their own communities; each could veto the other over foreign affairs, defense, and security.

The bicommunal government established at independence collapsed after just three years, triggering communal violence and the withdrawal of the TCs from all government institutions in 1964. After a Greek-led coup that prompted the 1974 invasion by the Turkish armed forces and the subsequent de facto division of the island, virtually all TCs settled in the Turkish-controlled territory in the northern third of the island. Since then, GCs and TCs have searched for ways to reconcile their political differences and find a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem; for 40 years all such efforts have been unsuccessful, given the two communities’ opposing visions of federalism. It seems that the majority of TCs, having exercised self-rule for nearly 40 years, prefer to maintain a separate TC ‘state’ (Bahcheli 2000).

Self-rule was embodied in the formation of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ in 1983; the ‘TRNC’, however, is actually an illegitimate quasi-state, and is not recognized by the UN nor any other country in the world but Turkey. According to the constitution, the executive branch of the ‘government’ consists of the ‘President’ who is the Head of State, and the council of ministers led by a ‘Prime Minister’. The ‘President’, who is elected for a five-year term, is also the state’s Commander-in-chief, although typically the security forces answer to the ‘Prime Minister’ with Turkey making all crucial decisions. The ‘President’ chooses his ‘Prime Minister’ from those elected to the legislative assembly, and the two together appoint all other ministers, who need not be elected members. The power vested in the president’s office places the elected President at the heart of the political system. This, combined with the importance attached to the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem (for which the ‘President’ is responsible), adds moral weight to the presidential powers.

The April 2015 elections were the seventh time the TCs went to the polls to elect their leader, the first being in 1985. In total, 21 candidates have stood in these seven elections. Rightist-nationalist Rauf Denktash won the first four elections, followed by (leftist) Mehmet Ali Talat in 2005 and (rightist) Dervis Eroglu in 2010. The lowest ever turnout was in 1995 (80.1%). The 2015 voting featured four major candidates (seven in total): the incumbent D. Eroglu, supported by the two major parties of the right – the National Unity Party (UBP) and the Democratic Party (together accounting for 50.49% of the vote in the 2013 parliamentary elections); Kudret Ozersay (independent and former head of the Turkish Cypriot negotiation team); Sibel Siber, speaker of the ‘parliament’ and candidate of the Republican Turkish Party –CTP (38.38%); and Mustafa Akinci (independent), supported by the Communal Democracy Party and the United Cyprus Party (combined vote 10.56%). All major candidates but Eroglu were considered to be pro-solution albeit in varying degrees, with Akinci being the most committed to finding a settlement.

In view of the forthcoming new round of negotiations announced to start on 15 May 2015 after months of stalemate, the TC elections were considered critical, and by both political analysts and the media. The voting was crucial in another respect. In recent years, TC politics have been marked by increasing fluidity and realignment. At the heart of this process lies the relationship between the TCs and Turkey, as well as voters’ disillusionment with the traditional political parties, both the right and the left. As a result it was very difficult to interpret public opinion regarding the 2015 elections based on the polls, which offered contradicting predictions throughout the campaign.

Fluidity and fragmentation among the electorate and the political actors were already evidenced in the parliamentary elections of 2013 and the municipal elections of 2014, which were combined with a referendum over constitutional changes. Both elections, as well as the referendum, revealed political behaviours outside the traditional TC voting behaviour. The traditional right-wing majority failed to produce results, whereas the mainstream left also failed to draw significant support. The results indicated shifting voting patterns, both within (intra) and between (inter) ideological blocks that favoured new movements and organizations, both of leftist and center-right nuances.

For many TC analysts these new trends are indicative of an ongoing restructuring of the relationship between Turkey and the TCs, away from the traditional ‘mother-child’ relationship and towards the weaning of the TC community from Turkey. This restructuring seemed to begin in the aftermath of the failed 2004 referendum for the Annan plan. There are very many TCs who consider Turkey as rather like ‘the IMF of Northern Cyprus,’ not only because it adopted an intransigent position regarding a settlement in Cyprus, but because it imposed severe austerity measures on the ‘TRNC’ (Bozkurt 2014).

Following the 1974 invasion, Turkey’s involvement in the north of Cyprus was always obvious and intense (Ozsaglam 2003); this was especially true with regard to electoral politics, with Turkey favouring right-wing parties and candidates. Changes in the TC community over time, however, led Turkey to distance itself from the 2015 elections — at least overtly — for the first time; its interference in 2010 proved a failure and it was possible that a new intervention could backfire.

The results of the first round of the voting were a clear sign of the changes taking place and can be described as a surprising upset of power relations. There were two obvious winners and two losers: Akinci and Ozersay on the winning side and Eroglu and Siber on the losing end. Eroglu finished first, polling 28.15%, just above half of the combined percentages of the parties’ supporting him, whereas Akinci polled 26.94%, well above the percentages of his supporting parties. Ozersay polled 21.25%, a very high score given his independent status and without any party endorsement. Siber polled merely 24.27%, representing only 63% of her party’s voters. Akinci and Eroglu progressed to the second round where Akinci comfortably won by 60.3%.

Akinci’s electoral victory cannot be explained solely as the rise of the Left in the TC community. It is far more complicated than that. His high score in the first round, well above the accumulated percentage of the two leftist parties supporting him, means that he managed to win votes not only from the supporters of the center-left CTP but also from those traditionally voting for right-wing parties. This was more explicit during the second round of the elections. Akinci benefited from the split in Eroglu’s party, UBP, as well as from the disillusionment amongst the left wing constituency and especially the supporters of the CTP. The latter was criticized for its conformist position and especially because of its perceived subservience to the conservative AKP government in Turkey.

Akinci’s win signals strong support for the new Cyprus-centered societal trends in the TC community. His victory symbolizes what a Turkish commentator called ‘the secular and peculiar resistance of the Turkish Cypriot identity’. Essentially, his election reflects both a protest against Turkey’s power in the ‘TRNC’ and at the same time a strong desire to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. Akinci is a firm supporter of a federal bicommunal state and he has also stated his intention to open the closed city of Varosha (of high symbolic significance for GCs) under the auspices of the UN as a measure of good will. His candidacy represented TC communal claims for dignity and political equality with Turkey, as well as the preservation of the Cypriot aspect of TCs identity.

Arguably, his relation with Turkey will be crucial for a(n) (un)successful tenure, given the ‘TRNC’s’ total economic dependence on Turkey. Immediately after his election he was engaged in a war of words with Turkey’s President Tayip Erdogan. Erdogan criticized Akinci for his position on Turkey, saying: ‘We paid a price for northern Cyprus. We gave martyrs and we continue to pay a price. For Turkey, northern Cyprus is our baby. We will continue to look at it the way a mother looks at her baby’. Akinci’s response in a live interview with CNN Turk, was clear: ‘Doesn’t Turkey want to see its baby grow up? Should we always be a baby?’.

Akinci has taken on the arduous task of leading a community that has lived in uncertainty for more than four decades. His election has given many TCs new hope that they might be able to act in a politically viable way, express their political agency and take their fate in their hands (Bozkurt 2015). Delivering his promises and maintaining a balanced relation with Turkey will be his most difficult task amidst a volatile internal setting. Many people fear that Akinci will eventually succumb to Turkey’s demands. Turkey’s Prime Minister Davutoglu implied this when he declared that: ‘The same thing happened when Mr Talat came to power but he stayed on the rails’. Alternatively, Akinci’s election could turn into an opportunity for the resolution of the Cyprus problem in a way that could also unlock the impasse in Turkey’s EU membership.

References

Bahcheli, Tozun (2000). ‘Searching for a Cyprus Settlement: Considering Options for Creating a Federation, a Confederation, or Two Independent States’. The Journal of Federalism, 30 (1-2) (Winter/Spring), pp. 203-216.
Bozkurt Umut (2014). ‘Turkey: From the ‘Motherland’ to the ‘IMF of Northern Cyprus’?. The Cyprus Review, 26 (1), pp. 83-105.
Bozkurt Umut (2015). ‘Yes we can? Mustafa Akıncı and a new hope for Cyprus’. https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/umut-bozkurt/yes-we-can-mustafa-ak%C4%B1nc%C4%B1-and-new-hope-for-cyprus. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
Ozsaglam Muhittin (2003). ‘The Role of Turkey in 14th December Elections in Northern Cyprus’. The European Rim Policy and Investment Council (ERPIC) © 2003.

…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.

Presidents and Paupers I: How much do Western European presidents earn?

Presidential salaries – particularly during and after the European financial crisis – have been a hotly debated topic in a number of European republics and several office holders have voluntarily taken a pay cut. Last year, I wrote two blog posts about the earnings of Western and Central and Eastern European presidents or my old blog (presidentialactivism.com) which proved to be highly popular and generated some media attention. The posts which are reproduced here today and tomorrow try to answer the questions How much do presidents actually earn? Did the crisis have an impact on presidential salaries? And how do their earnings relate to other factors?

Austrian president Heinz Fischer is the highest paid president in Western Europe (if you do not count the Chairman of the Swiss Confederate Presidency) | photo by GuentherZ via wikimedia commons

Presidents’ absolute salaries in comparison

Given different regulations about salaries, lump sums and other benefits it is difficult to establish universally how much presidents actually earn. For this post I tried to ascertain (accurately, I hope) presidents’ yearly gross annual income exclusive of benefits. However, I decided to include so-called 13th/14th salaries as these are part of the taxable income and many presidents were either entitled to receive those or were recently deprived of them (see more under the penultimate subheading). Although the national gross average income would certainly be easier to interpret as a point of reference, I had chosen the 2012 GDP per capita for the sake of reliability. I was also not able to find reliable data for Cyprus (please leave a link in the comment section if you know a reliable source).

Western european presidents_absolute annual salary_presidentialactivism.com_

The bar chart shows that there is a huge variety in presidents’ salaries in Western Europe. The top-earner is the Swiss Federal President, i.e. the chairperson of the seven-person collegiate presidency that is elected ‘President of the Confederation’. Members of the Federal Council receive €360,358 annually, the president receives an additional €9,735 (i.e. 370,093 annually). The runner-up and top earner among the ‘normal’ presidents – the Swiss-type collegiate presidency is worldwide unique – is the Austrian president. Current incumbent Heinz Fischer receives a gross annual salary of €328,188 which consists of 12 regular monthly salaries + two additional monthly salaries (not benefits) of €23,442 each. George Abela, the president of Malta,, on the other hand earns the least with just €56,310 and thus almost six times less than the Austrian counterpart. The average presidential gross annual salary is €191,149, the average GDP per capita (2012) is €30,860. There are only few presidents who earn a similar absolute gross yearly salary, although this looks different for relative yearly salaries.

Setting earnings into perspective

Absolute numbers are always present a somewhat distorted image in cross-country comparisons, which is why it is good to set presidents’ gross annual income into perspective. As mentioned above, I use the respective country’s GDP per capita from 2012 as a point for comparison.

Western european presidents_relative annual salary

There is a lot of change of positions when comparing absolute and relative gross annual income. While the Maltese presidents is still the lowest paid democratically elected head of state in Europe with 350% of the GDP per capita, previous front-runner Switzerland is with 606% of the GDP/capita only 12 percentage points above the Western European average. Greek president Karolos Papoulisas – in absolute earnings rather on the lower end of the spectrum – now finds himself in third position as his annual gross salary is more than eight times more than the GDP per capita (and this even though his salary had already been halved last year – more on this below). The top-earners in relative terms are by far the presidents of Italy and  Austria. Their gross annual salary amounts to almost nine times more than the nominal GDP per capita.

Western european presidents_scatterplot

The correlation between GDP per capita and presidential salaries is surprisingly high (R=0.8) and Switzerland is the only real outlier. The plot also shows that Finnish president Niinistö earned less than one could have expected from the GDP per capita – even before his salary cut.

The crisis and its consequences

The crisis has certainly taken its toll on presidential salaries in Western Europe as several presidents experienced a pay cut or voluntarily cut their own salary. French president Hollande cut his salary by 30%, Irish president Higgins voluntarily waived 23.5% of his salary, Finnish president Niinistö waived 20%. In Greece, parliament cut the president’s salary by 50% (and abolished a €6,240/month  representational allowance) after president Papoulias had suggested it. Papoulias had previously already waived his salary for a whole year as well as his right to a 13th and 14th monthly salary. Cypriot president (who could not be included in this ranking because of missing data) also waived his additional monthly salaries and cut his salary by 25% after his predecessor had already seen a 20% salary cut.

On the other hand, German president Gauck and Austrian president Fischer recently saw an increase in their income. In 2012, Gauck’s gross yearly income went up from €199,000 to €217,000 while Fischer receives has a modest €411 more in his bank account every month since the beginning of this year (this increase also applies to his two additional monthly salaries so that overall the gross yearly income went up by €5,754). At least in the case of Germany, this increase should not be seen too controversial. The president’s earnings are still rather average (see also scatter plot above) and had not been increased for almost a decade (furthermore, the salary is indirectly tied to the income of federal clerks).

Powers and mode of election

With relation to presidential powers and the mode of presidential election, the results contrast those from Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the absolute results depend on whether Switzerland is included or not. Directly elected presidents have a gross yearly income of €183,355 (573% of the GDP per capita), while indirectly elected presidents (Switzerland included) earn €202,061 (664%) and thus more in absolute and relative terms. However, if one excludes Switzerland (which might be sensible due to the exceptionalism of the Swiss collegiate presidency) the gross yearly income is only €160,511 (703% of GDP per capita) which in absolute numbers is less but significantly more in relative terms.

When it comes to the relationship between presidential powers (measures taken from Siaroff 2003) and presidential income the correlation is R=0.0002 and thus non-existent.

***Sources (click on the country names)***
*AustriaFinlandFranceGermanyGreeceIcelandIrelandItalyMaltaPortugalSwitzerland*

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This post first appeared on presidentialactivism.com on 1 August 2013.

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.