13 Jan 2012

European Conspiracy Bask

Conspiracy 21 Comments

Attention all European readers: Can you please describe the big-picture processes by which Berlusconi, Papandreou, and Zapatero were replaced? In particular, I want to know if there was a regularly scheduled election, or if there was a challenge to their party (which could happen at any time) and then their replacements weren’t elected.

For example, the Wikipedia article on the new Italian Prime Minister says:

On 9 November 2011, Monti was appointed a Lifetime Senator by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.[13] Mario Monti was seen as a favourite to replace Silvio Berlusconi to lead a new unity government in Italy in order to implement reforms and austerity measures.[14] On 12 November 2011, following Berlusconi’s resignation, Napolitano invited Monti to form a new government.[15] Monti accepted the offer, and held talks with the leaders of Italy’s political parties, saying that he wanted to form a government that would remain in office until the next scheduled elections in 2013.[16] On 16 November 2011, Monti unveiled a technocratic cabinet, and was officially sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy.[17] He also appointed himself as Minister of Economy and Finance.[18][19]

So am I right to conclude that the Italian people never voted Monti into office?

Please explain how all this works. In the United States the elites pick our leaders too, but they at least put on a show where we vote for them at regular intervals. This European system is foreign to me. (We also would have accepted, “…is Greek to me.”)

21 Responses to “European Conspiracy Bask”

  1. Rob says:

    Each country has its own system. However most have a system where the populace directly elects representatives (who normally belong to a political party) into a parliament . Each party elects a leader (usually chosen by its members or parliament, but sometimes by others party stakeholders like trade unions) . In European countries there are often 3 or 4 (or more) competing parties. These parties (or rather there representatives in parliament) try to from coalitions to get a majority in that parliament and decide amongst themselves who will be the Prime Minister (normally but not always the leader of the biggest party). Sometimes, if coalitions fall apart , the prime minister may change between national elections. Most European countries are also republics and also elect a president – often by a direct vote. But other than in France the President generally has less power than Parliament and the prime minister.

    In Greece and Italy the coalition just broke up and was replaced by a new one with a different Prime Minister.

  2. Christopher says:

    I think the reason is our different system. In Italy, as well as Germany, you don’t vote for the prime minister. The Italian people never directly voted for Berlusconi either. You vote for the Lower House and the Lower House elects the prime minister. So if the prime minister resigns, dies or whatever, that doesn’t change the result of the votes at all. The Lower House can easily appoint a new one. Ever if you had re-elections, the people still wouldn’t vote “Monti into office”. The only thing they could do is vote for the party that pledges to elect Monti. Greece and Spain have the same system. France is more like the US in this respect as they voted directly for Sarkozy.

    So this is fine with the constitutions and just the way the system works. If the prime minister looses the support of the people in parliament that voted for him, they can replace him or her anytime. (In Japan this happens pretty much once a year.)

    Another good example is the German chancellor Helmut Kohl who I am sure you have heard of. When he first came into office, there was no election. He just managed to convince the parliament that had elected Helmut Schmidt to replace him.

    Hope this answers your questions.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Christopher wrote: Eve[n] if you had re-elections, the people still wouldn’t vote “Monti into office”. The only thing they could do is vote for the party that pledges to elect Monti.

      OK, but am I right to say that when Berlusconi was installed, the people had voted for his party, knowing they intended to make him PM? But that isn’t the case with Monti, right?

      • Christopher says:

        That is correct.

        I understand where you are coming from, but for me as a European, this is not such a remarkable event. Nothing I would get upset over.

        If I were to complain about the lack of democratic legitimation in European politics at the moment, I would much rather look into what these guys in Brussels are doing on their urgent over-night meetings. They are spending hundreds of billions of Euros without having a single elected parliament look over it. Most of the things that Merkel and Sarkozy are deciding on during their lunch breaks ought to be decided by our parliaments according to our constitutions. The direction were are going here is much worse than having a new PM without a general election which is perfectly in accordance with our constitutions.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Christopher wrote:

          If I were to complain about the lack of democratic legitimation in European politics at the moment, I would much rather look into what these guys in Brussels are doing on their urgent over-night meetings. They are spending hundreds of billions of Euros without having a single elected parliament look over it. Most of the things that Merkel and Sarkozy are deciding on during their lunch breaks ought to be decided by our parliaments according to our constitutions. The direction were are going here is much worse than having a new PM without a general election which is perfectly in accordance with our constitutions.

          Sure, but just to be clear, that’s my interest in this. These new guys are hardcore banker technocrats. So I think you are making a distinction without a difference.

          • Christopher says:

            Hm, I thought you were concerned about the process. Whether technocratic governments are a good idea or not is a good question but shouldn’t we keep that separate from the question of process. I have the feeling that our answers might be more helpful if you told us a little bit more about what your concerns are. If you asked me whether I thought that democratic principles are being sacrificed in general to rescue the Euro you will get a different answer than the one you get to this specific question of whether the process by which Papademos and Monti came into office was okay.

      • Christopher says:

        Oh an by the way. Even though the parties tell you who they intend to vote for as PM before the election, they don’t always do because it is very rare that one party has the absolute majority. So is you have three parties:
        Party 1 pledged to vote for Guy A gets 40%
        Party 2 pledged to vote for Guy B gets 30%
        Party 3 pledged to vote for Guy C gets 30%

        In this case two parties would have to form a coalition and agree on one candidate. So though Party 3 said they intended to make Guy C PM, if they end up in a coalition with Party 1 it is very likely that they would vote for Guy A. Sometimes they even end up with a completely new candidate and elect Guy D.

        I understand why this must sound crazy to you, but that’s the way our system works. We only elect the legislative branch. It is the only branch that has and requires direct legitimation from the people. And it is usually the most powerfull branch.

    • MamMoTh says:

      Same with Gordon Brown taking over Tony Blair.

  3. Tel says:

    I’m not European, but I’m a regular reader of http://www.greekdefaultwatch.com/ and at least in theory there are elections in Greece scheduled for February so their current government is strictly speaking a caretaker government, with the task of managing the immediate crisis until a new and legitimate government appears after the elections. Now watch that closely… it’s not inconceivable they will get slippery. I’ll quote from Nikos:

    When will elections happen? Perhaps the biggest question. Will elections happen, as initially agreed upon, by the end of February? Or will this transition government be given a mandate to govern for longer? And if it does govern longer, will it continue to enjoy wide parliamentary support? Another way to ask the question is: will Antonis Samaras put country above personal ambition?

    • Christopher says:

      I would disagree with the word “caretaker government”. It is a regular, legitimate government with a PM elected by the parliament. A “caretaker government”, if you want to call it that way, is something which we were seeing in Belgium until recently. After the election, there was no majority in the parliament for any candidate so the parliament failed to appoint a PM. In this situation, the former PM, although having lost its legitimation, continued to carry on his official functions so that the country be not without a PM.

      • Tel says:

        Perhaps, “caretaker government” is not the right word exactly. It is a very unusual situation, especially when you consider that Lucas Papademos is not even a member of parliament (i.e. he never went through any electoral process, not even within some local electorate as typical Prime Minister would do). In theory their executive Prime Minister would not even get a vote in parliament.

        I found this explanation which seems quite interesting:


        Essentially, there’s a question mark over the legitimacy of the whole affair, but if a constitutional court needed to sort it all out they might be arguing for years. I guess what I should have said is that if the Papademos government only puts its focus on the debt bailout money and keeping things stable until the election is over (i.e. operationally equivalent to a caretaker government) then no one will try to hard to fight it.

        If on the other hand, they decide to introduce significant new legislation and try to disregard the earlier promise of elections then I believe the constitutional arguments will become a lot louder and more serious. I probably should mention that the last thing George Papandreou did in November was replace all the military chiefs without any meaningful explanation. It’s very difficult to believe that was merely a coincidence.

        • Christopher says:

          My appologies. The situation in Greece is more complicated than I thought and they indeed call it an intermin government. As far as I understand, the opposition wanted to have immediate new elections after Papandreou resigned. They only agreed to support Papademos under the condition that he organize a general election in February 2012. (It would be great if somebody from Greece could verify this). To me it seems, that this is a rather a problem that concerns a deal between two or three parties of parliament rather than a constitutional problem. Art. 38 of the Constitution of Greece does in fact not explicitly require that the prime minister be member of parliament. It’s a little tricky because Art. 37 does.
          In any event, I think Dr. Murphy’s is more concerned with the general fact that they changed the PM without a general election than with the question whether he should be member of parliament. (After reading the respective articles of the Constitution of Greece, my understanding as a German lawyer would be that it is not required that he be member of parliament.) So to sum it up, I don’t see a constitutional problem in Greece either.

          By the way, in Germany, this would be perfectly fine. The chancellor and the ministers do not have to be member of parliament.

          • Tel says:

            Revisit a week later…

            Looks like the way things are going, Papademos won’t even be able to achieve the basic bailout negotiations which was the reason they put him there. This could possibly just be a matter of building up enough crisis energy to carry him into March. Funny old world.

  4. Mateusz says:

    In case of Spain there was a regularly scheduled election, won by the party of current prime minister.

  5. Olivier Braun says:

    Christopher is right.

    In Europe you mostly have parliamentary regimes, that is, yhe executive is responsible before the parliament. If the government has no more a majority in the parliament, it has to resign, or, can call for an election.
    The people vote for their representatives in the parliament, not for the executive branch.

    In the USA you have a presidential regime, where the people vote for the executive and their representatives. But the executive is not responsible before the parliament, so if the president loose the majority, say because an interim election change the majority as that happened in nov 2010 (or because a number of representatives change their allegiance) he stays in office.

  6. Maurizio Colucci says:

    In Italy we call Monti and his ministers “technical government”. It was never elected nor voted. (100% sure)

    I believe (but I am not sure as I haven’t been following a lot) he was elected by the President of the Republic (Napolitano), who in Italy is a separate person from the Prime Minister (formerly Berlusconi), and has this power among others.

  7. Christopher says:

    “In Italy we call Monti and his ministers “technical government”. It was never elected nor voted. (100% sure)”

    Yes he was. On December 16th, 2011. He got 495 votes for yes, 88 no, and 5 abstentions after being appointed by the President pursuant to Article 92-94 of the Constitution of Italy. As far as I know, that is the same proceedure that Berlusconi underwent.

    Besides, my understanding was that they call it a “technocratic government” because it is comprised of scientists as opposed to professinal politicians; not because of its constitutional status. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that the government has to be comprised of politicans.

  8. Marco says:

    Hi Bob,
    I’m Italian so I can tell you what happened in Italy.
    We’ve got a strange electoral system, made law in 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_of_Italy#Electoral_System). Short story: there are party coalitions and the one even if the electoral system is proportional, the coalition gets more votes earns a majority prize.
    We don’t directly choose our premier. Our President, following the Constitution, chooses one person to form a government and then the new Premier go to the Parliament to get a confidence vote.
    Since the coalition getting more votes also gets a majority prize usually their leader (in 2008 Berlusconi) will be appointed as Premier. He had back then a strong majority both In the Camera and in the Senate. His coalition was formed by two major parties, People of Liberty (that was the union of the former Forza Italia + National Alliance) and Northern League.
    But in 2010 the ex leader of Alleanza Nazionale decided to leave the party with a small group of followers and create a new party (Future & liberty). Meanwhile the press got news of the unfamous sexual scandals that involved Berlusconi. Jon Stewart made a good summary 🙂
    The numbers in Parliament were thin (in December 2010 he won a confidence vote at the Camera by 6 votes if I recall) but it was only when the bond crisis hit that he finally decided to resign. He claims that he was his decision only but many suspects that both Ecb (Trichet & Draghi) and Merkel & Sarkozy made pressure to force him to resign.

    Why was Monti chosen as a premier by Napolitano, then?
    Monti has been in the European Commission and was seen by both investors and other European countries as “reliable” in doing the necessary reforms in Italy. The previous government, even if it had a big majority in the Parliament, wasn’t able to do anything both because Berlusconi didn’t want neither to raise taxes nor cut spending. Northern League was againt a pension reform, others in the People of Liberty were against anything that canceled special privileges in both the public and private sector (for example lawyers have to enter a bar association that decides minimum tariffs, ban competition among lawyers and so on. We invented corporatism, didn’t we?) (1). Matter of fact, no party wanted to balance the budget or do that reforms (asked by the ECB in august in order to buy our debt and lower its price) because they didn’t want to lose votes in the following election.
    So a “technocrat government”, was seen as a possible solution: they do the reforms, almost every party votes them, but no party “gets the blame” in the following election. Ah democracy!

    Why no elections? Monti was appointed as Senator just a few days before being appointed as Premier. Our President can choose a few “notable people” and appoint them as a “life senator” without any election (there are 7 now in charge). In November, when the spread between bund and btp reached 570 points and our long term debt yield was over 8%, it was common agreement that we had to do something fast or our country was going bankrupt in a few months, because our debt is at 120% of GPD and we don’t have a central bank to monetize it. So, no elections and a fast new government.
    Then there are “conspiracy theories” about previous links between Monti (and Draghi) and Goldman Sachs. As in all conspiracy theories there’s something true: one of the first moves of the government was to extend the public guarantee on Italian bank bonds (one of the member of the Government was CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo till November) for 2012, allowing them to get a long term refinancing by the ECB (110 billion euros, 1% yield, three year duration), some kind of bail out with a bonus: banks started buying again short term government debt lowering the yield.
    Well.. that’s all
    Any questions?

    (1) Can we borrow Ron Paul?

    • Christopher says:

      Hi Marco,

      Nice summary! What I don’t understand is the relation between being a senator and being appointed as PM. Is that a prerequisite? Would you say that the Italian people are dissatisfied that there were no elections. Did this happen before (change of PM without general election) in Italy?

      • Marco says:

        1) It’s not a prerequisite. In a previous technocratic goverment (Ciampi 1993) the premier was not in the parliament. I think it was some sort of move by our President but he could do it, it’s in the Constitution. My guess it’s that at first Monti wanted to form a political, not a technocrat only government, in order to involve all the political partis in doing the reforms.
        They answered no :). They still vote for him but don’t want to be in the government.

        2) Some are, some arent’. I personally drank a toast to the “speculators” the night Berlusconi resigned :-P. It’s been only 2 months btw and since all we’ve seen till now are new taxes I’ll say that more and more are becoming dissatisfied with this new government

        3) Change of PM without general elections? It happens all the time in Italy :-P. Well It happened a lot in the past, when the voting system was fully proportional and the coalition were formed after the vote. We has a mean of 9 months duration for governments in the first decades of the republic. (Someone wrote that that was one of the reason Italy was able to grow a lot after WWII, we hadn’t a government…).

        Since the electoral system change in 1993 and before the last one in 2005 we had 2 PM change without elections: Dini in 1995 (former premier: Berlusconi) and D’Alema in 1998 (Former premier: Prodi). In the first case there was also a change of coalitions supporting the new government (Northern League initially supported Berlusconi but then shifted position and supported Dini along with the left).

  9. John G. says:

    “…In the United States the elites pick our leaders too, but they at least put on a show where we vote for them at regular intervals…”

    Reading Christopher’s comments, it seems like the Italians, Greeks, and Spanish have a similar show (to what we have in the U.S.). However, they vote for a Parliament, whereas we vote for a President.

    I hate to seem like a nutball/KKKer, but I am reading the outlawed book, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ Prot. 5 states that the masses are “…content with a show and rarely pause to note, in the public arena, whether promises are followed by performance. Therefore, we shall establish show institutions (e.g., Parliaments, Presidents) which will give eloquent proof of their benefit to progress…”

    Hilarious: in Prot. 8, “We shall surround our government with a whole world of economists,” as they have been educated at the ‘right’ schools and are experts in social manipulation. Great group that you hang out with, Doc!

    Last point, Prot. 9: :…their (masses) anti-semitism is indispensable to us (Zionists) for the management of our lesser brethren (non-Zionist Jews)…”

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