Tag Archives: veto power

Romania – President’s veto on Forestry Code sparks first conflict with prime minister

In the first five months of his term, President Iohannis has asked parliament to re-examine eight bills. This is by no means an unusual level of presidential activism during a period of cohabitation, as the bar was set high by his predecessor. However, the president’s veto on the Forestry Code stands out because it triggered not only one of the first serious clashes with the prime minister, but also a strong public reaction and a change in the president’s approach of publicising the way in which he uses the formal power to either promulgate or return laws to parliament.

One of the first bills President Iohannis sent to parliament for re-examination in late March 2015 was the Forestry Code. One of the provisions singled out for reconsideration regarded the introduction of a 30% threshold on the amount of a certain type of wood that single companies can process. According to the president’s re-examination request, the new bill ran counter to European Union competition law as it aimed to limit the economic activities of some companies. However, the decision to veto this law was not accompanied by a public statement or motivation, in spite of a vigorous and years-long public debate in Romania about massive deforestation and foreign lobbying in the forestry industry.

As it happened, the Austrian-based Holzindustrie Schweighofer, one of the largest wood processing companies in Romania, had been lobbying against the new Forestry Code using the same arguments. Several weeks after the president returned the bill to the parliament, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) accused Schweighofer officials of accepting illegally harvested wood and promising bonuses to the sellers. The revelations prompted country-wide protests against both the government, for allowing foreign companies to destroy Romania’s forests, and the president for delaying the enforcement of a bill that aimed to prevent foreign monopoly over the forestry industry.

A public spat soon erupted between the prime minister and the president as well, after the former claimed that the decision to veto the forestry bill had been influenced by Liberal leaders after private meetings with the Austrian company. President Iohannis was uncharacteristically vehement in his reaction, as he asked the chief of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) to check the premier’s statements and threatened legal action if they proved wrong.  Soon afterwards, both of them took steps to put illegal logging at the top of the political agenda: the premier announced an emergency decree to temporarily ban exports of unprocessed wood, while the president tabled an analysis of illegal deforestation in the next meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defence (CSAT).

Interestingly, the controversial association between the president’s veto and foreign lobbying in the forestry industry has also led to a reconsideration of the way in which the head of state informs the public about his actions. In a press conference called shortly after three parliamentary committees rejected his re-examination request, President Iohannis announced that in the future he will explain publicly decisions to promulgate, veto, or challenge the legality of important bills. He also clarified that the decision to return the Forestry Code to parliament was motivated by a formal notice from the Competition Council, adding that he was not planning to ask a Constitutional Court ruling on the bill.

Moreover, apart from discussing other bills he promulgated or was prepared to challenge, the president also spoke about bills he would veto if passed by parliament in current form. Specifically, President Iohannis warned that he would not promulgate amendments to the Criminal Code that protected MPs from investigation and was ready to challenge the law at the Constitutional Court.

In the future it will be interesting to follow if such warnings of imminent veto power use and public justifications of re-examination accompanied by amendment suggestions have a better change of increasing the president’s influence over the legislative process.

Cabo Verde – President Fonseca vetoes the Bill for Holders of Political Positions

Cabo Verde 2015-04-19 om 13.02.00On 9 April President João Carlos Fonseca vetoed the Bill for Holders of Political Positions. Clearly, a presidential veto is not a unique event during times of cohabitation[1]. Yet, it was the President’s own party, the MpD (opposition), that together with the ruling PAICV party introduced and approved the Bill in Parliament. What is more, the Bill contained a salary rise for the President of no less than 64 per cent.

The Bill for Holders of Political Positions was introduced in Parliament by the parliamentary groups of the MpD and the PAICV in early March. The Bill contains new rules of procedure in parliament so as to improve ‘transparency, ethics and codes of conduct for parliamentarians’. Besides this, the Bill grants a significant salary increase for the President, the Prime Minister, government members, deputies and municipal elected officials. This ‘salary updating’ would cost more than 200 million escudos (approx. 2 million euro), representing 4.1 per cent of all spending included in the 2015 State Budget. After the Bill was passed by Parliament on 25 March, mass demonstrations broke out in Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. Demonstrators considered the legislation as a legal form of robbery and called on the President to veto it.

The Constitution of Cabo Verde endows the president with powers to influence the legislative process. Firstly, the head of state can issue a political veto and return the legislation to the organ which approved it. Secondly, the president can send a diploma to the Supreme Court of Justice in the case (s)he has doubts about the constitutionality of the legislation. Since President Fonseca took office in 2011, he has issued 3 political vetoes.[2]

After receiving the Bill for Holders of Political Positions, it took President Fonseca less than 24 hours to use his veto power for the fourth time. In his message to Parliament on 9 April, the President considered the concerns expressed by the citizens ‘legitimate’ and therefore decided to send the legislation back to Parliament. The Constitution defines that the deputies have 120 days to review the law from the date of the reception of the President’s message. If an absolute majority votes in favour of the Bill, the President will be required to promulgate the document within a period of eight days. Yet, the PAICV and the MpD have already indicated that they will not review the Bill. So, most likely, the legislation will expire.

By using his veto power, President Fonseca’s thus effectively checked the power of the Parliament. Moreover, the President rejected a law that was made and approved by his own party and which would have increased his own salary. He thus took a non-partisan stance and acted on behalf of the citizens’ interests. His veto was widely applauded in the media of Cabo Verde. Presidential elections will take place in 2016.

[1] Since the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections Cabo Verde finds itself in a situation of cohabitation where the President’s party is not represented in the government and the Prime Minister’s party, the PAICV, controls a parliamentary majority.

[2] Ecological tax bill (2012), Bill on amendments to the law of social protection (2013), Bill that grants legislative authorization to the government to review the civil procedure law (2014).

Veto et Peto – Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe, 1990-2010

This post summarises the main argument and findings of Philipp Köker’s PhD thesis
‘Veto et Peto: Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe’ (UCL, 2015).
You can download the full thesis from UCL Discovery here.

belweder_poland

The Belweder – Residence of Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski | © Philipp Köker 2008

The presidents of the new democracies that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after 1989 have been subject to a great number of studies. Thereby, political scientists have often focussed on presidents’ powers – be it to enhance or develop classifications of regime types, or to study their impact on democratic consolidation or economic development. However, comparatively little has so far been written on how president actually use the varying powers at their disposal. Therefore, the aim of my study was to map patterns of presidential activism – defined as the discretionary use of formal powers by the president – and explain why and when presidents decide to become active.

Until now, there have only been few attempts to explain the use of presidential powers in the context of European parliamentary and semi-presidential systems. One of the most useful in this regard is Margit Tavits’ (2008) ‘political opportunity framework’ which I also adapted for my study. Based on studies of intra-executive conflict Tavits argues that variations in environmental factors – the relative ‘strength of other political institutions and the constellation of political forces in parliament and government’ (ibid. 35) – determine the level of consensus between the president and other institutions and thereby create opportunities for activism. In contrast to Tavits, however, I argue that these factors do not eclipse the role of the mode of presidential election. Rather, in line with the traditional argument I asserted that popularly elected presidents should be more active than their indirectly elected counterparts. This is because they are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by presidents elected in parliament (for more detail, see pp.41-46 and pp.68-69 of my thesis). My main hypotheses were therefore:

  1. Directly elected presidents are more active than indirectly elected presidents.
  2. Presidents are most active during cohabitation, least often when relations with the government are unified.
  3. Presidents are more active when parliamentary fragmentation is high.
  4. Presidents are more active when the government’s seat share is small.
  5. Presidents are more active if their party’s seat share in the assembly is small (or if they have no parliamentary support base).

It is clear that research design, case selection, and the quality of data matters greatly in arriving at meaningful and reliable conclusions. In order to both achieve generalisable results and gain in-depth insights into the practice of presidential activism, I employed a nested analysis framework which combined large-N statistical analyses with qualitative case studies. The presidencies of CEE presented a particularly suitable set of cases for this type of comparative analysis for several reasons [2]. First, the regions boasts a mix of directly and indirectly elected presidents with varying degrees of power. Second, the new democracies in CEE were not only created during the same and comparatively short period of time, but also faced analogous domestic and external pressures during democratic transition. Last, as previous studies usually had to rely on proxies to measure presidential activism, I created an original cross-section time-series data set on the use of presidents’ legislative powers – vetoes, judicial review requests, and legislative initiatives – in CEE between 1990 and 2010 for my statistical analysis. For my case studies, I conducted 65 semi-structured interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors, (former) government members and MPs, and a number of national experts.

Patterns of presidential activism
In order to analyse my data on presidential activism, I used both negative binomial and event history regression models. For the sake of simplicity I only show some descriptive statistics on the use of presidential vetoes here. My regression models generally confirmed the majority of my hypotheses, particularly with regard to presidential vetoes – the most prominent and most frequently used presidential power. In line with the table below, my model results showed 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. Contrary to my expectations, however, coefficients for parliamentary fragmentation did not reach statistical significance.

Use of presidential vetoes in CEE 1990-2010 - (C) Philipp Köker 2015

The statistical analyses of presidents’ use of judicial review requests and legislative initiatives unfortunately brought less striking results. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that they are only relatively rarely used or only few presidents have the right to use them which complicated statistical modelling. Nonetheless, the results for presidential vetoes provided a sufficient basis for proceeding with so-called ‘model-testing small-N analysis’ – a second step in the nested analysis approach that is aimed at verifying the results of the quantitative analysis, further testing the robustness of the model, and illustrating the causal mechanisms at work.

Presidential activism in practice
Based on the predictions of the statistical models of presidential vetoes, I selected 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for qualitative analysis. The guiding principle of the selection of countries (two directly, two indirectly elected presidents; two powerful, two weak presidents) as well as the the selection of president-cabinet pairings was to achieve a well-balanced mix of cases for in-depth analysis. Due to the results of the statistical models, the case studies focussed on presidential vetoes and the degree to which the factors included in my statistical models could explain instances (or the lack) of the use of vetoes. They also included a section on presidential activism in government formation which – given the lack of appropriate data – could not be adequately analysed statistically and was intentionally left for the qualitative part.

The in-depth analysis of presidential activism, which was greatly facilitated by the insights gained through interviews with those involved, generally confirmed my hypotheses and provided 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 presidential aides 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. Last, my (albeit brief) analysis of presidential activism in government formation, censure and dismissal called for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. Not only were non-partisans often appointed without presidential involvement but presidents were also very actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Conclusion & look ahead
Comparative work on the actual use of presidential powers – particularly in European political systems – is still rare. My study could provide one of the first large-scale studies of presidential activism in these systems and thereby confirm a number of assumption which could previously only insufficiently be tested. The nested analysis approach furthermore ensured a better understanding of both statistical results and qualitative findings which will help to inform future studies and further theory development. My study however only produced limited evidence on the influence of factors related to presidents as individual (‘president-centred’ factors) – a group of factors particularly prominent in the case study literature on European presidents. While it appeared that these variables certainly have the potential to enhance the understanding and explanation of presidential activism, more research based on strong theory is needed to further examine their effect. In addition, it would seem sensible to analyse the use of presidential vetoes using data on individual bills which would allow to take those factors that could not be adequately addressed in the statistical models used in this study into account.

__________________________________________________________
References:
Tavits, Margit. 2008. Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do direct elections matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Notes:
[1] The full study can be downloaded from UCL Discovery by clicking here. If you are interested in the interviews I conducted with presidential advisors (and other political elites), a paper on these appeared last year in SAGE Research Methods Cases and will soon also be adapted as a video for SAGE‘s new teaching collection.
[2] I defined CEE as those countries that joined the EU in 2004/2007, i.e. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Due to the fact that the Slovenian presidency does not possess any legislative powers, it was excluded from this study.

Malta – New President to expand the functions of the office

On April 4th, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the Social Solidarity Minister in the Labour government led by PM Muscat, was sworn in as Malta’s ninth President. The Parliament unanimously confirmed PM Muscat’s choice of Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca as next head of state on April 1st. She succeeds President Abela, a former deputy leader of the Labour Party, who has increased the visibility of the office by calling for a constitutional reform aimed at strengthening the political autonomy of the presidency.

Malta’s head of state is appointed for a five-year term by the parliament at the proposal of the prime minister. The choice of presidents reflects a wide consensus of political forces, as proven by the parliament’s unanimous appointment of the last two presidents. Moreover, President Abela’s nomination by the Nationalist Party in 2009 was meant to strengthen the idea that the president inspires national unity. However, the Labour Party did not reciprocate in 2014, when PM Muscat did not give in to pressures from the opposition to nominate as head of state a member of the Nationalist Party.

Maltese presidents have few real powers. Although the executive authority is vested in the president (art. 78), she is bound to act only on the prime minister’s advice. The position is therefore rather ceremonial.

For example, the president’s appointment powers to constitutional bodies, such as the Electoral Commission, the Superior Courts, and the Broadcasting Authority, can only be exercised in accordance with the prime minister’s advice. The president lacks veto powers and must sign into law any bill she is presented with without delay (art. 72).

President Abela has particularly insisted on the need to grant the head of state the power to require the re-examination of parliamentary acts once before signing them into laws. He argued that presidents should be allowed to present their own views on legislation and solicit changes. Currently, the only alternative presidents can resort to if they have reservations about the legislation they are presented with is to step down from office. The end of President Abela’s term was marked by an incident of this kind, as he appeared unwilling to sign the Civil Union Bill. There were reports that the parliament put the bill on hold until President Coleiro Praca took office, as she had made it clear she would sign the bill into law.

If President Abela’s appointment from the opposite side of the political spectrum was an experiment in 2009, Coleiro Preca’s appointment in 2014 is also seen as an experiment due to the increase in the responsibilities attached to the presidential office. PM Muscat revealed that Coleiro Preca was initially reluctant to give up the Family and Social Solidarity ministry for the presidential nomination. She accepted the post after the prime minister confirmed that the president will be heavily involved in the social field. She will be in charge of the national strategy against poverty and will head several commissions in the social area. The financial and personnel resources allocated to the office will also be increased to assure the effectiveness of her work.

The overlap between the president’s new functions and the social solidarity ministry has raised concerns that this portfolio was in fact being elevated to the level of the presidency. There were also questions about the legality of extending the president’s powers without changing the constitution. PM Muscat argued that giving the president a more active and prominent role was not accompanied by an increase in the executive powers of the office. Therefore, the president’s overview of nationwide social policies was not expected to exceed her constitutional powers.

A constitutional reform process is expected to begin in Malta in the coming months. In this context, it will be interesting to see to what extent the new functions granted to President Coleiro Preca and former President Abela’s calls to increase the autonomy of the presidential office and its independence from the executive will contribute to a redefinition of the president’s role in the constitution.