Estonia – New government under leadership of EU’s youngest Prime Minister formed

This post first appeared on presidential-power.com on 4 April 2014

Until Andrus Ansip resigned his resignation in early March, his intention was to pave the way for a successor. However, after his designated successor, EU Commissioner Siim Kallas, dropped out Ansip’s Reform Party switched plans and asked President Ilves to appoint 34 year-old Taavi Rõivas to head the new government. While Rõivas is not the youngest Prime Minister in Estonia’s recent history and has been tipped as the new Reform Party leader, the extent of his authority over the party and the cabinet is unclear.

President Ilves with the new government | photo © Raigo Pajula via www.president.ee

When Andrus Ansip announced his resignation as Prime Minister he had been in office for almost nine years (making him longest serving Prime Minister in the EU). The reasons for his resignation was to pave a way for a new leader that would Ansip’s centre-right ‘Reform Party’ into the 2015 parliamentary elections. The designated successor was EU Commissioner Siim Kallas (himself Prime Minister 2002-2003) with whom Ansip – pending approval by the European Parliament – hoped to switch places. However, only shortly after the plans were made public, Kallas was faced with media reports about alleged wrongdoings during his time as director of the Estonian Central Bank. The allegations that he had signed guarantees that did not appears were known for several years and not judged as particularly grave by experts given economic situation at the time. However, Kallas’ reaction to the reports – aggressive denial followed by partial admission – was not well-received and only increased pressure, so that he eventually withdrew his candidacy.

At the same time, the Reform Party held talks with both its current coalition partner, the conservative ‘Pro Patria & Res Publica Union’ (IRL), and the Social Democratic Party, with which they had formed a coalition 2007-2009. However, they soon opted to form a new coalition with the latter.

After Kallas’ resignation, the most likely candidate was Foreign Minister Urmas Paet. It has also been alleged that Ansip’s original plan to let Paet become Prime Minister, while Kallas would become a member of the European Parliament and eventually become Estonian president in 2016. After Paet delined, Justice Minister Hanno Pevkur still seemed a more obvious choice but party leadership chose to put forward 34 year-old Taavi Rõivas, MP since 2007 and Minister of Social Affairs since December 2012. Even though Rõivas has been described as a ‘dark horse‘, he has already gained some experience as chairman of the Finance and European Affairs committees in parliament. Despite his young age, he is also not the youngest Prime Minister yet – Mart Laar was only 32 when he became the country’s first post-communist Prime Minister in 1992.

Shortly after parliament approved of Rõivas and his government (he received 55 votes and thus 3 more than the coalition majority), it was announced that he would also take over the leadership of the Reform Party from Ansip. The question is how much actual authority Rõivas will have over the party as well as the government. There are not only several stronger and more experienced candidates (and thus potential intra-party rivals), but the Reform Party has lately seen its position in approval rating drop behind the Social Democrats and the IRL which could weaken his position.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves appears to have played no role in the process of government formation. Being indirectly elected, Ilves has made clear on several occasions that he felt he should not be involved in domestic politics too much. Furthermore, as a former chairman of the Social Democrats and due to the close affiliated he developed with the Reform Party throughout his term in office, he probably does not have any objections against the policies that the new government will implement. As the government includes many experienced politicians, too, there are also no formal reasons of why he would have needed to interfere in the process of government formation.

The role of Estonian presidents in government formation is in any case very limited and apart from presidents’ unwillingness to charge Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar with forming a government on several occasions (despite a large seat share, he would not have been able to form a coalition) there has not been any notable presidential activism in the matter. Therefore, it only seems natural that Ilves left it to parties to find a successor for Ansip and voiced no public objections against appointing Rõivas.

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Cabinet composition Rõivas I

Rõivas portfolio allocation & seat shares

Prime Minister: Taavi Rõivas (Reform Party; 34, male)
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Urmas Paet (Reform Party: 39, male)
Minister of the Interior: Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party; 36, male)
Minister of Defense: Sven Mikser, (Social Democrats; 40, male)
Minister of Education and Research: Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democrats; 28, male)
Minister of Justice: Andres Anvelt (Social Democrats; 44, male)
Minister of Environment: Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform Party; 38, male)
Minister of Culture: Urve Tiidus (Reform Party; 59, female)
Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure: Urve Palo (Social Democrats; 41, female)
Minister of Foreign Trade and Entrepreneurship: Anne Sulling (Reform Party; 37, female)
Minister of Agriculture: Ivari Padar (Social Democrats; 49, male)
Minister of Finance: Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party; 54, male)
Minister of Health and Labour: Urmas Kruuse (Reform Party; 48, male)
Minister of Social Welfare: Helmen Kütt (Social Democrats; 52, female)

Changes to this blog: A new blog on presidents and presidential politics

presidential-power.comAfter having kept my blog www.presidentialactivism.com on presidents and politics in Central and Eastern Europe for over three years, a number of other political scientists and I have now joined forces and started a new collaborative blog on presidents and presidential politics around the world: www.presidential-power.com.

We will follow the activity of both directly elected and indirectly elected presidents; we will also post information about how presidents use their powers in different countries as well as information about events that affect presidents. I will be responsible for covering the Baltic states, Central East Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary), Germany, and Austria. We also have a Twitter account and Facebook page – feel free to follow/like!

I will still post links to any articles that I write for the new blog. I will also keep my Twitter account (@pres_activism) and my Facebook page (facebook.com/presidentialactivism).

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Workshop on Research Interviews at UCL SSEES

UCL SSEES_logo

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.

Thruth is the better option: The German president’s ‘loan affair’

German Federal President Christian Wulff in his office – © Jesco Denzel, Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung

Germany is usually neither part of my research nor covered by this blog; however, as it is my home country I thought I might write an article on the ‘loan affair’ currently surrounding German Federal President Christian Wulff and its – yet unfinished – aftermath. Continue reading

Czech Republic: Lower house vote paves way for direct presidential elections in 2013

Prague Castle, the official residence of the Czech president – © Philipp Köker, 2009

After a long debate the lower house of the Czech parliament has finally opened the way for popular presidential elections in 2013. Out of 192 deputies present 159 voted in favour of the constitutional amendment. Before it can enter into force the Czech senate still has to approve of the bill.

The amendment foresees a presidential election in a two-round system; a candidate needs to gain more than 50 per cent in the first round to win in the first round, if no candidate gains an absolute majority of votes the two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the second round. The president will be elected for a five-year term just as under the existing regulations; however, there will now be a possibility to remove the president from office before the end of their term.

The discussion about the mode of presidential election has been a recurring topic in Czech politics whereby parties almost always unanimously supported the introduction of direct elections. After the debate resurfaced in November 2011 (see also here) the Czechs did not quite believe that politicians would manage to take action this time; and indeed, it looked grim in September this year.

A prominent first critic of the amendment was incumbent president Vaclav Klaus who argued that a change of the mode of presidential election would require a change in presidential powers as well which had not been foreseen in the early drafts. Interestingly, the broad support for the bill in today’s vote (i.e. primarily the support of the Social Democrats) was triggered by the acceptance of several amendments aimed at limiting presidential prerogatives and privileges. The president will now only be immune from criminal prosecution during his/her time in office (and not afterwards as well) and decisions to stop criminal proceedings need to be countersigned by the prime minister or another cabinet member. Nevertheless, the Social Democrats’ proposal to make  presidential appointments of National Bank board members also subject to countersignature was rejected.

Polish president gave himself bonus on last day as Sejm marshal

The Polish popular newspaper ‘SuperExpress’ reports today that president Komorowski approved bonuses for himself and other members of the parliament’s presidium on his last day as acting president and speaker of the Polish parliament’s lower chamber.

SuperExpress reports that Komorowski received a bonus of 22,000 PLN (ca. 5500 €) before he resigned to be inaugurated as president. His deputies, the so-called vice-marshals, received bonuses between 36,000 and 50,000 PLN (9,000-12,500 €). Bonuses were also paid at later dates – one in October 2010 and another one in December. One of the vice-marshals, ‘Civic Platform’ politician Stefan Niesolowski, justified the payment of bonuses with the increased workload after the Smolensk tragedy. This, however, raises the question why Jerzy Wenderlich (Democratic Left Alliance) and Ewa Kierzkowska (Polish Peasant’s Party) – who both entered office more than two months after the tragedy as a replacement for party colleagues who died in the crash of the presidential aircraft in Smolensk – received the same amount as the other vice-marshals. In this respect, the significantly lower bonus of Komorowski (still ten times more than the average monthly salary in Poland) even seems relatively honest.

In response to the reports, incumbent Sejm marshal Grzegorz Schetyna followed the argument of his party colleague Niesiołowski but declared he was open to a revision of the rules on bonuses. The payment of bonuses to the Sejm leadership is decided by the Sejm marshal and his deputies alone and not by parliament.

Even if one might argue that the increased workload justifies bonuses, the story leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. In the same interview, Schetyna said that payments were made out of a special fund in the budget of the Sejm leadership and amounted to the same sum as in earlier years. However, it is worth remembering that then there were no events that would have increased the workload of the Sejm marshals and could have served as a justification for such bonuses.

Newsflash – Ukraine, Hungary, Kosovo

Ukraine
President Viktor Yanukovych has submitted a draft law to parliament which foresees the ban of party membership for civil servants. According to the draft, civil servants would have to suspend their membership during the time of their service. Furhtermore, civil servants who are registered candidates for the election to the Verkhovna Rada would be forced to take an unpaid leave during the electoral campaign.

Hungary
The head of the Hungarian constitutional court, Peter Paczolay, called on the drafters of the new constitution to restore the full powers of the court. During a meeting with president Pal Schmitt, Paczolay said that there was no reason to uphold the current restrictions to the court’s powers to review laws passed by parliament. The governing parties had lately restricted the court’s power to review budget-related legislation; the drafters of the new constitution now proposed that the power of the court should be restored once the public debt is below 50 per cent of the GDP.

Kosovo
The highest court of the Republic of Kosovo ruled last’s month presidential election to be void. Following a complaint by opposition parliamentarians, the constitutional court investigated claims about irregularites during the vote. It is the second ruling concerning the head of state of Kosovo within only six months. Former president Fatmir Sejdiu resigned after the court declared that serving as party leader during his presidency violated the constitution.