Governing in coalition, a proven practice in Europe

Perceived as a political earthquake in France, the loss of the absolute majority by the formation of President Emmanuel Macron, during the last legislative elections, is nothing unusual across Europe. With the exception of Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Portugal, Hungary and, outside the European Union, the United Kingdom, the governments of France’s European partners are hardly dominated by a majority party. In twos, threes, fives, even sevens, against nature or circumstance, stable or fragile, coalitions are even tending to become the rule in Europe.

Forced by the results of the polls to find new ways of governing, the French executive therefore joins an already provided cohort. Like France today, some of its neighbors have had to compensate for the decline of the major traditional parties by seeking new government teams. With more or less success: long months of negotiations are sometimes necessary to reach an agreement, and governments can waver on a single defection, as in Bulgaria in recent days.

In most countries, the electoral system, based on proportional ballots, is one of the reasons that lead political groups to seek majorities with variable geometry. “There is almost nowhere in Europe a possibility of an absolute majorityemphasizes Paul Maurice, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), within the study committee for Franco-German relations (Cerfa). In the French context, a coalition such as Germany is experiencing, for example, is no longer possible. Emmanuel Macron, in a way, formed his own coalition in 2017, not with parties but with personalities from different parties. »

French political particularisms, rooted in practice since 1958, add to the difficulty for the parties to subscribe to the logic of compromise. Nowhere is the presidentialization of power and the centralization of political decision-making more present than in France. In most of the other democracies, the role of Parliament is therefore reinforced and the search for ad hoc majorities accepted, forcing political adversaries to think of themselves as possible coalition partners.

Three parties in Luxembourg, four in The Hague and seven for the federal majority in Brussels: the coalition regime is the rule in Benelux. Belgium was the first to introduce the proportional system, in 1899. In these three countries, the Christian Democrat movement has long dominated public life, sometimes managing to govern alone, but often having recourse to coalitions, either with the Socialists either with the Liberals or both.

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