Friday 15 December 2017

Shotgun political marriages and stalemate in Europe

Grand coalition: Germany's SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel with Angela Merkel.
Grand coalition: Germany's SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel with Angela Merkel.
Meeting of minds: Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann, Enda Kenny and Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Party leaders may be at a loss to know how to form a government, but across Europe there are many ­examples of unlikely ­alliances and coalitions. But in some countries, voters are left waiting for months before a viable ­administration emerges.


For decades, Switzerland's government has been a coalition of the four major political parties in a ruling federal council.

Generally this has been designed so that each main party has a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate.

Most laws are made and decided by parliament. However, ordinary citizens can put almost every law decided by their representatives to a vote in a referendum if they gather over 100,000 signatures.


If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have doubts about jumping into bed together they could look to Germany's Grand Coalition of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) for inspiration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel formed her latest coalition after her party fell short of an overall majority in the election of 2013. The CDU/CSU took about 41.5pc of the vote, the SPD won 26pc.

She also formed an alliance with the Social Democrats in her first government of 2005, and believes the marriage helped to steer Germany through economic crisis. The two parties have dominated government since the foundation of West Germany, and governments used to alternate between them in the same way as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.


In Austria, the two largest parties - the Social Democrats and the People's Party - have forged an alliance for decades, despite their deeply differing outlook. For many years, there was effectively no opposition. Everything was proportional, with ministers from one party having a deputy from the other. Even the civil service was carved up between the two.

The alliance, led by Chancellor Werner Faymann since 2008, may have brought stability, but it also led to the emergence of the popular right-wing Freedom party as the main party of opposition.


Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin are still far from being the slowest when it comes to government formation.

The world record for a democracy going without an elected government is held by Belgium, which went 589 days in 2010-11 because the opposing Flemish and Walloon factions were unable to agree on policy issues and form a governing coalition following national elections. During this period the country was ruled by a caretaker government, which was not able to make big decisions about budgets (though revenue came in just as before), the national debt, foreign policy and defence.

In the Netherlands, parties can also take months to form a viable ruling alliance.


Elections held before Christmas produced a fragmented parliament similar to our own Dáil with no party winning a majority in the 350-seat chamber.

Party bosses have been locked in fraught negotiations since, but to no avail. If they fail to form a government within the next few months, another general election is likely to be held towards the end of June. But polls show that if there is another election, it could also end in stalemate.

The political crisis is complicated by the fact that the Catalonia region in Spain is seeking independence.

Indo Review

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