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Coalition Governance Institutions in Parlamentary Democracies - Strom

Materiale didattico per il corso di Politica comparata del prof. Marco Giuliani. Trattasi del saggio di Kaare Strøm dal titolo "Coalition Governance Institutions in Parlamentary Democracies" all'interno del quale sono analizzate le problematiche relative alla governabilità delle democrazie parlamentati multipartiche. Vedi di più

Esame di Politica comparata docente Prof. M. Giuliani



rights. Thus, we do not count external support parties, i.e., parties that support the cabinet

in parliament without holding cabinet portfolios.

2. Any change in the identity of the prime minister. By prime minister, we mean in this study

the head of the cabinet, whatever title that office might have (e.g., federal chancellor,

president of the council of state, etc.).

3. Any general election, whether mandated by the end of the constitutional interelection period


(CIEP) (see King et al., 1990), or precipitated by a premature dissolution of parliament.

Coalition agreements are defined as the most binding, written statements to which the parties of a

coalition commit themselves, i.e. the most authoritative document that constrains party behavior.

Coalition agreements may be formal or informal, and they may be intended for internal use only or

designed for public consumption.


We now turn to the actual coalition agreements to examine their structure and contents across the

various countries and coalitions in our sample. Our scrutiny of the data will be highly preliminary

and exploratory, as we have not yet been able to design appropriate tests of the propositions

developed above. There are three general issue areas contained in coalition agreements: (1) policy,

(2) office allocation, and (3) procedure. Some coalitions have substantial and explicit policy

agreements. Coalition agreements, formal or informal, impose various degrees of coalition

discipline in parliamentary votes, as well as in other parliamentary activities.


Let us first examine the incidence and types of coalition agreements. As Table 1 demonstrates, of

the 223 coalition cabinets in our sample, 136 (61 %) have been based on a coalition agreement.

There are nonetheless great cross-national differences. Coalitions are invariably based on coalition

agreements in Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden (100 % of the cases in each),

as well as in Austria (82 %, but 100 % since 1949). In contrast, coalition agreements are the

exception rather than the rule in Italy, where a mere 3 % of the cabinets (one case) could rely on

such an agreement. The other countries cover the range from 63 % (Belgium) to 36 % (France )

and (the exact figures are: Ireland 78 %, Germany 57 %, the Netherlands 48 %, Denmark 38 %).


Table 1 about here

The vast majority of coalition agreements (63.2 %) has been concluded immediately after

elections. A quarter (25 %) resulted from a deal that had been struck within an electoral period,

probably in conjunction with a change of the government's party composition. 6.6 % of the

coalition agreements were pre-electoral; in these cases parties had agreed on a common platform,

campaigned as a potential government coalition, and eventually assumed office. Seven cabinets

(5.1 %) were based on both pre- and post-electoral agreements.

In the aggregate, there is a slight trend over time towards the use of coalition agreements (Table

2). While in the 1940s fewer than half of all cabinets were based on written coalition agreements,


in the 1990s, 70 % of all coalitions cabinets were set up in this form. Typically, formal coalition

agreements have been introduced after some years of experience with coalition politics. Relevant

cases are Austria (where this happend as early as 1949, after a mere four years of coalition

politics), Belgium (where the first coalition agreement dates from 1958), the Netherlands (where

the first coalition agreement was drafted in 1963), Germany (where the first experience with

coalition agreements dates from the early 1960s, but where they have become a permanent feature

of coalition politics only since 1980), and France (where coalition agreements were introduced as

late as the early 1980s). C C

Table 2 about here

Of the 136 coalition agreements, 112 (82.4 %) were intended for publication when they were

drafted (Table 3). Coalition agreements have always been public documents in Finland, France,

Ireland, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden. It is necessary, however, to qualify this by making

reference to the character of some of these documents as pre-electoral coalition manifestos

(France, Portugal) or parliamentary alternatives to the government's budget (Norway). A majority

of coalition agreements has been in the public domain in the Netherlands (91 %), Belgium (89 %),

Austria (86 %), Germany (66 %), and Denmark (60 %). In contrast, coalition agreements have

been kept private in Luxembourg.

Our contributors have collected and analyzed 66 coalition agreements from 9 of our 13 countries.

In the remaining countries coalition agreements are not publicly available (Ireland, Luxembourg),

hardly exist (Italy) or our contributors have for other reasons not been able to analyze them

(Finland). In examining these documents, which have never before been subject to a systematic

scholarly investigation of this scope, our collaborators have focused on the size, contents, and

implications of these documents.


The simplest measure by which coalition agreements differentiate themselves is size. The shortest

coalition agreement is just over 500 words long (France), while the longest one contains more

than 43,000 words (Belgium). The average size of coalition agreements is below 3,000 words in

three countries: France, Sweden, and Denmark. It is between 3,000 and 8,000 words in Germany

and Austria, whereas in Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal it includes more than

10,000 words. Yet, there is substantial within-country variation. Note that, contrary to our

expectations (H1), there is no immediately apparent relationship between the number of

participating parties and the length of the coalition agreement. There may be a weak tendency,

however, for long agreements to emerge in complex bargaining situations, of which Belgium may

be a prime example. The length of Dutch and Portuguese agreements, however, suggests that

bargaining complexity cannot be a necessary condition for lengthy agreements. Conversely, the

Danish case illustrates that even complex bargaining environments may give birth to short

agreements. What these apparently deviant case may reflect is the impact of the level of trust in

the feasibility of informal coordination. Such confidence may be built over time, through iterated

interactions, or it may decay for similar experiential reasons. The secular trend in our data toward

more extensive agreements suggests that the latter may be more common than the former.


Table 3 about here


Contents B B

With one single exception Austria the average coalition agreement has been mainly concerned

with the policies the new government intends to pursue. Yet, there are significant cross-national

differences in the attention given to policy versus procedural concerns. At one extreme, in

Norway, Sweden, France, Belgium, and Germany, 90 per cent or more of the contents of coalition

agreements have been concerned with policy. At the other extreme, the corresponding figure for

Austria is 48 %, which means that more than half of the average Austrian coalition agreement is

devoted to non-policy matters. In between these extremes, the policy content is 80-90% in

Denmark and the Netherlands, and more than 70 per cent in Portugal.

The second most frequent concern of coalition agreements in Western Europe has been to lay

down the procedural rules of the game within the coalition. There is no country in which general

and/or specific rules of the game have not made their way into coalition agreements. On the West

European average, 11.5% of the space in coalition agreements has been devoted to this purpose.

Yet, the countries in our sample differ substantially, from about a third of the words (Austria) to

less than one per cent (Norway).

In contrast, the distribution of offices and competences between the coalition partners are dealt

with in coalition agreements only in a minority of countries. Again Austria takes the lead,

devoting on average almost a fifth of the references in the coalition agreements to these purposes.

The paucity of portfolio commitments in coalition agreements elsewhere should not, however, be

taken as an indication that these are minor considerations. The underlying reality is more likely to

be that the coalition parties see formalized and publicized deals of this nature as unnecessary and

perhaps embarrassing. Thus, a consensus concerning the distribution of sub-cabinet spoils

between the coalition partners is much more frequent than the coalition agreements suggest.

Apparently, coalition parties prefer to keep such agreements informal and, perhaps, as private as


The novel data presented here shed light on a number of hitherto little-known aspects of coalition

politics. One of them is the extent and nature of the commitments that exist between coalition

parties: the tightness or looseness of coalition agreements. The looser a coalition is, the less

centralized governance institutions it has and the more relaxed the attitudes towards coalition

discipline. Coalition agreements may also be more or less complete in their regulation of the

coalition=s policy program. Coalitions which are based on a comprehensive policy program are

generally tighter (more disciplined) than coalitions in which this is not the case. There may be


important exceptions to the last point, however.

The commitedness of policy programs has been analyzed with the help of a four-category ordinal

coding scheme, in which 3 means a comprehensive program, 2 a policy program with certain

exceptions, 1 a program in which commitment exists only on a few selected issues, and 0 no

common policy agreement. In three countries, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Portugal, all coalition

agreements have conformed to the highest level of committedness. In France, at the other

extreme, two-thirds of all coalitions have had no commonly agreed policy program at all. Austria,


Ireland, and the Netherlands also feature at least two coalitions a piece which fall into the latter

category. Austria and the Netherlands stand out as the two systems that exhibit the greatest

variance in policy committedness. This is a bit puzzling, since coalition membership has been so

stable in these countries. C C

Tables 4 and 5 about here

As Table 5 demonstrates, there are no substantial differences between majority and minority

governments, although surplus majority coalitions, as hypothesis 4 predicts, are least likely to

feature the most comprehensive types of policy programs. Finally, Table 6 reports the effects of

the number of coalition parties on the comprehensiveness of coalition agreements. Recall that

according the hypothesis 1, the comprehensiveness of such agreements should decline with the

number of coalition parties. Table 6 provides only weak support for this proposition. It is true

that two-party coalitions are less likely than others to have very minimal policy agreements (the

first two categories). However, there is no clear tendency for coalitions with three or more parties

to vary in any systematic way. C C

Table 6 about here


Many lacunae remain in our knowledge of cabinet coalitions in parliamentary democracies. The

literature has long suffered from one of the traditional Hollywood biases: Much more attention has

been given to identifying the right match, and to the process of courtship, than to the actual

process of sharing a life (political or otherwise) and working out the concomitant issues. The

most important ambition of this paper has been to go some distance toward redressing that

imbalance, by in various ways enhancing our understanding of coalition governance.

We have focused on the critical everyday politics of coalitions: governance in office, examining in

particular the agreements and enforcement mechanisms that undergird such everyday coalition

politics. We have discussed the reasons that such agreements are hammered out, and that their

enforcement mechanisms are constructed with great care and detail. Coalition agreements and the

institutions that uphold exhibit a great deal of variation, running all the way from very incomplete

Aunderstandings@ to very detailed documents setting up an intricate set of rules and a laborious set

of mechanisms by which they can be implemented.

While we cannot in this exploratory analysis hope to explain any major part of the vast variation in

coalition agreements, we have tried to generate some expectations concerning the use of such

institutions. In general, we expect coalition agreements to be more compehensive the fewer the


participating parties and the longer their time horizon. We expect or more centralized,

coalitions, manifested in more explicit and detailed agreements as well as more elaborate

institutions for their enforcement, in more vulnerable coalitions, and in situations of greater

preference diversity. Our preliminary results corroborate several, but not all, of these

expectations. Yet, our analysis has only scatched the surface of this intriguing aspect of coalition

politics. In future research, we shall examine the determinants of coalition agreements much more


rigorously through multivariate analysis. We shall also systematically include explanatory

variables that more adequately measure the preferences of the coalitional players, as well as the

constraints of the institutional environment in which they operate. Much research thus remains to

be done, but there is every reason to expect that such efforts will yield rich rewards for our

understanding of coalition politics. 16



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Table 1:

Coalition Agreements in Western Europe, 1945-1996 Total

Pre- and post-




Country No electoral




coalition coalition




agreement agreement

Austria 3 0 14 0 0 17

Belgium 11 0 12 7 0 30

Denmark 8 0 3 2 0 13

Finland 0 0 14 18 1 33

France 7 3 0 0 1 11

Germany 12 0 7 2 0 21

Ireland 2 1 6 0 0 9

Italy 33 0 0 1 0 34

Luxembourg 0 0 14 0 0 14

Netherlands 11 0 9 1 0 21

Norway 0 0 2 0 5 7

Portugal 0 4 1 1 0 6

Sweden 0 1 4 2 0 7

Total 87 9 86 34 7 223

Note: Entries represent raw numbers of coalition cabinets.

Table 2:

The Use of Written Coalition Agreements Per Decade

1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

Coalition cabinets 22 43 35 39 50 33

Coalition cabinets based on a 10 22 22 25 34 23

coalition agreement

Percent 45 51 63 64 68 70

Note: Entries represent coalition cabinets that have assumed office in the decade in question.


Table 3: 1

Size and Content of Coalition Agreements Policies (in %)

Distribution of Distribution of


Country Size (in words) General offices (in %)

procedural rules

procedural rules competences

(in %)

(in %)

(in %)

Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range

Austria 7,260 700-23,300 17.5 1-50 15.5 0-44 10.2 1-30 8.3 0-25 48.3 0-98

Belgium 14,180 3,200-43,600 1.3 0-5 5.3 0-14 0.5 0-3 0.7 0-3 92.4 83-99


Denmark 2,920 900-4,100 0 0 15.3 6-30 0 0 0 0 84.7 70-90


France 1,740 530-2,100 2.2 0-9 0 0 0 0 0 0 97.8 93-100

Germany 6,200 600-16,800 5.5 0-28 0.9 0-4 0 0 0 0 93.5 68-100

Netherlands 12,050 3,100-28,400 3.2 1-16 4.4 1-29 0.3 0-3 2.5 1-9 89.6 52-97

Norway 11,300 2,900-31,100 0 0 0.5 0-4 0 0 0 0 99.5 97-100

Portugal 13,750 2,500-34,300 24.7 10-39 4.9 1-14 1.5 0-5 0 0 77.1 60-100

Sweden 2,440 1,100-5,200 0 0 2.6 0-8 0 0 0 0 97.4 92-100


1. No data on Finland, Ireland, Italy, and Luxembourg.

2. Based on three of five coalition agreements.

3. 1981entry represents the combined length of pre- and post-electoral coalition agreements.

Table 4:

Policy Programs By Country

No policy Agreement on a Agreement on a Agreement on a N

agreement few selected variety of issues comprehensive

policies only policy program

Austria 1 9 2 5 17

Belgium 0 6 5 13 24

Denmark 0 0 0 13 13

Finland 0 14 6 13 33

France 7 0 4 0 11

Germany 0 9 8 4 21

Ireland 2 1 6 0 9

Italy 0 20 12 0 32

Luxembourg 0 0 0 15 15

Netherlands 1 8 3 7 19

Norway 0 2 1 4 7

Portugal 0 0 0 6 6

Sweden 0 0 3 4 7

Note: Entries represent numbers of coalition cabinets.





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Materiale didattico per il corso di Politica comparata del prof. Marco Giuliani. Trattasi del saggio di Kaare Strøm dal titolo "Coalition Governance Institutions in Parlamentary Democracies" all'interno del quale sono analizzate le problematiche relative alla governabilità delle democrazie parlamentati multipartiche.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea in scienze internazionali e istituzioni europee
Università: Milano - Unimi
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Politica comparata e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Milano - Unimi o del prof Giuliani Marco.

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