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The rise of the vetocracy

23 January 2014
The rise of the vetocracy

Political volatility and government

Politics is ‘becoming Italian’. Political popularity is short-lived, governing is volatile and new populist actors are vaulting into the system with great success.

Moisés Naím identifies that in 30 of the 34 members of the OECD, the head of state is opposed by a parliament controlled by the opposition.

The rise of ‘vetocracies’ (Francis Fukuyama) ‒ where the opposition has veto majorities ‒ means that government is more-often than not based on flimsy mandates, vulnerable coalitions and strange bedfellows. Trends since the 1970s show that there has been a remarkable decline in the strength of governing mandates.

That power is now much more short-lived and diffuse is borne out in our collection of political updates. In the Netherlands, the Governing parties nurse a fragile coalition that is dependent on 3 small opposition parties to pass reforms – upcoming local and European elections look likely to severely upset this arrangement.

In France, President Hollande has launched a new supply-side ‘responsibility pact’ between the state and business. This agenda offers hope: but carrying the more left leaning elements of his coalition – he depends on the Green party to govern – is fraught with difficulty.

Even the UK – traditionally guarded by the first-past-the post system, but now governed by a Con-Lib coalition – seems on the verge of a transformational moment, with Labour and the Conservatives both breaking from the ‘traditional centre-ground’, and UKIP’s challenge growing.

In Norway, the Conservative party recently entered government with the populist Progress party – but both are severely constrained in their actions by dependence on two small centrist parties. Sweden and Denmark bear some similarities.  And this is by no means a European phenomenon: in economically buoyant Australia, Tony Abbott, the newly elected Liberal prime minister, has endured one of the quickest opinion poll falls-from-grace in recent political history.

So how should progressives respond to these severe constraints? The changing nature of power structures looks unlikely to be kind to parties and elite institutions that stand still. These developments open the door for new networks and institutions powered by innovation and  experimentation. In the US, for example, congressional wrangling has seen American city-regions move to reshape politics and economics, opening up new territory for collaboration between central government and local actors.

And, finally, if politics is ‘becoming Italian’ then, ironically, it is in Italy that some of the most remarkable and interesting developments are taking place: Matteo Renzi, the new secretary of the PD is shaking-up the establishment by declaring both an economic and an institutional emergency. It is a political story worth watching.

This month’s edition includes: UK, France, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Australia, Spain, Norway, Portugal and Hungary.

View the latest opinion polls on social democratic parties from around the world

Our political observers:

  UK: Labour's bold break from Third Way triangulation

“Ed Miliband, intriguingly, has exploited the new circumstances in a very different way from a Third Way politician. Rather than triangulate he has articulated a populism of the left. Attacking energy companies, and now banks, he channels the anger of middle-income families but uses it to fuel a reform programme. It's a bold play.”
By John McTernan

  France: Hollande’s turn - A realignment of French Socialism?

"François Hollande’s new promise revolves around a ‘responsibility pact’ between the state and businesses to lift the French economy ‒ his success will be determined by his ability to hold together his party through a series of spending cuts."
By Gérard Grunberg

  Italy: Renzi fixes upon two national emergencies

"After Matteo Renzi’s victory at the PD primaries in December, the beginning of the new year has been dominated by the first substantive moves of the new secretary. Renzi has always claimed that Italy faces two emergencies that must be addressed: an economic emergency, and an institutional one."
By Mattia Guidi

  Netherlands: Electoral storms threaten the Dutch Coalition

“2014 will bring stormy political weather in the Netherlands. That’s for sure. Local and European elections will test the ties and agreements of the Polder Agreement between coalition and constructive opposition. They will test the support for the unpopular welfare state retrenchments and for the troublesome management of the eurocrisis.”
By René Cuperus

  Germany: Sigmar Gabriel’s political miracle

“Germans have recently witnessed some sort of political miracle: an SPD resurrection, brought about through a strategic masterstroke by Sigmar Gabriel.., he has forced the conservatives into major concessions and put a strong social democratic imprint on the Coalition agreement.”
By Michael Miebach

  Denmark: Local election cheer, national woes

“As a midterm barometer, the local election results – which were a notch weaker than the 30.6 per cent of the votes won four years earlier – delivered a bit of hard sought optimism for Helle Thorning and Co. But they do not mark a definitive turning point in a volatile political climate."
By Kristian Weise

  Sweden: Battle-lines are drawn for the 2014 general Election

"Sometimes it actually is over before it's over. At least in politics. The sentiment in Sweden nine months before the general election is that prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will lose. Who will win? Well, that is an entirely different question."
By Katrine Kielos

  Ireland: The best behaved pupil?

"Some lessons have still not been learned in Europe or in Dublin. The great irony of the recent months is that just as Ireland exits from the ‘bailout’ a public debate has begun on the merits of cutting income taxes to ‘put more money’ into the pockets of hard pressed middle-income families."
By Tom Healy

  Australia: Abbott’s short political honeymoon

"After barely four months in the office for which he fought so ruthlessly, his halo of success has vanished and the role seems painfully ill-fitting. The public judgement has been rapid and harsh. Mr Abbott’s Coalition won 53.5% of the two-party vote in September’s election."
By David Hetherington

  Spain: The recession is over but the crises still need to be resolved

“Spain starts 2014 with growth prospects of around 1 per cent. The economy has begun to stabilise due to the reorientation of European policies – but the pernicious legacy of the crisis remains in the form of a series of titanic political and social challenges.”
By Jonás Fernández Álvarez

  Norway: No sharp right turn for the Conservative-Populist Coalition

"The new right-wing Norwegian government lacks the majority for a sharp move away from the ‘nordic model’. In an interesting twist, the Progress party’s minister for Families recently gave the army an “award for inclusiveness”, after military canteens started to serve Halal-food to Muslim soldiers."
By Sten Inge Jørgensen

  Portugal: Life after the troika

“The looming departure of the troika from Portugal threatens to leave the socialists on shaky ground. The party bet the farm on the collapse of the economy under the weight of austerity. Adjusting to the idea that the right-wing government could stage a comeback to bond markets and dismiss a second bailout on the back of a recovery is proving to be a hard task.”
By Hugo Coelho

  Hungary: Approaching election time - A united opposition, but is it enough?

"All focus is on the fast approaching general elections. The challenge for the left comes both externally, in terms of facing the unwavering strength of the conservative Fidesz party, as well as internally, overcoming the lack of cohesion apparent among liberal and left wing parties and movements."
By Erin Marie Saltman

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