Tag Archives: Europe

Marcelo Jenny – Austria’s President Van der Bellen speaks up

This is a guest post by Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Marcelo Jenny from the Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the University of Innsbruck

Austria belongs to the semi-presidential regime type and the head of state has some strong constitutional powers, but after his election the current president Alexander Van der Bellen has conformed to the familiar role model of Austrian presidents. Of beeing seen as an impartial political authority in reserve by staying away from the day-to-day tug of war between the government and the parliamentary opposition parties. As a consequence the president may be absent from the political news sections for extended periods of time. When Van der Bellen made news with statements on issues of international and domestic policy several times in a row, some started to take notice.

Van der Bellen has been in office since January 2017, after a thrilling election year 2016 that ended with a final win over rival candidate Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in a repeated run-off ballot. The Constitutional Court had annulled the first run-off vote due to voting irregularities. Coming from the most left party in parliament, the Greens, Van der Bellen managed to project himself as a centrist candidate against Hofer who came from the most right party in parliament. Last year’s legislative elections in autumn brought in a right-wing coalition government between the People’s Party led by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Hofer’s Freedom Party. Van der Bellen swore in his previous rival Hofer as the new Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology.

In their presidential campaigns both had been very critical of the planned free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada (CETA), stating that as president they would not sign the treaty. CETA was and still is very unpopular in Austria. Van der Bellen announced last week that he would not sign the free trade agreement after its ratification by the national parliament in June. He clarified that he would not sign now, but rather wait until the European Court of Justice issues a verdict on CETA’s compatibility with European Union law. He is on constitutional safe ground, but it is also a reminder of the president’s political views. The previous government coalition of Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) signed the treaty, against the opposition of Freedom Party and Greens. The current government parties ÖVP and FPÖ, plus the liberals party NEOS, followed through with parliamentary ratification. The SPÖ now in opposition has strongly come out against the treaty, the Freedom Party now unwillingly backs it.

A step deeper into the thicket of domestic politics was Van der Bellen’s recent statement of support for upholding a tradition of social partnership in social and economic policy law-making. The government had just pushed through a controversial law increasing working time flexibility. The bill by-passed the usual process of pre-parliamentary review by interest groups and experts. While interest groups representing business, traditonally politically close to the two parties currently in government were happy with the new law, the labour union federation and the chambers of labour, close to the Social Democratic opposition, came out strongly against it and organized a demonstration of about 100,000 people (which is extraordinary by Austrian standards). The president was later joined by some ÖVP Land governors who also expressed unease about the government’s rushed, controversy-inducing style of policy-making.

The most recent and strongest statement of disapproval with the government came with Van der Bellen’s criticism of FPÖ party general secretary Harald Vilimsky, a Member of the European Parliament, two days ago. Vilimsky demanded the resignation of EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker accusing him of being an alcoholic, which led Bellen to call Vilimsky respectless and foul-mouthed. The president also critized the government under Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for remaining completely silent on the issue. Austria currently holds the EU presidency. Representatives from the Freedom Party’s representatives then doubled down on their criticism of Juncker and called on Van der Bellen to return to a position of political impartiality.

The episodes of Van der Bellen speaking up might have come together by coincidence and the media attention the president gets is perhaps an unintended consequence of Federal Chancellor Kurz’s media strategy of making himself rare. It remains to be seen whether Van der Bellen will be frequently drawn into political disputes in the future. Yet they remind us of the new political constellation Austria is in with a leftist president facing a right-wing coalition government.

France – President Macron’s European Window of Opportunity: Double or Quits?

On the first anniversary of his election as President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron can make a credible claim to have imposed a new style and rhythm on French politics: characterized by a vertical chain of command, a distrust of intermediaries (parties, trade unions, interests) between the President and the People; a robust form of political expression, based on an explicit rejection of left and right and organized political parties, and a routine dismissal of the ‘old world’. The enterprise has encountered a measure of domestic success, it we are to believe Macron’s poll ratings after one year in office (more popular in various surveys at this stage than Sarkozy or Hollande). The drive to reform France domestically during the first year has, in part, been a function of restoring the country’s good name on the European level, by demonstrating the capacity to undertake reforms, to withstand the street and to overcome the usual veto players (the railway strikes are particularly symbolic in this respect). The claim that ‘France is back’ requires the nation getting its own house in order. From the outset, there has been an explicit linkage between domestic and European politics. But are domestic styles and remedies transferable to the European scene? The first year of Macron’s presidency is rather inconclusive in this respect.

That Macron has made an impact is not open to doubt. In recognition of his contribution to the ideal of European Union, he was awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize in May 2018, the first French president to have been thus honored since, in 1988, former President Mitterrand and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl were joint recipients of the award. The Charlemagne Prize was awarded mainly in recognition of the 2017 campaign itself, where Macron had been the only candidate explicitly endorsing enhanced European integration. Through his election in May 2017, Macron was widely credited with stemming the rise of populism after the Brexit referendum, at a critical juncture in European history – shortly before Germany, Austria and Italy would each in their own way call into question the reality of a new European consensus. Be that as it may, Macron’s activism in favour of a new European deal contrasted very starkly with the inaction of predecessors Chirac (after the 2005 referendum defeat), Sarkozy and Hollande. Macron’s European vision was articulated in four key speeches: at the Acropolis in Athens in August 2017, at the Sorbonne University, Paris, in September 2017, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and at Aix-la-Chapelle (Germany) in May 2018.

As in domestic politics, once elected President Macron enjoyed a seemingly favourable concatenation of circumstances in Europe. Quite apart from the moral credit of being elected as the only explicitly pro-European candidate in the French presidential election, Macron’s capacity to articulate a European vision contrasted with that of France’s main neighbors and partners. The self-exile of the UK via the BREXIT process presents challenges and opportunities for France, but in the short run it removed a competitor, notably in the field of European security and defense policy. Macron’s dynamic leadership contrasted with the running out of steam of that of Chancellor Merkel, with the Federal elections of September 2017 being followed by five months of coalition bargaining before a chastened CDU-CSU alliance finally agreed to renew its coalition agreement with the SPD. In some respects, the withering of Angela Merkel, after over a decade of uncontested European leadership, presents challenges for Macron but it also allows the French President to re-claim to a certain leadership role in Europe. The traditional Mediterranean countries that looked to France for leadership, or at least alliance – Spain and Italy – were both in a state of stasis (Rajoy confronted with the Catalan crisis in Spain; Italy having to manage the inconclusive election of March 2018, marked by the rise of the League and the 5 Star movement). Both countries were ill-placed to launch European initiatives. At the same time, the hardening of relations with several of the countries of central and eastern Europe – though dangerous in some respects – provided Macron with an opportunity to deliver on one of his domestic commitments (the reform of the posted workers directive). In this confused European context, Macron diagnosed a window of opportunity for European reform in a manner consistent with French preferences.

His European vision was central to his speech at the Sorbonne (September 26th 2017), renewing with a repertory not really seen since Mitterrand in the 1980s and early 1990s. In his Sorbonne speech, the French President called for a European relaunch, characterized by: a more integrated foreign, security and defense policy; more EU-wide defense procurement; measures to tackle the democratic deficit at the EU level (reforms of the European parliament, the introduction of EU-wide constituencies for the European elections; a new democratic dialogue across Europe); procedures for differentiated integration, where groups of member-states could engage in ‘enhanced cooperation’ in specific areas; and a Europe that ‘protects’ its citizens (reforms of the posted workers’ directive) and its industries (from Chinese assault, notably). The most ambitious EU proposals related to the governance of the euro-zone. Macron argued in favour of the creation of a Euro-zone Super-minister, with a separate dedicated budget, and the transformation of the European Security Mechanism into a fully pledged European Monetary Fund, all to be supervised by a new Euro-zone parliament. These positions were a powerful restatement of French preferences: namely, to ensure political supervision of the governing mechanisms for the euro (the Super-minister), to facilitate transfers from richer countries (especially Germany) to poorer ones, in the name of economic convergence and solidarity, and to endow the EU with new fiscal resources. Macron’s European en même temps reconciled a staunch belief in the merits of European integration with a recognition that it was essential to renew the citizenship compact after a tough decade of economic reform. The substance of the new European grand bargain reflected French preferences in other fields also. His call for there to be a Europe-wide consultative process – the EU conventions, modelled on his own practice (les marcheurs) – was given a polite reception in Brussels and in most European countries.

Ultimately, the limits of the Macron enterprise lay in the need to build the necessary coalitions (first and foremost with Merkel) and to demonstrate the economic success of the French model. In a rather predictable construction, Macron looked to the Franco-German relationship to assume a central role; the terms of which tied the success of the window of opportunity to developments in Germany, France’s main political partner, though figures published recently saw France retroceding to the 4th place in terms of economic exchanges with Germany. For months, the Macron proposals were met with a constrained, polite silence from Germany. After the German elections of September 2017, the CDU-CSU-SPD coalition agreement which eventually emerged (in March 2018) was potentially more favorable to Macron’s grand bargain than the alternative failed Jamaica coalition (the CDU, CSU, FPD and the Greens).

The reception of the Macron agenda in Brussels and other EU capitals has been mixed. The CDU-SPD coalition agreement, published in March 2018, did not mention the Euro-zone minister. It soon became apparent that the temperature in the new Merkel-led coalition was lukewarm to the French proposals. It is difficult to see the Germans allowing further mutualisation of euro-debts, or agreeing to more fiscal transfers within the Euro-zone – and even completing the banking union is fraught with angst. In the context of the rise of the AFD in 2017, the Germans have other priorities: ensuring more pan-European solidarity in relation to migration and refugees in particular. Moreover, the new German coalition is divided on issues of European solidarity and a more integrated EU defense policy, matters of great concern to French President Macron. Macron’s call for there to be EU wide lists for elections to the European parliament was specifically rejected by the European parliament. His proposal for creating a euro-zone parliament, which echoed that of his predecessor Hollande, faced hostility from Berlin, as well as from the European Commission, for whom the European parliament already provides a democratic oversight of EU institutions. And his call for a separate budgetary chapter for the euro-zone economies – if understandably well received amongst the euro-zone ‘sinners’ in southern Europe – provoked eight northern EU states led by the Netherlands to publish their own rebuttal of the roadmap and to restate the importance of respecting the rules of euro membership.

Does this episode demonstrate the victory of style over substance? Such a judgement would be a harsh one. At the very least Macron has restored France’s seat at the table; there has been a credible restatement of the Franco-German relationship and its role in driving major new policy initiatives (the ‘roadmap’ agreed by Macron and Merkel in March 2018). The real issues are now being played out. The European Commission’s draft budgetary perspectives 2021-2027 – represent a direct challenge to traditional French priorities in agriculture – by advocating cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy. The proposed creation of a modest budgetary line for the euro-zone would appear to fall well short of Macron’s proposals for a very substantial budget to oversee transfers to the poorer Eurozone members as a measure of solidarity. Macron’s European credibility will be tested in the European council meeting of June 28th and 29th, the last meaningful occasion to provoke a European awakening before the 2019 European elections. Whatever the outcome this summit being billed as historic, there are obvious questions to be asked in relation to the goodness of fit between domestic and European leadership styles. There is arguably no office more capable of expressing an idealistic European vision than that of the French presidency, especially as personified by Emmanuel Macron. Rather paradoxically, however, the ‘vision thing’ might appear as counter-productive in European arenas, insofar as a holistic and non-negotiated vision has to confront the realities of EU bargaining and the continuing attraction of alternative narratives of the future of Europe.

A Strange Affair: The 2017 Presidential Election Campaign in France

In an article written 15 years ago, I described the 2002 presidential election as being a strange affair. The 2017 contest is turning out to be even stranger. In between the two elections, the electoral scenarios have shifted. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen won through to the second round against expectations, with almost 18% on the first round; massive republican mobilization saw incumbent President Jacques Chirac re-elected with a large majority (81.75%). In 2017, few commentators cast any doubt on the likely presence of Marine Le Pen on the second round, though predictions of a Le Pen victory are more prevalent in the foreign media than amongst French commentators. While the expectation that a left-right cleavage will produce a run-off between a Socialist and a Republican candidate has underpinned most presidential elections, such a scenario appears unlikely in 2017.

But it is difficult to keep tabs on this campaign and several scenarios remain open. There is no presidential frontrunner and no absolute certainty about which candidates will win through to the second round. As it evolves, an increasingly likely scenario is that of a run off between two anti-system candidates, Marine Le Pen, for the Front national and Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! Both candidates have successfully positioned themselves as above party; somewhat paradoxically, the absence of primary elections in the case of these two candidates has strengthened the claim not to be dependent on party. As the campaign dust settles, there is at least the beginning of a programmatic debate. Macron and Le Pen represent distinct alternatives and choices in relation to an overarching cleavage that might be described as cosmopolitanism versus ethnicised national identity. It is a sign of the times that only one candidate – Emmanuel Macron – has explicitly engaged himself in defense of the European project, including a public commitment to bring France back within the criteria of the Maastricht stability pact. In early March, Macron finally presented his programme, after many weeks of delay and preparation. Macron’s mix of economic liberalism, social protection, political moderation and European integration recalls New Labour, with two decades delay, the principal difference being Macron’s lack of a robust party organisation. Marine Le Pen’s national populist programme, on the contrary, articulates the demand for closed frontiers, economic protection, national preference and the recovery of an (illusory) monetary sovereignty, with France eventually exiting the euro after a referendum. The two putative second round candidates at least represent clear alternative visions of the future based on differing positions on the national protection, European integration and globalization spectrum. It is difficult to say as much for Fillon, whose radical cutting edge of November 2016 has been blurred in the fog of the Penelopegate affair. And even Hamon, whose radical Universal Revenue idea dominated the latter stages of the PS primary, has been bogged down in interminable negotiations with potential partners (the Green candidate Jadot withdrawing in favour of Hamon, but J.-L. Melenchon steadfastly refusing, probably ensuring the defeat of the Socialist candidate on the first round).

As it is unfolding, the 2017 campaign potentially challenges three unwritten rules of presidential elections. First, that control of the party organisation ensures the presidential nomination; this hierarchy has been upset by the primaries, though paradoxically it remains valid for the two leading ‘anti-party’ candidates, Macron and Le Pen. The primary elections have overhauled party organizational (logics) and created winners whose appeal is deeper to the core partisan electorate than to the elusive median voter (Hamon, Fillon). Meanwhile the logics of the primaries extend far beyond the selection of the party’s candidate. As I write (7th March), Francois Fillon appeared to have weathered the storm, using the result of the LR primaries to fend off challenges to his candidacy. Fillon’s argument is not only that he was consecrated as champion of the Republicans in the primaries, but also that LR sympathizers voted for radical programmatic change. As Fillon pointed out, in his televised intervention on France 2 (5th March 2017), no-one can prevent him from standing as candidate (all the more in that he has already deposited the 500 signatories necessary to stand). In this case, the primary election provided a powerful shield, even against the investigating magistrates announcing the opening of a judicial investigation against Fillon and convoking the candidate to appear on 15th March. Just in case of doubt, Fillon played the People against the Party card, steadfastly refusing to stand down as candidate notwithstanding intense pressures and the desertion of a swathes of LR deputies and senators from the Fillon campaign team. Juppé’s announcement on 6th March that he would in no case be candidate removed one serious obstacle to Fillon’s survival. On the Socialist left, the lasting impact of the primary has been to create a gulf between the candidate and the mass of PS deputies, deeply anxious about their – slim – prospects of re-election within the PS label.

The second unwritten rule being challenged in 2017 is that the presidential election encourages a left-right bipolarization and a corresponding presidentialisation of the party system. This was always an excessively institutional argument; each presidential election has produced a rather different political configuration. In practice, the bipolar logic of the presidential election, as assumed to have shaped political and party competition throughout most of the Fifth Republic, appears increasingly out of kilter with the 3, 4 or 5 party reality. It might be objected that this has always been the case; the 2017 campaign needs to be placed it in its historical context. One consequences of fitting a three-, four- or five- party reality into the bipolar jacket is that the threshold levels for gaining access to the second round is lowered: to around 20%. Combined with the partisan logic of the primary elections, the first round logic of rallying core supporters is stronger than ever. Candidates give primacy to first round mobilisation over the anticipation of second round strategies in 2017 because the outcome of the first round was far less certain than in any other recent presidential race (except arguably 2002). The 2017 campaign revealed more starkly than ever before the paradox that the traditionally most-coveted institution – the presidency – is contested by at least three of the leading five candidates. This institutional disaffection is complicated in 2017 by the deep anti-party sentiment.

Third: is the 2017 challenging the view that the presidential election is the core decisive election on which French politics is centred? The 2017 presidential contest will be the 10th direct election of the Fifth Republic, sharing some similar traits with previous elections, but also having its own distinctive characteristics. One of the core assumptions is that the presidential election brings in its wake a comfortable majority for the victorious candidate in the subsequent legislative elections. This mechanical relationship might not function as assumed in 2017. In the event that either Macron or Le Pen are elected President, it must not be assumed that an overall parliamentary majority will be produced in the wake of their triumph. Macron recognised this last week, when he acknowledged that a first round electoral base of 25% would not provide the necessary legitimacy to underpin a single party majority. There is a very real possibility that the candidate who eventually emerges as President will not obtain an overall majority ‘in his or her name’, one of the principal Gaullist legacies of the Fifth Republic.

Ukraine and the EU: The Road Ahead

Last week, President Petro Poroshenko traveled to Brussels. The trip took place just 4 days after the United Kingdom voted to exit the Union in a referendum held on 23 June. The agenda of the trip included high-level discussions of the potential impact of this vote on the EU-Ukraine relations as well as the introduction of visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens and provision of micro-financial aid for Ukraine.

Ukraine had a long and bumpy road toward this point in its relations with the EU. The issue of the EU-Ukraine relations in one way or the other surrounded the rise and fall from power of many Ukrainian presidents. The Orange Revolution following the 2004 presdiential election probably for the first time saw Ukraine really battle between the desire to join the European Union on the one hand and align itself with Russia on the other. Although 2004 was a victory for pro-European side, it was short lived. Failing to deliver the economic reforms as well as a European future, Viktor Yushchenko was defeated in the 2010 election. Although trying to tiptoe a delicate line between the EU and Russia, Viktor Yanukovych himself was taken out of power in 2013 when he refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, despite taking all the necessary steps to prepare it.

In July 2014, the newly elected President Petro Poroshenko finally signed the Association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. Although the agreement has been referred to as a “game changer” for Ukraine, it has not been a smooth sailing for the country since then. In April 2016, in a referendum the Dutch voters rejected ratification of an integration agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The vote came on the heels of the worst political crisis in Ukraine since 2013. The crisis resulted in suspension of foreign aid as well as raised skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to solve its economic and political problems.

The appointment of the new Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and the resolution of the parliamentary crisis were welcomed by foreign as well as by domestic political actors who expected Groysman “to ease some of the rifts in the pro-European camp.” Last week, the Prime Minister was quoted saying that Ukraine will join the EU within the next 10 years. However, many worry that Brexit “has pushed Ukraine to the bottom of the EU’s priority list” at the time when the country needs Europe the most. In the midst of a continued confrontation with Russia, EU has been one of the most important and consistent supporters of Ukraine. And even though, last week the European Council announced that the EU would extend its economic sanctions on Russia until January 2017, many are concerned that a weakened alliance may jeopardies security and will no longer be able to confront Russia.

One of the key issues in the EU-Ukraine relations in the past two years has been the question of the visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens. After coming to office in 2014, the President promised to have the regime in place by January 2015. Since then the timeline kept extending and the question is still on the agenda today. Even though the President announced last week that Brexit will not prevent the visa liberalization deal, many believe that it will postpone its implementation.

The EU had an important impact on Ukraine. However, its on-going support and willingness to further integrate Ukraine will be crucial to continue to push the country along the path of reforms.

Marina Costa Lobo, Robert Elgie, and Gianluca Passarelli – Are Europe’s presidents really perilous?

This is a post by Marina Costa Lobo, Robert Elgie, and Gianluca Passarrelli

In a recent EUROPP blog post Macdara Dwyer argued that presidential interventions could “generate lasting problems for the stability of European governments”. We take issue with the central themes of that post. We argue that European presidents do not tend to be very powerful, that recent presidential interventions in countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal need to be placed in their proper context, and that European presidents are an essential part of a broader system of checks and balances. Overall, we disagree strongly with the idea that recent presidential interventions are “highly alarming”.

About two-thirds of all countries in the world have a president. In many of these countries, presidents exercise truly extensive powers. They include most of Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as parts of Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea. By contrast, in the 28 member states of the EU only three countries usually have a strong president – Cyprus, France, and Romania. On the contrary, many European countries have very weak indirectly presidents who do not enjoy reserve or inherent powers even in theory. Indeed, most directly elected presidents in the EU are very weak political actors. The popularly elected presidents of Slovenia and Croatia do not even have the power to send a bill back to parliament or to a constitutional court. In short, we need to place the power of European presidents in comparative perspective. For sure, even Europe’s indirectly elected presidents usually have at least some prerogatives, but compared with their counterparts elsewhere, they are truly little more than figureheads and that includes most of Europe’s directly elected presidents.

Maybe though, presidential power in Europe is on the rise. The evidence from Portugal in the early 1980s, Poland in the mid-1990s, and Finland since the early 1990s suggests otherwise. Here, constitutional amendments have weakened the power of the president to the extent that, for example, Finland now has one of the very weakest presidents in Europe. Even in France certain presidential powers have been constitutionally limited. In other countries too, presidential power has been streamlined even if the constitution has not been formally amended. For example, in Finland the president no longer has any serious power to intervene in the country’s EU negotiations.

It is true, though, that the exercise of presidential power is contingent. Events do encourage presidents to intervene and there is no doubt that we are living through difficult times. So, is there now more presidential intervention than there was previously? Hardly. The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, has indeed been a critic of austerity policies in general, though not specific government policies in particular. However, those with a longer memory will recall President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh’s decision to refer a bill to the Supreme Court in 1976 and Mary Robinson’s handshake with Gerry Adams in 1993. These examples show that events can conspire to make the Irish president act consequentially and in ways that make President Higgins’ recent interventions seem very minor. In Portugal, the President can be an effective actor in some circumstances, by way of the power to veto legislation, the ability to refer bills to the Constitutional Court, as well as powers to dissolve parliament. Yet the President is never the head of government, nor can the President nominate the Prime Minister against parliament’s will. In this context, President Cavaco Silva cannot be said to have been more interventionist or powerful than his predecessors. Since the bailout started in 2011, he has used his powers to veto or refer legislation to the Constitutional Court much less than his predecessors.  Furthermore, given that the Portuguese President cannot dissolve parliament in the last six months of the presidential mandate and Cavaco Silva’s term ends in January 2016, his powers have actually been diminished in these last few months. In addition, with regard to the recent process of government formation in Portugal, there were no “winning parties running on a combined ticket promising coalition”. The anti-austerity left coalition was only negotiated after the election, does not involve a common agreement, and did not lead to a coalition government – only a Socialist minority cabinet with support from the radical left in parliament.

But maybe any presidential intervention is fundamentally worrying. There is certainly evidence that high levels of presidential power are problematic. Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, is founded on an all-powerful presidency. There is also some evidence that dual executives can be problematic especially for young democracies. In 1993 Niger’s first democratic experiment collapsed during a period of cohabitation between the president and prime minister. But EU member states do not have all-powerful Belarus-style presidents and they are not Niger-style young and fragile democracies. They can surely withstand presidential interventions of the sort we have seen recently.

More than that, we should think of presidents as being part of a broader democratic system of checks and balances. Both indirectly elected and weak directly elected presidents have the potential to offer a counterpoint to majority governments. These presidents all have the legitimacy – including those elected by the representatives of the people in parliaments – to ask difficult questions, to request that bills be reconsidered, to confirm the constitutionality of bills, even to interpret the specific wording of the constitution, and so on. Inevitably, some presidential interventions will displease some people. That’s politics. But in the constitutional framework of EU member states presidential interventions are scarcely “alarming” or likely to generate “lasting problems”. In fact, presidents can offer a check that monarchs cannot, precisely because the latter have absolutely no legitimacy to act in contemporary democratic systems.

Overall, rather than trying to muzzle presidents, we would encourage them to speak out even more at least within the constitutional limits in which they currently operate.


marina costa loboMarina Costa Lobo (marina.costalobo@ics.ulisboa.pt) is Principal researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. Her research interests include the role of leaders in electoral behavior, political parties and institutions. Her latest book was co-edited with John Curtice and is entitled: Personality Politics: the role of leaders in democratic elections, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. She has published articles in Electoral Studies, European Journal of Political Research, and Political Research Quarterly among other journals. For more information see www.marinacostalobo.pt.
Robert_Elgie_001Robert Elgie (robert.elgie@dcu.ie) is Paddy Moriarty Professor of Government and International Studies at Dublin City University. He is the general manager/editor of the Presidential Power blog (www.presidential-power.com). He has published numerous books, including Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-types and Democratic Performance (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has published in journals such as Comparative Political Studies, British Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, and Journal of Democracy. He is the editor of the journal French Politics. His most recent book is Studying Political Leadership: Foundations and Contending Accounts, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Gi__400x400Gianluca Passarelli (gianluca.passarelli@uniroma1.it) is Associate Professor in Political Science at the Department of Political Sciences, Sapienza University, Rome. His research interests lie in presidents of the Republic, political parties, electoral systems, elections and electoral behaviour. He has authored, co-authored, or edited books on presidents, political parties, and constitutional regimes. He has published in journals such as French PoliticsSouth European Society and PoliticsContemporary Italian Politics, and Political Geography. His latest book is The Presidentialization of Political Parties (Palgrave, 2015). He his co-convenor of the ECPR standing group on Presidential Politics

Fernando Casal Bértoa – Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo): A New Research Tool

This is a guest post by Fernando Casal Bértoa from the University of Nottingham.


Have you ever wondered who governs the countries of Europe? Would you like to know who governed your country more than a century ago? Are you not sure about the partisan affiliation of ministers in your neighboring states? Are you interested in discovering how has the (economic and financial) crisis affected the composition of European governments and party systems?

Now a quick answer to all these questions, and more, is possible thanks to a new research project at the University of Nottingham: namely, the Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo), a new research interactive tool (whogoverns.eu)[1] where data on government formation and party system institutionalization in 48 European democratic states since 1848 can be found. European indicates those countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Democratic refers to those countries displaying (1) a score of 6 or higher in the Polity IV index, (2) universal suffrage elections (including universal male suffrage only, when historically appropriate), and (3) governments formed and/or relying on a parliamentary majority, rather than on the exclusive will of the head of state. States includes those countries recognized by either the United Nations or the Council of Nations.[2]

In particular, and as it follows from the table below, the number of years per country varies between just one (e.g. Czechoslovakia’s Third Republic and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) and more than a century (e.g. Norway or Denmark). Secondly, the number of political regimes taken into account varies between just one (e.g. Belgium or the Netherlands) and four (France and Greece). Thirdly, the number of electoral cycles taken into account varies between just one (e.g. Greece’s post-WWII Kingdom or Poland’s First Republic) and thirty-three (Switzerland). Finally, the number of cabinets taken into account varies between just one (Czechoslovakia’s Third Republic) or two (e.g. Belarus or Kosovo) and ninety-seven (France’s Third Republic).

European democracies (1848-2014)

Country Period Country Period
Albania 2002- Kingdom of SHS 1921
Andorra 1993- Kosovo 2008-
Armenia 1991-1994 Latvia (post-WWI) 1920-1933
Austria (1st Republic) 1920-1932 Latvia (post-1989) 1993-
Austria (2nd Republic) 1946- Liechtenstein 1993-
Belarus 1991-1994 Lithuania 1993-
Belgium 1919- Luxembourg 1920-
Bulgaria 1991- Macedonia 1992-
Croatia 2000- Malta 1964-
Cyprus 1978- Moldova 1994-
Czechoslovakia (1st Rep) 1918-1938 Montenegro 2007-
Czechoslovakia (3rd Rep) 1946 The Netherlands 1918-
Czech Republic 1993 Norway 1905-
Denmark 1911-1934 Poland (2nd Republic) 1918-1926
Estonia (post-WWI) 1921-1934 Poland (3rd Republic) 1991-
Estonia (post-1989) 1992- Portugal (1st Republic) 1919-1925
Finland (post-WWI) 1917-1930 Portugal (3rd Republic) 1976-
Finland (post-WWII) 1945- Romania 1996-
France (2nd Republic) 1848-1851 Russia 2000-2006
France (3rd Republic) 1876-1940 San Marino (post-WWI) 1920-1923
France (4th Republic) 1946-1957 San Marino (post-WWII) 1945-
France (5th Republic) 1968- Serbia 2001-
Georgia 2004- Slovenia 1993-
Germany (Weimar Rep) 1925-1932 Spain (Restoration) 1900-1923
Germany (post-WWII) 1949- Spain (2nd Republic) 1931-1936
Greece (King. of George I) 1875-1914 Spain (post-Francoist) 1979-
Greece (2nd Republic) 1926-1936 Sweden 1917-
Greece (post-WWII) 1946-1948 Switzerland 1897-
Greece (3rd Republic) 1975- Turkey (post-WWII) 1946-1953
Hungary 1990- Turkey (post-1960 coup) 1961-1979
Iceland 1944- Turkey (post-1980 coup) 1983-
Ireland 1923- Ukraine 1994-
Italy 1948- United Kingdom 1919-

In terms of government composition, the database contains information on cabinet duration (i.e. dates of formation and termination), the names of the various ministerial offices as well as of the people[3] appointed to occupy them, and the partisan affiliation of each minister at the time a particular cabinet is appointed.[4]

In accordance with the party government literature (Müller and Strøm, 2000), the database records changes of government in three different instances:

a) change in the partisan composition of the government coalition,
b) change in the prime minister, and
c) celebration of parliamentary elections.

In case of electoral coalitions, the database also displays information about the partisan affiliation of the ministers belonging to the different parties within the coalition. In those instances when two or more political formations merged to form a new party, the partisan affiliation of the ministers belonging to the parties merged is also shown.

In terms of party systems, and closely following the party politics literature (Bartolini and Mair, 1990; Huntington, 1968; Lijphart, 1999; Mainwaring and Scully, 1995; Sartori, 1976), the database contains operationalisations and measurements for six different classic indicators:

                a) party system institutionalisation, calculated in four different periods (pre-WWI, inter-war, post-WWII, and post-1989),
                b) party institutionalization, calculated according to average party age as well as Lewis’ (2006) index,

c) electoral volatility, measured by Pedersen’s (1979) index,
d) the effective number of (electoral and legislative) parties, measured by Laakso and Taagepera’s index,

e) the number of “new” parties, with at least 0.5 per cent of votes,

f) polarization, calculated as the percentage of votes obtained by anti-establishment-parties, and

g) electoral disproportionality, measured by Gallagher’s (1991) index.

All in all, the database covers 166 years, 66 different historical political regimes, roughly 670 elections, and more than 1600 cases of government formation.

Finally, and for those interested in more than plain data, the Observatory also runs a blog where country experts post their knowledgeable opinions on the latest process of cabinet formation (for example in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Kosovo, Romania), including inside analyses on coalition negotiations, possible government alternatives, future outcomes and expectations, and the like.

[1] See also https://twitter.com/whogovernseu or https://www.facebook.com/whogovernseurope.

[2] As a result, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not included.

[3] Senior, but not junior (i.e. deputy), ministers are recorded.

[4] Simple government reshuffles (i.e. change of ministers without proper “governmental change”, see above) are not recorded.

Fernando Casal Bértoa is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham (UK). He is also co-director of the Centre for Comparative and Political Research at the School of Politics and International Relations. Before he was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands. He studied Law at the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain) and Political Science at the University of Salamanca (Spain). After specializing in Eastern and Central European Studies at the Jagiellonian University (Cracow, Poland), he obtained his PhD at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy). His work has been published in Party Politics, Government and Opposition, International Political Science Review, South European Society and Politics, or East European Politics.

Thomas Sedelius – Semi-Presidentialism and Intra-Executive Conflict

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

Thomas Sedelius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farida Jalalzai – Gender, Presidencies, and Prime Ministerships in Europe

Farida Jalalzai is an Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Farida Jalazai

Women presidents and prime ministers are increasingly capturing the public’s imagination. We are especially intrigued by the fact that a woman has never been president of the U.S. but that women have held presidencies in places where women as a whole seem to enjoy fewer opportunities such as Pakistan and Liberia. In contrast, we might not be surprised that the greatest quantities of women executives have ascended in Europe. When accounting for paths and powers, however, how much progress have women really made in this region? This is the subject of my new article published in the International Political Science Review. “Gender, Presidencies, and Prime Ministerships in Europe: Are Women Gaining Ground?”

We might intuitively expect women in Europe to have made significant strides in executive office holding, given the more favorable political, cultural, and social conditions women face. To be sure, women have gained top executive offices in nearly half of all European countries, indicating that they have made substantial inroads. Perhaps more surprisingly, Europe lacked women presidents and prime ministers until the late 1970s (nearly two decades after Asian women ascended). Based on my analysis of the most up to date numbers (from January 2015) 42 women have gained power as executives in Europe. In fact, European cases account for 43% of the entire sample of women leaders (98 in total worldwide when examining autonomous countries). The data I collected for this article initially only went from 1960 through 2010. At that time, Europe only had 32 women executives. Five years later, this number increased by another 10! Europe also increased its global share of women leaders (from 41% to 43%). It is, therefore, undeniable that women in Europe have made substantial inroads in executive politics, at least when examining quantities alone.

Readers of this blog, however, know full well that not all executives are created equal and that numbers can only tell part of the story. Most European countries are consensus systems. Consensus systems feature more inclusive, negotiated, and conciliated decision making. In contrast, majoritarian ones involve more exclusive, antagonistic, and competitive governance. For the latter, they rely on appointment to gain power and enjoy less autonomy and security in these positions than would a president in a presidential system (like the United States) or semi-presidential one (like France).

Leadership traits in consensus systems correspond to prevailing feminine stereotypes; we should therefore expect more women executives to arise in Europe. Most European states utilize parliamentary systems, where prime ministers govern with cabinets. Positive perceptions of women’s abilities to negotiate and collaborate aid women in their pursuit of executive office. Western European executives lead within more consensus structures than do their Eastern counterparts. Several women, including Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have entered power as prime ministers of parliamentary systems.

Dual executive arrangements (where both a president and prime ministers hold office) may indicate executive dependence and power fragmentation. Institutional arrangements simultaneously aid women’s incorporation as political leaders, but stymie women’s progress given their more restricted and collectively based authority. Following the transition from Soviet rule, several Eastern European countries invested presidents with powers far surpassing those of prime ministers. Eastern European women, however, fail to obtain dominant presidential posts since their profile involves masculine stereotypes. Substantial portions hold relatively weak authority as prime ministers under more dominant presidents (such as former PM Julia Tymoshenko of the Ukraine). Women face the most durable glass ceilings in obtaining the most dominant presidencies. To date, there has yet to be a dominant female president of a European country in France or in Eastern Europe, where such presidencies are common.

Women have made important strides in attaining executive office in Europe. At the same time, there are clear limitations. Women still are mainly relegated to weaker positions such as more symbolic presidencies or hold prime ministerships in consensus systems. This does not mean that women don’t lead in a diverse array of systems in Europe, some of which affording substantial. One need not be hard pressed to identify that one of the most powerful and visible women in the world is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany who has now held power for ten years. At the same time, Merkel’s case is actually the exception for women and not the rule. The types of positions and executive institutions common in this Europe are also the very ones that correspond with “feminine” stereotypes, which helps explain why more women have gained a foothold here.

Beyond political institutions political pipeline shapes women’s access to executive positions. Women’s rise in legislative institutions in the 1990s may partly explain women’s gains in presidencies and prime ministerships in the 2000s. Women executives often obtain extensive legislative experience before entering office, though they also regularly first access politics through activist movements. Such combined experiences appear unique to women. While activism offers important opportunities to women in Eastern Europe, it may also constitute an additional stage in the path to power that men do not need to encounter.

Women are also more likely to attain office as non-partisans, particularly the office of heads of state (including Iceland’s Former President, Vigdis Finnbogadóttir). Slightly greater numbers of women rise to power on leftist party labels, nearly all from within multi-party systems. Europe’s tendency to utilize multi-party systems likely explains women’s recent advances in their executive aspirations. Despite the increased number of female presidential candidacies, few women successfully win these contests, an illustration of the continued obstacles to their true incorporation.

Many more questions remain and must be conducted in future research. Do women presidents and prime ministers in Europe act on behalf of women’s policy interests and appoint more women to political positions? Do they heighten women’s political interest, engagement, and efficacy? Women often hold weaker and more dispersed authority, but whether this is due to specific gender stereotypes held by party leaders and the public remains unclear and likely requires experimental research. Since women executives disproportionately govern in Europe, further regional analysis would be most helpful in addressing these questions.

Overall, in assessing powers, women in Europe exercise more dispersed and restricted authority than their male counterparts, although important exceptions exist. Regional differences within Europe also surface, further demonstrating women’s uneven advances. Numbers, pathways and political clout shape women’s advancement in this historically male preserve, resulting in mixed progress overall.

Dr. Farida Jalalzai is an Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her research focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Currently, she is completing a book manuscript examining female presidents of Latin America including Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica) Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map_of_EU_presidents away2_

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

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

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

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

How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 2

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

In the previous post I looked at the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in terms of the number of ballots it took to elect the president and the time taken to do so. In this post, I look at the number of candidates at the election.

Unlike direct presidential elections, one of the characteristics of indirect presidential elections in many countries is that new candidates can enter the contest after the first ballot. So, just as the share of the vote in direct presidential elections is reported on the basis of the first ballot, here I am reporting figures for the number of candidates at the first ballot of indirect presidential elections. Obviously, this can be misleading. For example, if a candidate is sure that a successful election will not take place at the first or subsequent ballots, s/he can wait until a later ballot to stand in the hope of being able to portray himself/herself as a unifying figure. While this scenario is possible, it is difficult to capture in cross-national comparisons. So, I report the figures the number of candidates at the first ballot in the Tables below. (The range of elections covered is reported in the previous post).

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Albania 1.3 2 1 2
Estonia 2.8 4 1 1
Germany 3.3 8 1 1
Greece 2 6 1 4
Hungary 2.25 3 1 1
Italy 11.5 18 5 0
Kosovo 1.5 1 1 1
Latvia 2.2 4 1 2

Notes: No systematic information is available for Malta. The figures for Hungary are from 2000 (inclusive). The figures for Italy exclude so-called ‘voti dispersi’.

Here are figures for countries that used to hold indirect presidential elections, but that have since shifted to direct elections.

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Czech Rep. 3 4 3 0
France 5 8 3 0
Slovakia 3.5 4 3 0

The most striking finding is that, with the exception of Italy, the average number of candidates at the first ballot is relatively low. Indeed, relative to direct presidential elections (see figures below), the number is much smaller. This is obviously the result of ballot rules, the nature of party discipline in the legislature, and relatively small number of parliamentary groups. By contrast, in direct presidential elections there is usually some way that non-party or dissident party candidates can find their way on to the ballot.

In addition, whereas Iceland and Ireland are the only countries with directly elected presidents that have some tradition of uncontested elections, we find that in parliamentary republics uncontested elections have occurred in a higher proportion of countries. It should be remembered, though, that in parliamentary republics an uncontested election does not necessary mean a successful election. Sometimes opposition parties will refuse to stand a candidate, leaving the candidate of the largest party as the sole candidate but one who does not necessarily have a large enough majority for election, especially if there is a super-majority requirement. So, uncontested elections do not necessarily signify low political stakes in parliamentary republics.

If there is variation in the average number of candidates across indirect and direct presidential elections in Europe, the figures are fairly similar if we compare the average number of candidates at indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections. This calculation adjusts for the candidates at the first-round of direct presidential elections who compete but who only win a small fraction of the vote. Are there only a small number of candidates who realistically stand a chance of winning, or are votes dispersed relatively equally across a lot of candidates? Arguably, this is a better comparison because it controls for the very different type of ballot rules in the two systems. There are figures for the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections in the previously cited article.[1] Here, I report figures by country for the average number of candidates with the average effective number of candidates in brackets:

Austria 3.1 (2.1); Bulgaria 13 (3.1), Croatia 11.3 (4.2), Cyprus 5.3 (2.3), Czech Rep. 9 (5.7), Finland 7.2 (3.7), France 10.6 (5), Iceland 1.9 (1.5), Ireland 2.3 (1.9), Lithuania 7.6 (3.4), Macedonia 4.5 (3.5), Montenegro 4 (2.9), Poland 11.8 (3.4), Portugal 4.6 (2.4), Romania 13 (3.9), Serbia 10.5 (4.8), Slovakia 9.7 (3.3), Slovenia 7 (3).

So, from these two posts what could we conclude?

In terms of differences, I think we can say that there is the potential for indirect presidential elections to take a very long time and for them to result in stalemate. This is rare, but it has happened.

In terms of similarities, I think we can say that even if there is the potential for stalemate, in most cases the process of electing the president in parliamentary republics takes around the same amount of time as the process of voting at two-ballot direct presidential elections. I think we can also say that the number of candidates is relatively similar if we compare the average number of candidates in indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections.

Overall, perhaps what this suggests is that the difference between the two systems lies predominantly in the manner of elections and their effects – the length of campaigning, the degree of television coverage, the involvement of citizens, the presidentialization of parties – rather than their competitiveness in terms of the average number of ballots, time, or candidates.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.