Upcoming Workshop: ‘Democratic Recession and Europe In Flux’

The second UACES CRN ‘Europe and the Everyday’ Workshop will take place on the 20 and 21 of September at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Detailed below is the workshop programme.

Attendance is free and open to all. If you are interested in attending please contact Paul.anderson@canterbury.ac.uk for more information.

              ‘Democratic Recession and Europe In Flux: Everyday Perspectives’ 

Canterbury Christ Church University

20-21 September 2017

Wednesday 20 September

14.00-15.00: Registration, Coffee and Welcome (Lg45)

15.00 – 17.00 (Lg45) Panel 1:

 ‘Current Crises in Europe: A Continent in Flux’

Chair: Dr. Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik

Discussant: Prof. Karl Cordell

‘The Accountability Turn and Crisis of Democracy’

Gergana Dimova, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Kiev)

‘Citizenship in Times of Crisis: Status, Rights and Identities in Disintegrating Multilevel Polities’

Jelena Dzankic, European University Institute

‘Media, Power and Control: The Authoritarian Twist in Democratic Transition in Poland.’

Eva Polonska-Kimunguyi, London School of Economics

‘Who are the Europeans? European identity among EU nationals in the UK’

Ronald Ranta and Nevena Nancheva, Kingston University London


17.00 – 18.00: Wine Reception (Sponsored by CCCU’s Centre for European         Studies, CEFEUS) (Lg16)

 18.00 – 19.30: (Lg16) Key Note Address: ‘Populism and the Future of Europe’

Prof. Karl Cordell, Emeritus Professor, University of Plymouth


Thursday 21 September

10.00-12:00: ‘Researching and Publishing on Contemporary Europe: An Insider’s Perspective’ (Ag36)

Prof. Karl Cordell (Co-editor of Ethnopolitics)

Dr. Soeren Keil (Co-editor of (new) Palgrave book series ‘Federalism and Internal Conflict’


12.00 – 13.00: Lunch at CCCU


 13.00- 15.00 (Lg16) Panel 2:

‘Europeanisation, Democratisation and New Forms of Mobilisation’

Chair: Dr. Soeren Keil

Discussant: Prof. Amelia Hadfield

‘The Western Balkans Go West! – An Interpretive Lens for Modern Western Politics’

Kurt Bassuener, Democratization Policy Council and University of St. Andrews

‘Get out of Traian Square!’: Roma Stigmatisation as a Mobilising Tool for Noua Dreaptă in Timişoara, Romania’

Remus Creţan, West University of Timişoara and Thomas O’Brien, Cranfield University

‘European Integration and the Cartelisation of Party Politics: Political competition and Eurosceptic Parties in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria’ Eltion Meka, University of New York, Tirana

‘Local Prospects of the EU´s Cross-border Cooperation’

Paula Tulppo, University of Lapland

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Leicester and the CRN ‘Europe and the Everyday’ (UACES CRN EUEve) go to Sarajevo

On Friday 7 July 2017, while moving towards the second workshop at Canterbury Christ Church University in September, addressing democratic recession and social and political changes in Europe, the UACES CRN ‘Europe and the Everyday’, with the support of the University of Leicester, will hold an external workshop at the War Childhood Museum, in Sarajevo. The War Childhood Museum opened this year, in January, and, as presented in their website, contains a number of personal belongings, stories, audio and video testimonies, photographs, letters, drawings and other documents offering valuable insights into the unique experience of growing up in wartime (a short documentary about their work with English subtitles is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvYJxIgScFA)

The workshop is intended to emerge as a network for critical debate on democratic conditionality, to raise questions and to offer reflections to stimulate further studies and dialogues, and research projects. Academic and think tank participants will benefit from the opportunity to offer general reflections from specific vantage points. Contributions from past enlargements (in Poland or in Croatia) can enable research on the next enlargements and practitioners from the region to re-frame and re-think the democratization process through successes and limits of past experiences and alternative sources of social and political engagement. Scholars with in-depth expertise on different case studies and key concepts at different levels will be able to develop and enrich questions, contribute to analytical reflection within academic debates and make use of comparative research in a wider context.

Delegates, from the region and beyond will have the opportunity to address questions related to statehood, democratization and Europeanization, such as: (i) What type of democracy is developing in the region?; (ii) How do grassroots experiences and civil society engage with everyday democracy (or through militant democracy, see Thiel 2009; Casal Bértoa and Bourne 2016); (iii) How do marginalized communities, engage with and experience the idea of Europe?; (4) How is Europe entrenched in local spaces, cities and neighbourhoods, and what spatial or geographic evidence can we observe?

The theoretical re-assessment of the link between Europeanization and democratization in light of recent experiences in Eastern Europe and practices in the Western Balkans would benefit current academic debates; the empirical analysis of the interplay and implications of the impact on citizens’ engagement with politics and how political competition in Southeastern Europe is shaping in light of the countries’ integration into the EU can offer new insights both at the academic and practitioners levels; while the study of structural factors and reforms can inform policy recommendations in the region.

For more information, please email: Paul Anderson (paul.anderson@canterbury.ac.uk, UACES CRN EUEve Communication Officer) or Simona Guerra (gs219@leicester.ac.uk).

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Strong UACES CRN ‘Europe and the Everyday’ Presence at 2017 IPSA Colloquium on ‘Democratisation and Constitutional Design in Divided Societies’

The UACES CRN ‘Europe and the Everyday’ team was strongly represented at the 2017 IPSA Colloquium held in Nicosia, Cyprus from 24 to 27 June.

The conference brought together three International Political Science Association (IPSA) research committees (13, 14 and 28) to examine the challenges of designing democratic institutions in divided societies. The papers presented at the conference dealt with a broad range of interesting topics related to the research agenda of the ‘Europe and the Everyday’ CRN, as well as further afield. Such topics included Brexit, democratisation, diversity management and the lived experiences of power-sharing regimes.

Paul Anderson, Simon Bransden and Soeren Keil (from left to right)

In his capacity as an active member of the IPSA Research Committee 28 ‘Comparative Federalism and Multilevel Governance’, Dr Soeren Keil, co-convenor of the CRN, chaired the panel on ‘Institutional Design in Divided Societies: Kosovo in Comparative Perspective’. Drawing from his research on institutional design in post-conflict societies with a special focus on federalism and state-building in the Western Balkans, Dr Keil moderated the discussion during the panel and provided valuable insights for the panellists by placing the content of the panel related to decentralisation, democratisation and ethnic cleavages in a broader comparative perspective.

Dr Keil also organised the panel ‘Policy Issues in Divided Societies’which included papers from the CRN’s communication officer and CCCU Ph.D Candidate Paul Anderson and CCCU Ph.D candidate Simon Bransden, and a co-authored paper between Drs Soeren Keil and Jelena Džankić (European University Institute, Florence). This panel focused on a number of policy issues, including Citizenship Policy and constitutional politics.

Building on his extensive research on the Western Balkans, Dr Keil presented a paper titled ‘The Ties that (Never) Bind – Citizenship in the Socialist Yugoslavia and its Federal Successor States’. This paper explores the continuity and change in citizenship policies in federal states created as a result of state disintegration. The authors argue that disintegrative processes cause new federal states to model their legislation after that of the old state while at the same time state-creation and re-articulation of identities demand a modification of the rules for inclusion and exclusion, so that they can reflect new political realities and relationships among communities constituting the state.

CCCU’s Simon Bransden presented the outline of the first paper he intends to write drawing from his recently defended Ph.D. Thesis, in a paper entitled ‘Process, Dynamics and Instrumentalities in the UK/EU Brexit Crisis after May 2015’. The paper examines the way that the EU tried to accommodate the UK’s demands in key areas of free movement of people, state sovereignty, and economic independence, whilst respecting fundamental principles of European integration. He concluded that while the package offered to UK elites was acceptable, the UK’s electorate rejected the offer.

Paul Anderson, presented on an important and timely issue in a paper entitled, ”Too little, too late?’: Brexit and the Constitutional Future of Scotland and the United Kingdom’. Here Paul examines the potential constitutional and territorial implications of leaving the European Union, and asks whether Scottish Labour’s recent conversion to federalism offers an alternative constitutional vision for Scotland. Paul’s analysis drew from a number of interviews carried out in February and March 2017 with MPs and MSPs from all five major parties in Scotland, and demonstrated that while for most federalism was considered as theoretically attractive, most pro-independence supporters believed it ‘too little, too late’, while most pro-Unionists saw it as a worthwhile yet challenging endeavour. Paul concludes that Scottish independence is not an inevitable consequence of Brexit, but the decision to leave the EU has resulted in yet more (irreparable) cracks in the UK’s once strong and stable constitutional edifice.

The papers presented by the CRN participants were very well received and demonstrates the importance of the ongoing research agendas of the ‘Europe and the Everyday’ CRN.  This research will be further presented at the UACES conference in Krakow Poland in September. In addition, our annual conference, which this year focuses on the topic of ‘Democratic Recession and Europe in flux’, will take place at Canterbury Christ Church University on the 20 and 21 of September. All welcome.

Funding for the participation at the conference was kindly provided by CCCU’s Politics and International Studies Research Excellence Fund.

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“The UK political situation – not so strong and stable!”

(This pre-election comment was originally published in La Razon, on Thursday 8 June. Read the original article here )

On April 18, the British Prime Minister Theresa May dissolved the Parliament and called snap elections for June 8, supported by the required two-thirds of the chamber. Although May persistently denied this could be possible, the sudden surprising move seemed to seek to achieve a safe comfortable majority in view of nearing challenging talks on Brexit. At that time, polls were giving confidence to the Conservative Party, leading 44% over the Labour Party, at 23%.

Meanwhile on May 29 the European Union published two draft EU position papers on Article 50 negotiations, where priorities, as expected, revolve around ensuring citizens’ rights and the UK financial settlement by the time the country leaves the EU. Contested debates emerge on the confrontational approach adopted by the UK, the unresolved issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the costs and an endless number of administrative issue following Brexit.

With just one week to go, the Labour Party stood at just three points to May’s Conservatives. In just four weeks, different polling services have unavoidably reduced the advantage, despite Theresa May still retaining more trust as leader vis-à-vis Corbyn, in particular among those who are 65 and older (63% vs. 15%), and still more than double among those aged 50-64 (51% vs. 22%). The advantage reverts among those aged 18-24 (20% vs. 52%) and 25-49 (34% vs. 49%) (YouGov data, 1 June 2017).

The TV debates, with individual interviews given by Theresa May, who declined any debate with the other candidates, viewed increasing disappointment towards the electoral campaign of the Prime Minister, with the Labour Party decreasing the wide gap it had in mid-April. The Labour Party was at 46% (+2% vs. 35% for the Conservative Party) in Wales, and at 50% (vs. 33% for the Conservatives) in London the week before the elections (YouGov data, fieldwork 26-31 May, published on June, 1).

Then there is the youth vote. Fact checks carried out for the Conversation confirm, on the basis of the 2015 British Election Studies, that young people are more absent from the ballot box (also keeping into consideration the standard over-sampling), with 57% of the 18-24 age group who voted in 2015 and 76% among those 25 and older. In addition, when voting, young people are likely to choose an alternative party to the Conservatives. But even considering all the possible options, an increase of 30% in youth turnout would still be minimal on the outcome in a first-past-the-post system as the British one.

Uncertainty, though, still seems to characterise these general elections. With the leadership and youth vote factors still fluctuating in the polls and the precedents that led to the British Polling Council’s inquiry, concomitantly with a plunge in the levels of support for Nicola Sturgeon, the UK political situation does not seem so strong and stable. As recently commented in a Financial Times piece, the candidates seem to belong to different ages, Theresa May to the 1950s England, and Jeremy Corbyn to the 1970s.

It is hard to compare May’s Britain to the international place of Britain that Cameron and Osborne’s Tory had, in a globalized and competitive market. She is after the common English families struggling in economic hardship and challenged by the competition coming from EU immigration and security threats (‘enough is enough’). Corbyn, on the other hand, has always been closer to peripheral groups of the Left, or taking skeptical positions towards the EU. For this reason, despite May presenting herself and her idea of Britain as ‘strong and stable’, hardly these elections will view an alternative winner to Theresa May. Corbyn has definitely improved his rate of support during the campaign, but is still considered not a credible alternative to Mrs May, but across the youth vote, a group that generally cast less votes than the other age groups and than the votes expected after asking before the elections.

From a recent undergoing research project, carried out with Dr Evangelos Fanoulis, at Metropolitan University in Prague, formerly at the University of Leicester, we point to the idea of Britain that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have, in an idealised conception of the community (their narrative) would serve. It brings together their own people, a comfortable place they belong to, and one that the 2016 British EU referendum brought back, with a large share of feelings and emotions that had been left unspoken for a long time. The recent economic crisis and the consequent adoption of austerity programmes have impacted on the emergence, and the resurgence or success of, sometimes opposing, political phenomena that are strictly linked to emotions and unchartered corrosive feelings reacting to a possible threat represented by a social change.

‘The people’ or the community belonging to the same nostalgic heartland are not just an important feature of extreme right-wing populism, but, as in SYRIZA, in Greece, can be articulated as an inclusive ally against the economic crisis and the social costs of austerity. The people can mobilize active citizenship against the crisis. This views also the emergence of tensions against the EU integration process and the social costs of the crisis, which are able to find an ally within a narrative that moves beyond the boundary of disenfranchized citizens by empowering them, and enabling them to contest what in their eyes appear as a sedimented, unfair political status quo.

But while the debate on the Brexit negotiation process has completely remained absent from the general election campaign, as too challenging both for May and Corbyn, an unexpected high level of turnout among young people can hardly defy Theresa May, while the scope she sought for (ie: a strong and stable Britain to strengthen the British position in view of the Brexit talks), when she called them in April, completely and miserably failed.

  • This article was originally published in La Razón, Thursday 8 June 2017, Un Reino Unido en blanco y negro (A Divided United Kingdom). Read the original article here

Simona Guerra is associate professor in politics at the University of Leicester.

Posted in Article 50, brexit, Elections, England, European Union, Euroscepticism, Northern Ireland, Politics, Referendum, Scotland, Simona Guerra, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Catalonia’s independence referendum: The stage is set for yet another political and legal battle

On 1 October 2017, Catalans will vote in an historic referendum on the secession of Catalonia from the Spanish State. After several years of constitutional wrangling, including a previous attempt to hold an independence referendum, Catalans will be asked ‘Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?’. The Catalan government considers the holding of a referendum as the ultimate solution to move beyond the current constitutional quagmire between Catalonia and Spain. This viewpoint, however, is not widely shared in the political quarters of the Spanish government which deem any referendum on the breakup of the Spanish state illegal. In the words of Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, ‘they can announce a referendum as many times as they want … but this referendum will not take place’.

Since 2010, polls in Catalonia have recorded a significant increase in the number of citizens in favour of independence. Indeed, the shift in support from constitutional status quo to independence is remarkable considering that historically the Catalan nationalist movement was explicitly non-secessionist and committed to the Statute of Autonomies regime. This all changed in 2010 when the Constitutional Court severely watered down the reform of the Catalan Statue of Autonomy which had been reformed in 2006, and approved by both the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments as well as the Catalan electorate in a referendum. Some provisions in this reform, such as the proclamation of Catalonia as a nation, were deemed by the Partido Popular, then in opposition, as at odds with the Spanish Constitution, an interpretation that was upheld up by the constitutional court’s ruling in 2010. From here on in, the Catalan and Spanish governments have been involved in a lengthy process of constitutional sparring.

The call for democracy

On Sunday 11 June, a few days after the announcement of the date and question of the referendum, circa 40,000 Catalans gathered in Barcelona under the slogan ‘Love Democracy’ to demonstrate their support for a referendum on secession. Pep Guardiola, past captain and manager of Barcelona Football Club and the current manager of Manchester City, was the gathering’s biggest star and read out a short manifesto in Catalan, Spanish and English, stating ‘We will vote even though the Spanish state does not want us to’. Flanked by the huge ‘love democracy’ banner, Guardiola illuminates one of the most important themes of the Catalan secessionist movement: democracy.


For the Catalan Government, the Spanish Government’s refusal to open dialogue on the issue of independence, not least constitutional change, is testament to the failure of democracy in Spain. In lieu of seeking any form of accommodation or change in the relationship between Spain and Catalonia, the Rajoy government, in power since 2011, has consistently downplayed the demands of the Catalan government and evoked constitutional articles, such as Article 2, which refers to the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’, as legal bulwarks to secessionist demands.

What is more, the Spanish Government has been accused of politicising the judiciary after several Catalan politicians have appeared in court because of their support and participation in holding the previous independence referendum. The former Catalan President Artur Mas, for instance, was convicted of defying the constitutional court in holding the vote in 2014, fined nearly £32,000 and banned from holding public office for two years. This, believe many Catalans, is clear evidence of a Spanish state willingness to forego democratic principles to prevent the secession of Catalonia. An authoritarian-minded government intent on thwarting the democratic will of its Catalan counterpart.

The Spanish Government, however, firmly believes that through blocking a referendum on secession, it is upholding the Constitution and thus the democratic principles undergirding the Spanish State. In recent months, Rajoy has termed the Catalan government’s process towards independence an attempted ‘coup d’état’, arguing that the Catalan government’s actions are in contravention of the Spanish Constitution and thus dictatorial. The Spanish Government, he claims, are the real proponents of democracy, they are after all, protecting the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution.

What next?

I have previously argued that the uncompromising position of the Spanish Government limits the options for those in Catalonia seeking some form of constitutional change. Calls for reform to the Statute of Autonomies, not only from Catalonia, have fallen on deaf ears and as has been argued elsewhere, there is no serious discussion in the upper echelons of the Spanish government to reorganise the territorial model. It may well be that as October draws closer, there will be increased chatter about territorial reform, but the Spanish Government has consistently refused to entertain such thoughts.

Challenges thus lie ahead, both for Spain and Catalonia. In Catalonia, there is indisputable support for the holding of a referendum (around 80 per cent), but support for independence, despite having hovered around the 50 per cent mark, has never stayed steady above the threshold. In the latest polls, support for independence was 44.3 per cent, short of, but not far away from the required 50+1 per cent.

Regardless of the result, the Spanish Government will not consent to Catalonia’s secession, but it remains unclear what will happen next. A ‘yes’ vote will not be accepted by Spain, and akin to the situation in Kosovo, the international community, namely the EU, will come to play an important role. In the event that Catalans vote against independence, the Catalan government will no doubt seek some form of constitutional change. The rejection of independence, however, will be seized upon by Madrid as an endorsement of the constitutional status quo, but the option of no change will only further entrench and polarise the constitutional debate. To prevent further secessionist attempts or indeed prevent constitutional paralysis, serious discussion vis-à-vis territorial reform is required.

Prior to October 1, the Spanish Government will attempt, as it did in 2014, to legally block the holding of the referendum in Catalonia. It is likely that this will be upheld by the Courts, thus if the referendum goes ahead it will be in defiance of the Spanish judiciary, and the president, like his predecessor, will no doubt himself end up in court. Legal challenges aside, it may be that the Spanish government also invokes Article 155 of the Constitution and suspends regional autonomy in Catalonia. This bold move, one that will be of last resort, could see the closure of schools and control of the Catalan police (Mossos) falling under the Spanish Government’s jurisdiction. Such a draconian move, however, will surely backfire and will serve to embolden rather than dilute secessionist demands.

The Catalans, much like other national minorities, have often looked to the European Union as an ally and protector of minority cultures. The Scottish example, however, has proven already that when it comes to discussions on secession, the EU is reluctant to engage in such debates. If the Scottish case was considered a prickly issue, the Catalan case will prove to be a whole bunch of thorns because while the former’s referendum was organised with the support of the British Government, the latter’s vote will be, if it goes ahead, entirely unilateral. The Catalan President recently wrote to the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters – the Venice Commission – to inform of his government’s actions, but was swiftly informed that the Commission believed that a referendum had ‘to be carried out in full compliance with the Constitution and the applicable legislation’.

The political and constitutional future of Spain and Catalonia are as uncertain as they are chaotic. The Catalan government has already begun preparations for the referendum in just over four months’ time, but so too had Madrid to prevent such a vote going ahead. Spain is at the proverbial crossroads, but the government’s inimicality towards constitutional change, never mind Catalan independence, leaves very little room for manoeuvre; the stage is set once again for another episode of legal and political clashes. Catalan independence, it is worth noting, is not inevitable, but there is nothing guaranteed about the future constitutional integrity of the Spanish state.


This article originally appeared on the LSE’s Europp Blog. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/06/12/catalonia-independence-referendum-stage-set/ 

Paul Anderson is a doctoral researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main research focuses on territorial autonomy and secessionist movements in western plurinational democracies.

Posted in Catalonia, Constitutional Crisis, Constitutional Politics, European Union, Independence, Paul Anderson, Politics, Referendum, Scotland, Secession, Spain, Supreme Court | Leave a comment

Macedonia’s new government: First signs are promising but there is a long way to go!

On Monday (5 June 2017), the newly elected Macedonian government, led by the new PM Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia Party (SDSM), held its first session. This was the first opportunity, ever, for the media to have a look at the excessive luxurious interior of the renovated government building which had been completely hidden from the public by the previous VMRO-DPMNE (The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) led government. This refurbished Government building forms part of the megalomaniac and publically contested project Skopje 2014 – a trademark of the previous 11 years of populist but non-transparent rule of the VMRO-DPMNE and their leader Nikola Gruevski. During his decade in power, Gruevski, who came to power in 2006 as a  promising technocratic PM with ambitious reform agenda, finished his prime ministerial career as a corrupt nationalist who captured state institutions, abused public resources and stalled Macedonia’s integration towards EU and NATO membership.

The new Macedonia Government. 

The new Macedonian government comes into power after more than a two year long political and institutional crisis that fully polarized the country and threatened its fragile inter-ethnic relations. The crisis involved illegally wiretapped materials, allegations of mass corruption, blank pardoning attempt by the President Ivanov, mass protests and an internationally sponsored political agreement that offered a political and institutional solution to the crisis and an opportunity to hold early elections. Following the early elections on 11 December 2016, a new parliamentary majority without VMRO-DPMNE was formed, which backed by the President, obstructed the peaceful transfer of power. The obstruction of the transfer of power culminated in the brutal attack on the Members of Parliament of the new parliamentary majority by a violent mob which gained access to the parliament’s premises with the help of VMRO-DPMNE MPs and police forces loyal to Gruevski.

Now as the new government is finally in place, the new PM and SDSM have to prove they are substantially different not only from Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE, but all other political predecessors. Namely, as a young, post-socialist democracy, with limited democratic tradition and weak institutions, Macedonia even before Gruevski was plagued with flagrant abuses of power and resources for private or partisan means. After a decade of state capture, this has to now come to an end: state institutions, especially those responsible for the rule of law (judiciary, police, anticorruption agency) have to be let free from political interference: corruption and clientelism must no longer be the rules of the game.

Moreover, SDSM’s pre-election moto ‘One society for all’ now needs to be implemented in practice to ensure inclusiveness and economic and social cohesion. The new government should dramatically shift from an ethnic based discourse characteristic for VMRO-DPMNE to a discourse and policy agenda based on improved social services, healthcare and education for all citizens. The same goes even more for their junior coalition partner DUI, the long-term VMRO-DPMNE partner, who is now part of the new government coalition.

Additionally, the new government will have to provide new prospects for Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership aspirations previously stalled primarily because of the name dispute with Greece and the EU’s enlargement fatigue. The new Macedonian leadership should contribute towards fostering good neighbourhood relations and the establishment of new international allies that could prove crucial for Euro-Atlantic progress.

Last but not least, Macedonian international partners should learn important lesson from the past decade – that if a fragile Balkan democracy like Macedonia is kept too long without any tangible EU and NATO membership prospect, the emergency of populist state capture will likely ensue. Therefore, they must also open the door and facilitate relations with Macedonia’s new leadership and offer their strong support to Macedonian democratic reforms. This should involve NATO membership and the opening of EU accession negotiations as well as strong international mediation over the name dispute with Greece.

Taking into consideration the complexity of the domestic and regional context, these ambitions, specifically at first glance, look difficult to obtain. However, Zaev’s programme and his selection of key cabinet members looks promising and offers reasonable reasons for optimism that meaningful reforms are possible. On the other hand, Macedonia inevitably needs new opposition leadership to keep the new government to account: VMRO-DPMNE has to be deeply reformed in order to regain domestic and international legitimacy and that change has to start with the departure of Gruevski and his closest allies. Lastly, the new government members should keep their feet on the ground and not forget that in the last couple of years while fighting the old regime, Macedonian bottom up civic activism evolved significantly and is now ready to mobilize against any form of populism and state capture, regardless of party affiliation! The formation of the new government may have broken the decade-long pattern of crisis, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that past government actions remain firmly in the past!

Borjan Gjuzelov is PhD candidate at Queen Marry University of London. His main academic and professional interests are related to democratization of the post-socialist societies, good governance and informality. In the past three years, he has been part of the Macedonian opposition protests.

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Austria – Snap elections and a possible FPÖ victory: Potential to alter the functioning of Austria’s semi-presidentialism?

The Austrian presidential elections last year was a sign of tremendous change in the country’s party system. Both of the hitherto dominant parties – Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) – failed to have their candidate elected (let alone enter the run-off), while support for the far-right FPÖ and its candidate, deputy speaker Norbert Hofer, soared. Although veteran Green politician Alexander Van der Bellen eventually won the election, the threat of the FPÖ becoming the largest party in the next elections has been looming over Austrian politics ever since. After Chancellor Faymann (SPÖ) resigned in the aftermath of the presidential election debacle and was replaced by his co-partisan Christian Kern, relations between coalition partners SPÖ and ÖVP were tense. Three weeks ago, the coalition effectively collapsed with the resignation of vice-Chancellor Mitterlehner (ÖVP) and the announcement of his successor, foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, to call snap elections for October 2017. The outcome is unpredictable as of yet, but will provide a difficult parliamentary arithmetic in any case and may transform the way in which Austria’s semi-presidentialism functions.

To date, presidents have largely practised a “Rollenverzicht” (i.e. relinquishing of an active role in day-to-day politics) and made generally sparing use of their powers, particularly in the appointment and dismissal of Chancellors where they followed the will of parties. Nevertheless, the Austrian president belongs to the most powerful presidents in European democracies (more powerful in fact than the president of France; see also Robert Elgie’s interview here) and can theoretically dismiss governments at will. The possibility that Norbert Hofer, if victorious,would appoint FPÖ party leader Strache as Chancellor was discussed as a distinct possibility. While the FPÖ currently holds 38 of 183 seats (20.8%) in the National Council and is thus only the third-largest party after SPÖ and ÖVP, it now has a realistic chance of becoming the largest party and claiming the office of Chancellor (see figure above).

An electoral victory for the FPÖ would not only put the established parties, but also president Van der Bellen in a difficult position – domestically and internationally. Van der Bellen has not only repeatedly declared that FPÖ leader Strache would be an unsuitable choice for Chancellor but also that he would refuse to appoint a FPÖ-led government even won the most seats in the next election [1]. Furthermore, when the FPÖ participated in Austria’s federal government (albeit as junior partner in a coalition led by the ÖVP) the last time (1999 to 2002), other EU member states reacted with diplomatic “sanctions” due to the FPÖ’s openly xenophobic and revisionist positions (many of which remain part of the party – albeit less openly – to this day).

SPÖ and ÖVP have been very pragmatic in preparing for a potential coalition with the FPÖ. Starting with the failure to openly back Van der Bellen’s candidacy against Hofer in the run-off of the presidential election, neither party has excluded a coalition with the FPÖ outright. Thus, president Van der Bellen will likely assume a crucial role after the elections. Interestingly, the president has so far refused to comment on the snap elections – except for asking parties toremain civil and stating that he would expect them to formulate clear positions regarding the EU, education, labour market and human rights. Given the Austrian Chancellor once appointed does not require a vote of confidence or investiture, Van der Bellen would have the option to appoint a minority government. In that case, he may effectively become a ‘third coalition partner’ and much more strongly and openly involved in day-to-day politics that any Austrian president before. Yet even Van der Bellen chose to appoint a government with participation of the FPÖ, he could likely still refuse to nominate its candidate for Chancellor over that of a (junior) coalition partner [1]. Irrespective of the scope of the FPÖ’s participation in government, Van der Bellen would face both domestic and international pressure to provide a balance to the FPÖ.

Come October Van der Bellen will most likely not be able to rely voters to produce an ‘uncomplicated’ parliamentary arithmetic as could his predecessors. Rather the election with force him – or provide an opportunity for him (depending on one’s perspective) – to assume a more active role in Austrian politics. During his election campaign, Van der Bellen had already hinted at a slightly more activist understanding of his role. Assuming a strong FPÖ result (or victory), the question is now whether Van der Bellen will want to use the vast powers of the presidency and to what extent this will lead to a transformation of Austria’s semi-presidentialism.


This post first appeared on http://presidential-power.com/ on 31 May 2017.

Dr Philipp Köker is a Senior Research Fellow in Politics and IR at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. His research is primarily concerned with presidential politics and political parties in Euroipe. His thesis won the ECPR Jean Blondel Prize 2016 and is the basis on his first book ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ (Palgrave, forthcoming July 2017).

[1] Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves made a similar statement with regard to Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar in 2010 but remained inconsequential as the party failed to win the elections.
[2] An international precedent for this would be Polish president Lech Walesa’s nomination of PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak as prime minister of a SLD-PSL coalition in 1993, even though the SLD had won more seats.

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