Category Archives: Slovenia

Anna Fruhstorfer – The presidential election in Slovenia

The question of “will he need a runoff vote” was at the center of most news outlets’ attention prior to the presidential election in Slovenia in October 2017. He, the incumbent Borut Pahor, has been president since 2012 and was campaigning for re-election. Various polls suggested that he would already win the necessary absolute majority in the first round of the election. But Pahor fell short and won ‘only’ 47.1 percent with a low voter turnout of 43.5 percent. This now makes a second round of presidential elections in November necessary and thus gives his strongest contester Marjan Šarec a new chance to succeed. This election provides also “a large scale public opinion poll as well as a prequel to the parliamentary elections” (Bitenc 2017) – considering the results – a bleak outlook for the government. This post will focus on the two main candidates and their campaigns, describe the election results and discuss the chances for the two candidates to become the president in the run-off ballot.

During the first round of the presidential election a total of nine candidates ran for the office of Slovenian President (State Election Commission 2017). Presidential candidates are put forward by National Assembly deputies, political parties and the electorate. More precisely, according to the provisions of the Election Law of Slovenia, a candidate is required to fulfill at least one of the following requirements to be able to run: the support of either ten deputies; the support of at least one political party and three members of parliament (or the signatures of 3000 votes); or the signatures of 5000 voters (State Election Commission 2017). Most of the nine candidates were backed by parliamentary parties, among them Romana Tomc by the conservatives and Ljudmila Novak by the New Slovenia Christian-Democrats (Zerdin 2017).

Throughout the campaign the incumbent Borut Pahor and Marjan Šarec, the mayor of Kamnik (a town north of Ljubljana) were the two main contestants. Both candidates label themselves as more or less anti-parliamentary/establishment party politicians. This is a characterization that is particularly misleading for Borut Pahor. Already during the 2012 presidential campaign Pahor ran on an anti-establishment party platform, although he used to head the Slovenian government (until only a few months before the presidential election in 2012) and was chairman of the Social Democrats. During the 2017 campaign he ran again as independent and for example used the campaign to walk 700 km throughout Slovenia in an attempt to get to know local people (Novak 2017).

Marjan Šarec, who won 25% of votes during the first round, ran on the so-called List of Marjan Šarec. Both during the campaign but also now heading towards the runoff vote, Šarec pledged to provide change and to nominate a new generation of people for official posts. He also criticized Pahor for being rather a celebrity than a statesman (news outlets describe Pahor as instragram president due to his avid use of the application). This campaign issues have to be described within the context of the constitutional provisions concerning the Slovenian President. The 1991 constitution provides only a limited amount of constitutional power to the president. But presidents have established a – at times – powerful role in politics and are expected to fulfill a role of a non-partisan leader. As described in an earlier blog post, the Slovenian President is directly elected with an absolute majority in the first round (Art. 103). Slovenian Presidents do not participate in cabinet meetings, they hardly have any competences for times of crisis, yet a countersignature – e.g. by the prime minister – is not stipulated in the constitution. Without competences in the legislative process (no legislative veto and no legislative initiative; Art. 91 and 88), the president gains power mainly through the nomination and appointment procedure for the prime minister. In addition, “[…] in Slovenia the presidency depends very much on the charisma, political style and ambitions of the person holding the office” (Krašovev and Lajh 2008, 217; see also Cerar 1999). Thus, Slovenia has provided us with both restrained but also very active presidential leadership. Despite some instances that Borut Pahor is a representative of the latter type, with the end of his first term as president, it is safe to say that he was most of the times restrained and not involved in decisive political decisions. In the second round, Pahor is certainly the favorite, but the runoff will attract voters from different backgrounds for Šarec and he might be in for a surprise. It will not be unusual for the incumbent to serve only one term, Danilo Türk was the incumbent in 2012 and lost against Pahor in the runoff vote, and Janez Drnovšek decided to not run for a second term in 2007.

Literature

Bitenc, Aljaž Pengov (2017): A Preliminary Guide to Slovenia’s Presidential Elections, in: http://balkanist.net/a-preliminary-guide-to-slovenias-presidential-elections/

Cerar, Miro. 1999. “Slovenia.” In Semi-Presidentialism in Europe, edited by Robert Elgie, 232–59.
Krašovec, Alenka, and Damjan Lajh. 2008. “Semi-presidentialism in Slovenia.” In Elgie and Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe, 201–18.

Lukšič, Igor. 2010. “Das politische System Sloweniens.” In Die politischen Systeme Osteuropas, edited by Wolfgang Ismayr, 729-772.

Novak, Marja (2017): Polls open as Slovenian president runs for his second mandate,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovenia-election/polls-open-as-slovenian-president-runs-for-his-second-mandate-idUSKBN1CR05R?il=0

State Election Commission (2017): http://www.dvk-rs.si/index.php/en/where-and-how-to-vote/the-electoral-system-in-slovenia

Zerdin, Ali (2017): Slovenia’s president wins most votes, but faces runoff, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/slovenians-choose-president-as-pahor-seeks-re-election/2017/10/22/c92d384c-b6f8-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.d460494591ba

Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe

This post summarises the new book by Philipp Köker ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). The book is the inaugural volume in the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics (edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli) and is based on Philipp’s PhD thesis which won the ECPR Jean Blondel PhD Prize 2016.

Presidential powers feature prominently in academic debates. Paradoxically, until now only few scholars have tried to analyse and explain how presidential actually use them. This book tries to fill this gap in the academic literature, but is also rooted in a real-life encounter with presidential activism. As an undergraduate intern in the Polish Sejm I witnessed first-hand the negotiations between President Lech Kaczyński and Gregorz Napieralski, newly elected leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), on blocking an override of the president’s veto of the media law in July 2008.The aim of this book is map and analyse such patterns in the activism of presidents and explain when and why presidents become active and use their powers. Thereby, it focuses on 9 Central and East European democracies (i.e. those that joined the EU in 2004/2007) during the period 1990-2010. Given that their political systems were created during the same, comparatively short period of time, share a common trajectory of development and were confronted with the same challenges, they are particularly suited for analysis. With regards to presidential powers, I concentrate on two of the most prominent presidential powers:

  1. the power to veto legislation and return it to parliament
  2. the appointment and censure of governments and cabinet ministers

The central argument is that presidential activism can best be explained by the institutional structure – including the mode of election – and the political environment, particularly the relative strength and level of consensus between president, parliament and government. Thereby, I argue that popular presidential elections matter fundamentally for presidential activism – directly elected presidents are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by their indirectly presidents elected counterparts (which challenges Tavits 2008). Furthermore, presidents should be more active when they find themselves in cohabitation with the government, when parliamentary fragmentation is high, and when the government does not hold a majority in the legislature.

To test these and additional hypotheses, my book uses a nested analysis research design (Lieberman 2005) that combines the statistical analysis of an original cross-section time series data set on the use of presidential vetoes with carefully selected case studies based on numerous elite and expert interviews in four most-different countries. The analysis of presidential activism in government formation and censure is thereby deliberately left for the qualitative analysis as there is no adequate quantitative data yet.

Patterns of Presidential Veto Use in Central and Eastern EuropeMy regression models generally confirms the majority of my hypotheses. In line with the table above, my model results clearly show that presidents used their veto power significantly more often than indirectly elected presidents. Furthermore, presidents were more active during neutral relations with the government and cohabitation and the effects of the governmental and presidential seat shares, too, showed the expected effects. Echoing findings from the study of presidential veto use in the United States, president also vetoed more frequently the more bills were passed by parliament. Based on the predictions of the statistical models, I then select 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for further in-depth analysis. Thereby, I make sure to select both strong/weak and directly/indirectly elected presidents and one pairing per office holder to control for institutional variations and individual presidents.

Presidential Activism in Practice

The in-depth analysis of presidential veto use also confirms my hypotheses and provides strong evidence that the hypothesised mechanisms actually insist. In particular, the mode of presidential election emerged as one of, if not the most important factor in explaining presidential activism. The popular mandate gained through direct elections gave presidents significantly more freedom in their actions but also required them to be more active to ensure their re-election – this was not only confirmed through my interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors but also evidenced by a number of presidents’ public statements. Indirectly elected presidents on the other hand acknowledged their dependence on parliament and therefore used their powers less often as not to interfere in the work of their principal. The relationship between president and government as well as the government’s strength in parliament were equally shown to be key determinants in presidents’ decisions to use their powers. Yet the qualitative also demonstrated that the size of presidents’ support base in parliament only becomes relevant when their party participates in government or when high thresholds are needed to override a veto. In addition, the qualitative analysis suggested an additional explanatory factor for presidential activism not included in my theoretical and statistical models – divisions within and between government parties provided additional opportunities for activism and could explain vetoes under otherwise unfavourable conditions.

My analysis of presidential activism in the appointment and censure of governments then takes a more exploratory approach and covers the entire period of observation (rather than just specific president-cabinet pairings). The results show some support for existing hypotheses in the literature but also call for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. In particularly, non-partisans were not only often appointed without presidential involvement, but presidents were also more actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Studying Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond

Presidents still belong to the group of less-studied political actors. Yet even though countries differ greatly in how much power is vested in the presidency, presidents always possess at least some power and even the least powerful presidents play an important functional and procedural role in their political systems apart from ceremonial duties. Thus, studying presidential politics has a very strong practical relevance for any republican political system.

My book shows that theoretical approaches developed for presidents in other contexts (i.e. mostly the United States) ‘travelled’ almost effortlessly to Central and Eastern Europe. Several mechanisms of effect could be observed irrespective of institutional structure, highlighting the enormous potential of ‘comparative presidential studies’ beyond national contexts. Thus, I hope that my book is – together with the work of this blog and the recently formed ECPR Standing Group on Presidential Politics – will help to further develop this sub-discipline of political science to the extent that it becomes en par with long-established scholarship on the presidency of the United States.

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References & Notes:
Lieberman, E. S. (2005). Nested Analysis as a Mixed-method Strategy for Comparative Research. American Political Science Review, 99(3), 435–452.
Tavits, M. (2008). Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do Direct Elections Matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Find out more details about the book and the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics  on the Palgrave website.

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.

Slovenia – From Milan Kučan to Borut Pahor: Presidents during government formation

Although Slovenia’s constitution provides only a limited amount of constitutional power to the president, these presidents have established a – at times – powerful role in politics. The Slovenian President is directly elected with an absolute majority in the first round (Art. 103). Slovenian Presidents do not participate in cabinet meetings, they hardly have any competences for times of crisis, yet a countersignature – e.g. by the prime minister – is not stipulated in the constitution. Without competences in the legislative process (no legislative veto and no legislative initiative; Art. 91 and 88), the president gains power mainly through the nomination and appointment procedure for the prime minister. In addition, Slovenia is also one of the prime examples for the influence of the behavior and role interpretation of the first incumbent on the latter role of presidents. Thus, in this post, I will bring these two perspectives together and outline the role of the presidency within the process of constitution making throughout 1991 and describe presidential behavior in the nomination process of prime ministers based on two examples.

Presidential power or rather the perception of presidential power is nicely illustrated by the following observation: “[…] in Slovenia the presidency depends very much on the charisma, political style and ambitions of the person holding the office” (Krašovev and Lajh 2008, 217; see also Cerar 1999). The role interpretation of the first incumbent after the end of the communist rule – President Milan Kučan – depended on these three ingredients. This can already be seen in the circumstances of the constitution-making process after 1989. The transition and the constitution-making process were characterized by intense elite negotiations (Kitschelt et al. 1999, 39) and a strong and dominant role of the oppositional forces, especially after the first free election in April 1990 (Töpfer 2016). Hence, the constitution-making process was driven by an expert group chaired by Peter Jambrek, meeting at Podvin Castle. Next to Peter Jambrek, I could confirm the names of Tine Hribar, Franci Grad, Matevž Krivic, Ivo Perenič, Miro Cerar, Lojze Ude and Tone Jerovšek as participants in Podvin (Slovenska ustava je stara 2012). This elite-driven process was – at least concerning the presidential institution – a highly strategic power struggle. Several authors (among them e.g. Krašovec and Lajh 2008; Töpfer 2012) have convincingly argued that the elite group in Podvin, consisting of members or supporters of the governmental coalition Demos (which was in name and in character the democratic opposition in Slovenia), wrote a tailor-made constitution. Yet, not to be misunderstood, this tailor-made constitution narrowed down the role of the first incumbent and still considered representative of the communist nomenclature, Milan Kučan. He had already been elected president since April 1990 at the time of the constitution making. In December 1991, the new constitution was adopted by parliament. The constitution established one of the weakest – yet directly elected – presidents in Europe. The only important power resource is the presidential role in the nomination and dismissal of the prime minister. According to Art. 111 of the constitution, the president has the first say in the nomination of the prime minister, in case the nominee does not gain the necessary majority in parliament, the president has the right to nominate again – the same candidate or somebody else within 14 days. In case the second vote fails, the president has the right to dissolve parliament and call for early elections, except parliament manages to elect another candidate as prime minister within 48 hours. Art. 116 and Art. 117 further stipulate the provisions concerning the dissolution of the assembly based on a constructive vote of no-confidence (similar to e.g. Germany).

One episode that illustrates the use of this competence is the nomination of Prime Minister Drnovšek by President Kučan in 1996, which was at the same time a decisive moment for the democratic development of Slovenia. Using his constitutional power in the nomination procedure of the prime minister, the president proposed Janez Drnovšek. Yet, the equal distribution of parliamentary seats would have allowed for a different decision. Consequently, Drnovšek needed a second round of votes due to a lacking majority. He was again nominated by the president (Krašovec and Lajh 2008) and finally passed the investiture vote of parliament, although only as a minority government (Lukšič 2010, 746). This power struggle, the steadfast commitment and Kučman’s activity in times of crisis, in this case the question of “[…] political continuity of centre-left governments” (Krašovec and Lajh 2008, 216), was also considered to be a commitment to democratic consolidation. Furthermore, in exceptional political situations, such as the unclear majority constellation after the 1996 parliamentary elections, Slovenian Presidents gain more influence and use their at other times very limited power resources.

This is most certainly counterbalanced by a clearly restrained role in everyday politics. “Interventions by the president in day-to-day decision-making processes have so far been only sporadic and rarely problematic, at least from the viewpoint of the majority of the electorate” (Krašovec and Lajh 2008, 216). This behavior is not only observable for Kučan in the 1990s, but also more recently for example for President Borut Pahor (president since 2012). As president he used his competences in the nomination and dismissal of the prime minister to influence the date of the general elections (see Bucur 2014). In this exceptional political situation, the otherwise restrained role of the president turned into the nucleus of the political game. It is certainly no coincidence that the politically experienced and influential, not to mention highly connected Borut Pahor used this path and showed the potential possibilities of the constitutionally weak presidential institution of Slovenia. Pahor was the former Prime Minister of Slovenia, the former President of Parliament of Slovenia and is, since 2012, the President of Slovenia (President of the Republic of Slovenia 2014). Pahor also recently initiated a constitutional amendment to change the nomination procedure of cabinet ministers. This initiative puts forward the idea that the president should be able to directly nominate cabinet ministers and not only confirm the selection of the prime minister. Based on the reports of the constitution committee it seems that this initiative was controversially discussed and is since then stuck in the committee (Parliament Slovenia 2016). It will be thus interesting to see if the constitutional competences will be expanded with this important element.

This brief view on two episodes of presidential influence show neither Milan Kučan nor Borut Pahor shy away from using their limited formal powers and creatively expand it in times of crisis. However, despite these two example were decisive moments in Slovenia’s recent political history, the otherwise limited amount of competences will not allow for these episodes to become something more frequent. No matter how charismatic Slovenian Presidents are, or how favorable the parliamentary majority might be, the limited constitutional power reinforces the power disparities to the benefit of prime minister and cabinet and to the detriment of the president.

Literature:
Bucur, Christina. 2014. “Slovenia – How a “weak” president played a key role in the timing of a general election.” Accessed September 11, 2014. http://presidential-power.com/?p=1642.

Cerar, Miro. 1999. “Slovenia.” In Semi-Presidentialism in Europe, edited by Robert Elgie, 232–59.

Kitschelt, Herbert, Zdenka Mansfeldova, Radoslaw Markowski, and Gabor Tóka, eds. 1999. Post-Communist Party Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krašovec, Alenka, and Damjan Lajh. 2008. “Semi-presidentialism in Slovenia.” In Elgie and Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe, 201–18.

Lukšič, Igor. 2010. “Das politische System Sloweniens.” In Die politischen Systeme Osteuropas, edited by Wolfgang Ismayr, 729-772.

Parliament of Slovenia. 2014. Homepage. Accessed March 23, 2016. https://www.dz-rs.si/wps/portal/Home/deloDZ/seje/evidenca?mandat=VII&type=pmagdt&uid=F30B8242D0B88C68C1257E7A00421F65

President of the Republic of Slovenia. 2016. Homepage. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.up-rs.si/up-rs/uprs-eng.nsf/pages/Zivljenjepis?

Slovenska ustava je stara 21 let. 2012. December 23. Accessed January 28, 2015. http://www.rtvslo.si/slovenija/slovenska-ustava-je-stara-21-let/298665.

Töpfer, Jochen. 2012. Transformation in Slowenien und Makedonien. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Töpfer, Jochen. 2016. “Slovenia.” In Fruhstorfer and Hein, Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. VS Springer.

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.

…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 II: How much do CEE 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?

gasparovic_basescu

The rich and the poor

For this post I collected data on presidential salaries including lump sums that are paid on a monthly basis without being designated for a specific function. The numbers presented below are however exclusive of benefits such as housing, allowances for hiring personal staff, use of cars/planes etc. The former type of benefits varies greatly between countries and these benefits are very difficult to compare (especially when one also includes allowances for spouses). However, one can say that in general those presidents who earn more also receive more additional benefits. Unfortunately, this does not apply to pensions. All data – except salary of Czech president Zeman – relates to the last quarter of 2012.

presidential salaries & average income_bar chart_newThe bar chart shows that in absolute terms Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic is the top earner among the Central and East European presidents. With currently € 9,172 per month Gasparovic receives almost six times more than his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu (who earns a meagre € 1,529). Even though the differences in the national gross average monthly income are not as large, they are still visible. Slovenia is front-runner with € 1,546 while Bulgaria trails behind with less than a quarter (€ 384). The average presidential monthly salary is € 5,118, the gross average monthly income in Central and Eastern Europe is € 776.

Presidential salaries in perspective

When setting presidential salaries in perspective, the national average income is obviously the best reference value. When ranking presidential salaries as % of the national average income the order changes (although only the Slovenian and the Bulgarian president jump several places). Front-runner is once again Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic who earns 1167% of the national average income (although he now has to share the first place with Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite) and Romanian president Basescu, too, remains in his [last] place with his salary being only 335% of the national average income. Although in fourth place in the absolute ranking, Slovenian president Borut Pahor is now in the second last place – his otherwise upper-midrange salary (€ 5,419) is only 3.51 times more than the national average. On the other hand, while Bulgarian president Plevneliev’s € 2,356 is less than half of his counterparts’ average income, it is still 614% of what his fellow citizens earn. On average, CEE presidents earn 667% of the national gross average income.

Presidential salaries as % of national average income_newBoth bar charts do not necessarily suggest that a higher presidential salary is a function of a higher national gross average salary. Nevertheless, the scatter plot below shows that there is still a weak positive correlation (R=0.4187) between presidential salaries and the average income of their voters. Slovenia is the clear outlier – even before the 17% salary cut, the president earned considerably less than one could have expected from the national gross average income.

presidential salaries_scatterplot_new

What about power and elections?

Another interesting point of comparison for presidential salaries are presidents’ actual powers and their mode of election. To start with the latter: popularly elected presidents earn more than their indirectly elected counterparts. While the popularly elected heads of state in CEE earned € 5,375 (680% of the national average income), indirectly elected presidents earned € 4,519 (608% of the national average). Of course, there are only three indirectly elected presidents in the sample and the average would have looked a little different half a year ago when Vaclav Klaus was still the (indirectly elected) Czech president and earned up to €12,715 a month.

Looking a the relation between presidents’ powers and their salary, there is no obvious direction. The correlation between the adjusted presidential salary (as % of national gross average income) and the score on Metcalf’s (2000) revised measurement scheme is only R=0.15.

presidential salaries and powers_new

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This post first appeared on presidentialactivism.com on 19 July 2013.

Comparing inaugural addresses of Central & East European presidents: Putting the country first?

Presidents’ inaugural addresses are usually eagerly awaited by journalists and citizens alike as the new office-holders regularly use them to ‘set the tone’ for their term in office. In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), inaugural addresses are usually held in parliament (also due to the fact that half of the president are elected there by the deputies and not by popular vote) and while presidents’ words receive their fair share of media attention, they can hardly measure up to the inaugural speeches of the U.S.-American president.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev during his inaugural speech on 19 January 2012 © Office of the President of Bulgaria

comparison of presidents’ inaugural addresses from Washington to Obama on the website of the New York Times shows that since president Harry Truman ‘America’, ‘country’ or ‘nation’ have consistently ranked among the most-used words in presidents’ inaugural speeches. Political circumstances also left their mark, yet these only came second to the overall trend of presidents putting their country first in their speeches. This article gave the motivation to conduct a similar comparison among the presidents of the CEE EU member states. Given the pattern in inaugural addresses of US presidents, one should expect that presidents in CEE will also predominantly stress their respective country/nation in their speeches. Yet, speeches should at least party reflect current political problems or the incumbents’ ambitions for their term in office, too.

For this blog post, I have created word clouds reflecting the number of times certain words have been mentioned. While there are more sophisticated techniques in Political Science to analyse the frequency of words and their meaning, the visualisation is a very good method to give an overview (in the very literal sense of the word) of what  presidents stress in their first speeches to the nation. As historic inaugural addresses are often not available in English translation, I have limited my comparison to the currently serving presidents.

General patterns

Surprisingly (or not), in almost all of the inaugural addresses of CEE presidents (except the one by Václav Klaus, but I will come back to him later) the respective ‘country name’ / ‘country adjective’ / ‘nation’ / ‘people’ belong to the most frequently used words. It is particularly prominent in the speech of Bronislaw Komorowski held in the wake of the Smolensk air crash in which his predecessor, Lech Kaczynski, tragically died. More than the other presidents, Komorowski stresses Poland/Polish/Poles in all varieties of the word, while ‘Smolensk’ is mentioned only rarely (you can find it in the upper right corner).

‘Europe’/’European’ is also mentioned in several addresses but features particularly prominent in the inaugural speech of president Ivan Gasparovic who was inaugurated only shortly after Slovakia’s accession to the EU (in fact, ‘Slovakia’ is mentioned less often than ‘European’). Traian Basescu (inaugurated in December 2004) also mentions ‘European’ and ‘integration’ with above-average frequency. Another variation of this pattern is Borut Pahor’s repetition of the word ‘crisis’ which also – but not exclusively – relates to the European currency crisis.

Furthermore, several presidents – especially those elected by popular vote – bring in more ‘policy’ content. Bulgarian president Plevneliev often mentions ‘security’, ‘economy’/ ‘economic’ and ‘energy’ and his Lithuanian counterpart, Dalia Grybauskaite, mentions ‘courts’, ‘policy’ and ‘interests’ while also addressing a very wide range of other issues.

There are three inaugural addresses which in my opinion and for one or other reason stand apart from the others speeches. I present my comments on these below.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia) – Estonia and only Estonia

Inaugural address of Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia, 09/10/2006)

Inaugural address of Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia, 09/10/2006)

The inaugural speech of Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves stands apart because in no other speech one word – ‘Estonia’ – is mentioned with such a high relative frequency that it figuratively dwarfs the other content. The high frequency of ‘people’ and ‘state’ paired several references to ‘independence’/’independent’ makes this speech relatively apolitical. Given Ilves’ foreign policy background and the fact that he understands his role as being mostly as being above petty politics (plus, the office only provides him with very limited agency), it is not surprising  that what we see here is rather a statesman’s speech than the outline of a political programme. Nevertheless, the sheer dominance of ‘Estonia’ makes this one of the most interesting word clouds.

Janos Áder (Hungary) – Uncompromisingly supporting compromise

Inaugural speech of Janos Áder (10/05/2012)

Inaugural speech of Janos Áder (10/05/2012)

Hungarian president Janos Áder’s speech on the other hand is also clearly influenced by the political circumstances at the time of his election. The dominance of the word ‘compromise’ demonstrates Áder’s attempt to make a new start as president and build a bridge to the opposition (in fact, his speech was very well received by commentators and politicians from all parties alike). While his Polish colleague Bronislaw Komorowski appeals to national feelings to call for ‘cooperation’, Áder’s choice of words presents him as a pragmatist with a more practical approach to reconciling political divides (the frequency of ‘respect’ also supports this image). Of course, ‘Hungary’/’Hungarian’, ‘country’ and ‘nation’ are also mentioned very frequently and the speech thus still conforms to the general pattern.

Václav Klaus (Czech Republic) – I want the political

Inaugural speech of Václav Klaus (Czech Republic, 07/03/2003)

Inaugural speech of Václav Klaus (Czech Republic, 07/03/2003)

As always, there is one exception to every rule and when it comes to presidents in CEE this is usually Czech president Václav Klaus. Even though ‘country’ is still mentioned relatively frequently ‘Czech’ or ‘Republic’ are not. Interestingly, the words ‘want’ and ‘political’ are mentioned most often (and this even though wordle filters many often used verbs such as want to make the word clouds easier to interpret). Of course, this result leaves room for much speculation – especially as it fits Klaus’ image as a power-hungry politician surprisingly well.

Conclusion (albeit a short one)

Havel inauguration speech_word cloud

As mentioned above, word clouds are not the most sophisticated (or indeed particularly valid) means of analysing inaugural addresses and the above analysis is too superficial to reach definite conclusions. Nevertheless, it is interesting that a trend among US presidents is also visible in the EU member states of Central Eastern Europe. The (manifold) exceptionalism of Václav Klaus does not fit the general pattern (his predecessor Václav Hável also mentioned ‘country’ and ‘nations’ more frequently than Klaus) but raises the question in how far his successor will conform to the trend and put his country first or use his inaugural address to set his own priorities.

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This post first appeared on presidentialactivism.com on 22 Janurary 2013.
A list of links to CEE inaugural speeches can be found here.

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.

Slovenia – How a “weak” president played a key role in the timing of a general election

A general election was held in Slovenia on 13 July. This was the second early election in three years and came only 13 months after Alenka Bratušek formed a four-party coalition government in March 2013. The Slovenian head of state has very few powers and is among the weakest of all directly elected presidents in the world. Nevertheless, President Pahor played a key role in the timing of the general election, which is usually seen as one of the most important powers held by party leaders and heads of government.

All established political parties lost seats in the snap election, while the big winner was the six-week-old political party founded by Miro Cerar, a newcomer in national politics. The centre-left Positive Slovenia (PS) party, which topped the poll in the 2011 general election, failed to pass the 4% electoral threshold this time.

The State Election Commission has reported the following partial results:

  • Miro Cerar  Party (SMC) – 34.61%, 36 seats (New)
  • Democratic Party (SDS) – 20.69%, 21 seats (-5)
  • Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) – 10.21%, 10 seats (+4)
  • United Left  – 5.97%, 6 seats (New)
  • Social Democrats (SD) – 5.95%, 6 seats (-4)
  • New Slovenia (NSi) – 5.54%, 5 seats (+1)
  • Alliance of Alenka Bratušek (ZaAB) – 4.34%, 4 seats (New)

Italian and Hungarian minorities also hold one seat each in the 90-seat Slovenian Assembly.

The early election was triggered by intra-party tensions. Alenka Bratušek stepped down as prime minister in early May, after she lost the leadership of the Positive Slovenia party to the party founder and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković. A political crisis ensued because, similarly to 2011 when Positive Slovenia was not able to win the support of a majority in the parliament despite holding the largest number of legislative seats, none of the coalition partners was willing to accept Zoran Janković as head of government.

Most political actors agreed that the political deadlock could only be resolved by calling early elections. However, political parties did not want early elections to take place in the middle of the summer, when many voters are away on holidays. President Pahor for his part did not want to extend the period of limited powers that characterises caretaker governments. Given the legal conditions under which new elections can be called, the president found himself caught in a political conundrum: how to rush new elections while respecting constitutional deadlines? The key was in the role played by the head of state in the process of PM nomination and election by the parliament.

According to the Slovenian Constitution, should the government resign or lose a confidence vote, the parliament must elect a new prime minister within thirty days (art. 117). The head of state has the first right of nomination. If the PM-designate put forward by the president does not receive the support of the majority of all deputies, the head of state can nominate somebody else (or the same candidate again) within the next 14 days. However, this time parliamentary groups of at least ten deputies can also make alternative nominations. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast by all deputies (or by those deputies who are present if new election rounds are demanded by a majority of deputies who are present), then the president dissolves the assembly and calls a new parliamentary election (art. 111). A new parliament must also be elected no later than two months after the dissolution of the previous one (art. 81).

After PM Bratušek formally announced the parliament her decision to step down on 8 May, President Pahor shortened the 30-day period he had to nominate a new prime minister. On 14 May he notified the parliament that he would not put forward a PM-designate. Subsequently, all parliamentary groups also agreed to refrain from nominating a new prime minister. Acknowledging that no new PM-designate had been put forward after the resignation of Alenka Bratušek, the head of state dissolved the National Assembly on 1 June and chose 13 July as the date of the snap general election.

The president’s decision was nevertheless challenged at the Constitutional Court. A non-parliamentary party argued that the president should have dissolved the parliament as soon as he gave up his right to nominate a PM-designate instead of waiting another 14 days for parliamentary nominations to be made. Other groups claimed that holding elections during the summer undermined voting rights. The Court rejected all challenges and upheld the presidential decree setting 13 July as the election date.

Thus, President Pahor’s interpretation of his constitutional power to nominate and to refrain from nominating a PM-designate granted him unusual influence upon choosing the date of the most important political contest in Slovenia. Granted, the smoothness and rapidity with which early elections were organized would not have been possible without the co-operation of parliamentary parties. Nevertheless, this episode is indicative of the considerable influence that constitutionally weak heads of state may have over the political system under critical circumstances.

The president and Miro Cerar, who is seen as the most likely PM-designate, will meet on Wednesday afternoon. President Pahor first announced their meeting on Twitter, shortly after the election results were released on Sunday evening.