Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2017

This post first appeared on presidential-power.com on 11 January 2017

This post marks the third time that I have written about selected presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents (see 2015 and 2016 here), so that it is now becoming a tradition of its own. This year’s speeches differed only little in focus from last year, as the refugee crisis and security concerns continue to determine the public debate, yet speeches took a more political tone in a number of countries. At the same time, this year also saw some ‘firsts’ – newly-elected Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, gave her first New Year’s address and Austria (for the first time in decades) had no New Year’s address at all.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska reading out his New Year´s Day Address | © prezident.sk

Presidential Christmas and New Year’s Addresses tend to be a mixture of reflections on the political and societal events of the last year and general good wishes for the festive period or the new year. While the previous year had already seen an increase in political content, this year even more presidents referred to concrete events and policies – first and foremost the terrorist attack in Berlin on 19 December 2016. German president Gauck’s Christmas message was clearly dominated by the attack, yet stressed the need for compassion, highlighted efforts by volunteers both after the Berlin attacks and in helping refugees, and called for unity over sweeping judgments. Slovak president Andrej Kiska dismissed xenophobic sentiments in his New Year’s address even more directly, acknowledging a deviation from usual end-of-year reflection and highlighting his disagreements with the government over the issue. The Slovak government has not only strongly opposed taking in any refugees, but also includes the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and recently passed a more restrictive church law specifically targeting Muslims (which was promptly vetoed by Kiska). Quite in contrast to these conciliatory words, Czech president Zeman used the opportunity claim a ‘clear link between the migrant wave and terrorist attacks’. In his 20-minute address – far longer than any other presidential holiday speech – from the presidential holiday residence at Lany, he also attacked the governing coalition, spoke about banning internet pornography and expressed his admiration for Donald Trump and his ‘aggressive style’.

The Christmas speech of Polish president Andrzej Duda also took an unusually political turn as it started off with much praise for government reforms. Although the Polish government, too, refused to accept refugees under the EU compromises, references to EU crises remained relatively vague. Remarkable, however, was Duda’s call to ‘respect the rules of democracy’ which was clearly aimed at the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition which criticised what they in turn perceived as the unconstitutional behaviour of the governing party (see here). The address by Duda’s Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, was also in remarkable as she devoted the entirety of her speech to condemning recent increases in intolerance and the simultaneous glorification of past fascist and communist regimes which she then linked to the fact that “busloads of young people are leaving the country each day” and called the government and all parties to action. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella likewise urged parties to take action  to avoid the ‘ungovernability’ of the country, yet mostly focussed on listing the concerns of citizens and various tragic deaths rather than providing a very positive message.

Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev used his last New Year’s address as president to highlight more positive achievements, such as the ten year anniversary of EU accession (also mentioned by Romanian president Iohannis in his very brief seasons’ greetings), a rise in GDP and successful completion of the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. While stressing the need for further reform, President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades also provided a more positive message focused on the progress in the negotiations about a reunification of the island, also thanking people for their sacrifices in implementing the financial bail-out completed in 2016.

Hungarian President Ader with sign language interpreter (left); Latvian president Vejonis with his wife (right)

On a different note, Hungarians and Latvians might have been surprised to see additional faces in the recordings of presidential messages: Hungarian president Janos Ader’s speech was simultaneously interpreted into sign language by deaf model and equality activist Fanni Weisz standing in the background, whereas Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis even shared parts of the address with his wife. For those interested in ‘pomp and circumstance’, the address by Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro is highly recommended as the recording features a praeludium and a postludium by a military band in gala uniform inside the presidential palace (Youtube video here).

Last, for the first time in decades Austria lacked a New Year’s address by the president. Although Alexander Van der Bellen was finally elected president in early December, he will only be inaugurated on 26 January 2016. His successor, Heinz Fischer, finished his term already on 8 July 2016 and the triumvirate of parliamentary speakers (which incidentally include Van der Bellen’s unsuccessful challenger, Norbert Hofer), who are currently serving collectively as acting president, did not provide any New Year’s greetings.

A full list of speeches is available for download here.

Workshop on Research Interviews at UCL SSEES


Conducting Research Interviews: A Student-Led Methods Workshop
12 February 2013, UCL SSEES

On 12 February 2013, my colleague Erin Saltman and I will be holding a workshop on research interviews at UCL SSEES. The workshop is aimed at postgraduate research students who are either in the early stages of their research projects and plan to use research interviews or who are currently using interviews as part of their research. Continue reading

Moldova faces further delay of presidential election as only candidate resigns

Acting President Marian Lupu (right) with President of the European Council Herman von Rompuy (left) © 2011 by President of the European Council

After having been without an elected president for more than two years and a failed ballot on December 16, 2011 the Republic of Moldova faces yet another delay in electing a new president. The only candidate, acting president Marian Lupu, declared last week that he would not be standing for election in the next round of elections in parliament scheduled for January 15.

Mr Lupu who is affiliated with the governing ‘Alliance for European Integration’ and  serves as acting president due to his office as speaker of parliament declared that he wanted “to open up new opportunities to elect a president and resolve the political crisis in Moldova.” It is yet unclear who will follow Lupu as government candidate for the presidency; parties will certainly weigh their choices cautiously as another failed election attempt would trigger snap elections.

A candidate needs to receive 61 votes in the 101-seats assembly in order to be elected president. Since the last snap elections held in November 2010, the government parties currently holds 58 seats and the Communist Party 40 seats. The three independent deputies who left the Communist Parties are therefore the feather that would break the balance but have until now shown only limited willingness to support the government in the presidential election without getting a ‘share of the pork’ (e.g. one of them, former prime minister Zinaida Greceanii, tried to push her own candidacy for the presidential office in exchange for the votes of the independents).

The assemblies failure to elect a new president also impedes Moldova’s ability to deal with its breakaway region Trans-Dniester which incidentally elected its presidents in popular election on December 25, 2011.

Moldova’s acting president attacks prime minister

The speaker of the Moldavian parliament and acting president of Moldova, Marian Lupu, has attacked the prime minister about his negotiations with the Communist party.

After the last parliamentary elections in Moldova led to an inconclusive result, parties are still struggling to elect a new president. The winners of the last elections and currently governing parties of the ‘Alliance for European Integration’ hold 59 seats in the 101-deputy assembly. However, 61 votes are needed to elect a new president. After the elections, the coalition parties had declared that they would not enter into negotiations with the Communists but prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vlad Filat, has met with Communist leader and former president Voronin to negotiate a deal. Acting president Lupu now accused Filat of having a secret deal with the Communist party and destroying the tactics of the European alliance.

Filat however denied the claims made by Lupu and declared it was crucial for Moldova to find a pragmatic solution to the problems of presidential elections (Moldova has been without an elected head of state since September 2009). In the case that it was not possible to reach an agreement with the Communists, a change of the constitution to (again) provide for a popular election of the president was inevitable.

Theoretically, a red-green coalition of Communists and Liberal Democrats would be able to elect a new president (and even change the constitution) without the help of another party – together they dispose of 74 seats in the assembly.

New Moldavian government passes vote of investiture

The new Moldavian parliament passed its vote of investiture yesterday.

The three-party coalition led by the leader of the Liberal-Democratic party, Vladimir Filat, received all votes from the 59 pro-European deputies while the 42 Communist deputies voted against the new government.

See also: Election results leave Moldova in political limbo
Moldova with new acting president, new government in sight

Vote of investiture for Moldavian government on January 14

Moldavian prime minister designate Vald Filat announced yesterday that he will present his government programme and the new cabinet on January 14.

A coalition treaty of Filat’s party, the Liberal Democrats, with two other parties, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, had already been signed on December 30, 2010. The parties also formed a coalition before the early elections last November. However, the ‘Party Alliance Our Moldova’ which had been part of the previous coalition will not be part of the new government as is failed to pass the electoral threshold.

Before the government’s vote of investiture another parliamentary session is planned for January 10 in order to elect representatives to the various committees. Insiders also told the press that the coalition is eager to attempt to elect a new president still in this month. Moldova has been without an elected head of state since September 2009 as neither the Communist party nor the parties of the ‘Alliance for European Integration’ dispose of the 61 deputies necessary to elect a new president. Now, however, analysts predict that the government might be able to convince some Communists MPs to vote for the Alliance’s candidate and thus end the prevalent political dead-lock.

Moldova with new acting president, new government in sight

The leader of the Moldovan Democratic Party, Marian Lupu, has been elected as the new speaker of the Moldavian parliament. He is therefore also the new acting president of Moldova as parties have still not been able to elect a new president.

After his election, Lupu mandated Vlad Filat – who had already been prime minister since September 2009 – to form a new government. The government will not differ much from the one formed before the snap elections last year as it will be composed of the parties of the ‘Alliance for European Integration’. Nevertheless, the problem of electing a new president still exists – the coalition only disposes of 59 votes in the 101-deputy assembly. However, 61 votes are needed to elect a president. A compromise with the Communists who won 42 seats and are thus still the largest single party is unlikely.

Vote recount in Moldova without change of result

The recount of votes cast in the Moldovan parliamentary elections three weeks ago has not led to a change of the result.

Former president and Communist leader Vladimir Voronin had claimed that 10% of the vote had been stolen from his party even though international observers declared that the electoral process had been up to democratic standards. The constitutional court had only agreed to order a recount of the ballot as tables with election results published by the National Electoral Commission had shown several discrepancies. The recount revealed on minor differences to the results published on November 30, 2010; however, these were too small to make a difference in the election result.

Moldova is thus still politically deadlocked as – even though the pro-European parties would be able form a government – neither the Alliance for European Integration nor the Communist Party have the required number of 61 out of 101 deputies to elect a president.

Constitutional Court orders vote recount in Moldova

The Moldovan Constitutional Court has ordered a recount of the votes cast in the snap election held two weeks ago.

Leading members of the Communist party which had lost 6 seats in the election had requested a recount under due to possible electoral fraud. The court agreed to the party’s argumentation as a preliminary screening had shown that voting reports issued by the Central Electoral Commission to the contestants did not match those published on its website. Representatives of the parties of the ‘Alliance for European Integration’ welcomed the recount and declared they were not fearing that this would change the distribution of seats. The pro-European parties had won 59 seats, the communist received 42 seats in the 101-deputy assembly.

Early elections had become necessary after parliament had been unable to elect a new president. Still, neither camp holds the required number of 61 seats to elect a new head of state.

Wikileaks cable reveals attempted bribery by former Moldovan president

A US embassy cable published by wikileaks last night reveals that former Moldovan president and Communist leader, Vladimir Voronin, tried to bribe the presidential candidate of the ‘Alliance for European Integration’, Marian Lupu.

According to the leaked report, Mr Lupu told the US ambassador that in September 2009 the then acting president Voronin had offered him 5 mio US $ to join the Communist government let Voronin become speaker of parliament. Mr Lupu turned this offer down as well as the second offer for which president Voronin doubled the sum. Four days later, on September 14, Mr Voronin resigned.

Read the whole text of the US embassy cable at the website of The Guardian