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European countries' confusing political systems...

by DoDo Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:24:54 AM EST

In afew's Villepin a cinder, Chirac toast? diary, a discussion developed on the arcane complexities of the French and other representative democracies. I thought, why not illustrate it all with silly little graphs. Jérôme likes graphs, so now I'll turn this a story - with new, slightly less silly graphs...

Let the 'whose political system is best' debate begin...


It would be too complicated to go into all major details of political systems - the distinction of the Parliamentary dynamics of first-past-the-post and proportional elections, mono/bicameral Parliaments, federal, confederal and centralised systems, of PMs and chancellors is ignored here, and so is the connection to the judiciary and prosecutors. I also mostly ignore if differences are just in names (Assembly/Parliament).

For the benefit of our American readers, let's get familiar with colors on the basis of my graph for the US political system - a pure Presidential system:

Something close to the US system was Polish elective monarchy, and, save for the electability of the monarch, some earlier periods of British constitutional monarchy. But the King/Queen lost executive power there to the collective of ministers, called the government in Europe, and only kept ceremonial and representative functions. The government is headed by the Prime Minister (PM), who, owing to his lack of popular mandate, in theory should be seen as only a coordinator of the government, rather than autonomous decisionmaker.

This modern form of parliamentary democracy in a constitutional monarchy is also practised in Spain, the Benelux states and Scandinavian countries. As A swedish kind of death notes, the King/Queen's impartiality is ensured by the fear that the people could decide to switch to a Republic if s/he is unpopular.

The separation of executive power and representative, ceremonial powers was seen as sensible in many republics. But how to pick the figurehead President? Parliament could do it. Proponents of a parliamentary democracy with parliament-elected figurehead President see two advantages. One is that, in theory, the President could be an impartial representative of 'everyone', not just a majority (in practice, parliamentary votes mostly decide with a narrow politicised majority, but elected Presidents do strive for impartiality), and the other that Presidents won't have the popular mandate to attempt to usurp the authority of the PM.

Such a system is used by Germany, Italy, Hungary and some others. It gets a bit further complicated in Germany, where there is a Chancellor in place of PM, and the Chancellor's Office acts as a government within the government, dublicating policy units, thus increasing the head of government's powers relative to the other ministers.

A system of parliamentary democracy with popularly elected figurehead President functions in Portugal, Slovakia and Finland:

When the popularly elected President gains executive powers, and the power to remove holders of other branches of power, we have a dual system of parliamentary democracy with President. There are two centres of executive power. When parliamentary majority and President are from the same political camp, the system resembles the US one, with the PM having reduced significance - but the PM is there to catch the blame before the President if they made policy mistakes.

If Parliament and President are from different camps ("Cohabitation"), then it is very unlike the US system, then it is closer to the previous parliamentary democracy with popularly elected figurehead President system, for then the PM and the government will gain upper hand on most policies. Note that the President doesn't have much room for not picking the Parliament's preference as candidate for PM: the Parliament can vote the 'wrong choice' down, and the power to call for new elections is not worth much shortly after the previous.

This system is used most famously in France, but also in Austria, Poland and Russia (though as yet without an example of cohabitation in the last).

Finally, in Switzerland, we have an example of a consensus parliamentary democracy combined with direct democracy and without figurehead. In Switzerland, people regularly vote in referendums on proposals of both laws and policies, and also elect a national assembly. The Bundesrat (=federal council) is the executive governing body elected by the assembly, which consists of candidates of all major parties.

For one year, the assembly elects one member of the council to lead the latter, a post called Bundespräsident (=federal president), though it is a position without any extra powers, in fact closer to the PM ideal than any PM in practice in other countries. The figurehead post lacks totally, and so do most ceremonies entrusted to them in other countries(!).

Sorry for eventual further imprecisions and errors.

Display:
Sorry for not posting in the morning as promised, I had to do.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:25:47 AM EST
Link to A swedish kind of death's excellent point on monarchies added.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:07:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know, that would only confuse things, but what about the second chambers?
by PeWi on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:27:37 AM EST
Appointed by PM or monarch, elected, delegated by sub-units in a federal system... yeah, all hell would break loose if I'd introduce that dimension, too...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:34:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh...and...what about the Judicial branch in each of these scenarios? (sorry...).

Also, on the Presidential graph you post...I would say that is how Bush is wanting/pushing it to be...a President stronger (too strong) than the rest of the bodies. The original idea for the American system was in reaction to King George (the original one), so intended the President to only be co-equal...or even less equal than the legislative and Judicial bodies. So it would be

Senate-House of Representatives-Judicial branches...and then the President slightly less (or co-equal). So with Bush (and Reagan and Bush I before him) trying to centralize power in the Presidency, is basically to change the democratic system in a significant way. A return to Monarchy?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:35:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oops. I see now you are talking about EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS...sorry for my amero-centricism...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:36:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the first graph was for America, and this is also meant for our numerous American readers, so your points are at the right place.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:46:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh...and...what about the Judicial branch in each of these scenarios? (sorry...).

An interesting difference between arious systems is, BTW, the situation of prosecutors. In the US, the Judiciary is independent, while prosecutors are under the government - under the Attorney General who functions as a minister. I don't know the British system precisely, but it is something not significantly different. English doesn't even have a parallel for "judiciary" for prosecutors - but in some other countries, they are nearly as independent as the judiciary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:42:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In England and Wales there is a Crown Prosecution Service, which is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Attorney-General answers for the CPS in Parliament and has a statutory duty to grant permission before particularly sensitive kinds of prosecutions can be brought. That was modelled on a much older Scottish system of procurators fiscal. They are (I believe) supervised by something called the Crown Office, which may or may not have something to do with the Scottish law officers of the Crown.

[As a minor point the English Crown Office is part of the High Court office and is the place you go to issue an application for Judicial Review. As ever the English and Scottish legal systems are quite distinct and only come together at the level of the House of Lords - its judicial role soon to be transferred to a Supreme Court, its creation being a sign of the growth in separation of powers ideas in the UK).

In British practise the law officers and prosecution authorities are a semi-detached part of the executive, so political considerations should not affect prosecution decisions.

The first Labour government in 1924 fell, at least in form, when its Attorney General was accused of letting political considerations affect the decision not to prosecute a Communist editor and the Conservatives supported a Liberal amendment calling for an enquiry (which was treated as a motion of confidence).

by Gary J on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:03:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about the EU system? (This is the real debate: how is that analysed?)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:38:33 AM EST
Ooooh, that can't be well represented with this system... I'd need to represent the (con)federal nature, and the Council-Commission and Council-Parliament dualities throw out any simple understanding of "executive" resp. "legislative".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:50:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Council is like the Upper House and the Parliament like the Lower House of the legislative. The Commission is the executive and initially introduces legislation [like most executives now do].

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:52:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would be nice if... but the Council is also like a government, both making law proposals and final modifications on laws and other decisions on its own, and also like a President, nominating the Commission. (OK technically the national governments do that, but in practice that's the same.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The council is the collective Borg-King, back from a futuristic 18th century. Limited only by a weak parliament it controls both legislation and executive.

Seriously, I think the lack of control of the population on the Council in combination with the power it wields makes the EU constitution resemble some of the more conservative constitutions of the 19th century. A powerful upper house that is not controllable by the population holds the real power and then there is a parliament as a lower house for the rabble. Then you can ceremoniously blame the rabble every fifth year for not voting.

But second chambers were not included in the charts.

On the other hand if we view the parliaments in the charts as both chambers (if there is more then one) then the EU system resembles the German system or the monarchial systems without the figurehead. Was there a figurehead president in the constitution draft?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:37:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand if we view the parliaments in the charts as both chambers (if there is more then one)

That was the intention.

the EU system resembles the German system or the monarchial systems without the figurehead.

Personally, I'd love if it would resemble the German system.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:45:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But if you squint your eyes you can see it! The parliament (Conucil + EUparliament) elects an executive. Simple as that.

Takes a lot of squinting though.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:48:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:49:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does standing on one foot help? :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:49:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It resembles the political system of the German Empire rather than the modern Federal Republic, with the role of the Emperor being played collectively by the European Council (the national governments) in its executive aspect. It also functions as an upper house of the legislature, equivalent to the Reichsrat (under the German Empire).

The key point is that the Commission is not a government responsible to the Parliament, just as the Reich Chancellor was not responsible to the Reichstag under the Empire.

by Gary J on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:17:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL, but no Prussia to rule them all, and no three class voting system (In Prussia the male population was divided up into three classes depending on their wealth. Each class had equal representation, however, they were far from equal in size. IIRC the bottom class had about eighty percent of the population, the middle one fifteen. Plus there was no secret ballot, and voting against the local Junker was generally not a good move.)
by MarekNYC on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 06:24:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, explaining the EU would definitely require going into the arcane details of second chambers. The interesting thing is that the trend has been for power to go away from the second chamber (the Council) and towards the first chamber (the European Parliament). I suspect that this is pretty unusual in itself.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:42:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Power has been going away from the second chamber also in the UK, and it has in Spain. Parliamentary reforms in both cases are trying to restore some power to them rather than having to dissolve them as useless...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:48:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure that is right in the case of the UK. It seems the government is moving towards a proposal to have a largely elected upper house, with fewer powers than the largely hereditary House before 1999 and the largely appointed House which currently exists.

Some people may favour an elected House with more powers, but the mediocrities in the House of Commons are jealous of rival centres of power.

by Gary J on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 10:25:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't it rather contradictory to improve the popular mandate and at the same time reduce its powers?

That would be yet another nonsensical Blair policy.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 06:36:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely, but it is not totally without support in the House of Commons. A lot of Labour MPs would really like a unicameral Parliament, so reducing the other House's powers is attractive to them.

In general the further a politician is from power the more likely he is to favour checks and balances on the executive and the elective dictatorship it exercises so long as it controls the House of Commons.

by Gary J on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 11:20:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not that I like graphs, it's that I like interesting graphs, i.e. those that are capable of conveying more information at a glance than if you have to write a lengthy explanation.

I guess that my readers do too, or they would not be around!

With that said, let me thank you for that most excellent diary!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:40:03 AM EST
It's not that I like graphs, it's that I like interesting graphs, i.e. those that are capable of conveying more information at a glance than if you have to write a lengthy explanation.

I know, it was just the usual ET spoof on you to hide my bashfulness :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:48:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the usual ET spoof on you

ET is developed Homerian adjectives. Jérôme loves graphs, DoDo loves trains, Alex loves the hijab and so on...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 11:51:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I was blathering on about in the other diary, the weakness of the purely parliamentary system is that the leader is not elected directly by the people, so the only way to get rid of him or her is by getting rid of the whole party. E.g. Tony Blair.

Although it is also interesting to note that there are "good" and "bad governments under all of these systems. That's why I have turned away from support of the alternative voting systems to FPTP: The practical result depends on factors other than the voting system.

by asdf on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 07:43:13 PM EST
If we were asking "Which system of political economy is better" I would think it a better question. Asking the one without the other, I think, just sends the arguments in silly circles.

With the "political economy" question, we could try some charts which included the utterance of credit/issuance of money -- charts conveying the concept of multiply-connected manifolds, in the style of Riemann.

Darn it, when will we stop with the "Mercedes Class A" political systems?

by Gary McGowan on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 01:20:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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