Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics.
Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari
Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union.
While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations.
Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.
Croatia’s accession to the European Union (EU) meant, in political terms, the recognition of its political and normative-institutional achievements in the establishment of a nation state and the democracy. At the same time, for the vast majority of Croatian citizens EU membership also had a symbolic meaning: a departure from the troubled past and a return to the Western, European cultural circle, which they have always felt they belong to. This feeling is the source for the strong pro-European orientation, which, as state independence was being achieved, and democracy established—as an expression of the strong political will of Croatian citizens for freedom and autonomy—helped achieve those historical and political goals. The EU was perceived as a framework that would enable those goals to be realized, so there was a general political consensus about joining it among all relevant political actors, and the vast majority of Croatian citizens granted their consent.
The path to full EU membership was long and arduous, primarily because of the specific conditions that marked the process of establishing a Croatian state and a democratic order. On the one hand, these are endogenous structural and socio-cultural factors: the structure and activity of political actors and the functioning of institutions, which were significantly marked by their authoritarian political and historical legacy. On the other hand, was a war of aggression and a struggle for freedom and independence with long-lasting and difficult social and political consequences. These specific conditions—which none of the other acceding countries had—slowed down the process of democratization and, consequently, hampered the EU accession process.
All these reasons are why Croatia had the most comprehensive and longest accession negotiations, including the most extensive body of pre-accession conditions. Although the extent and duration of negotiations, as well as the lack of expected support from the EU (especially during the war) have led to an increase in Euroskepticism and criticism of the EU—and consequently to the low turnout in the referendum for accession—the pro-European orientation remained dominant in Croatia. In general, public support for EU accession in Croatia was based on a set of mutually connected factors: identity-based (cultural affiliation), institutional-political (democracy), and utilitarian (socioeconomic benefits).
In the period after joining the EU, due to insufficient preparation, Croatia has relatively slowly used the opportunities (especially economic) provided by EU. Nevertheless, EU membership has accelerated the increase in institutional capacity and better use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). At the same time, the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services, and the opportunities brought by the open EU market, had a double impact: strengthening the economy due to greater orientation toward the EU market, but also slower economic growth, due to structural problems (the lingering power of the state, and regulations to the economy and the market) and increased emigration of the highly educated younger population (chronic labor-force deficit).
Nonetheless, through Croatia’s participation in the EU institutions, the real benefits of full membership are becoming increasingly visible, and the sense of integration in the EU’s social, political, cultural, and economic space is growing stronger. At the same time, EU membership affects further improvement of the normative-institutional framework of Croatia.
Contrary to popular belief, Northern Irish politics is not an entirely religious affair. The widespread and longstanding use of the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” to denote political allegiance undoubtedly contributes to such an impression. The relationship between religion and politics in Northern Ireland is, however, more complex than these convenient labels suggest. Indeed the question of whether and to what extent religion possesses any political significance in the region has generated considerable academic debate.
Organizationally, there is a clear separation of church and party in Northern Ireland. The main political parties have eschewed formal ties with churches, and faith leaders have largely confined themselves to involvement in “small p” politics. The one exception to this general rule has been the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Its close ties with the Free Presbyterian Church has long rendered it a unique case in the British and Irish context. The historical relationship between the main unionist parties and the Orange Order, a quasi-religious organization, further blurs the lines between religion and party politics in Northern Ireland.
Since the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement in 1998, alternative or non-ethnonational political issues have become increasingly salient in Northern Ireland. More specifically, touchstone moral issues have taken center stage on several occasions. Abortion rights and marriage equality, for example, remain high on the contemporary political agenda, with clear party differences observable on each issue. The staunch moral conservatism of the DUP, derived from its commitment to a fundamentalist Protestant doctrine, again sets it apart. The continued exceptionalism of Northern Ireland on these issues, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and, increasingly, Ireland, serves to reinforce the importance of understanding the role religion plays in shaping party policy programs and party competition in the region.
Meir Hatina and Uri M. Kupferschmidt
When the Arab Spring of 2011 sparked a second revolution in Egypt (the first having occurred in 1952), it caught the longstanding Muslim Brotherhood almost by surprise. Arguably the oldest Sunni political mass movement in Egypt (having been established in 1928), it had proven remarkably resilient during more than eight decades of alternating repression and toleration by subsequent governments. Though its social composition changed over the years, its principles, as laid down by its founder Hasan al-Banna, continued to inspire large segments of the population in a quest for a state based on Shariʿa, and provided an alternative vision for a more just and moral society. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood built a wide network of social, educational, and welfare institutions.
From the early 1980s onwards, with Mubarak in power, the Brotherhood was condoned, if not officially recognized, and members were allowed to participate in several parliamentary and other elections. As an organization with formal traditional leadership bodies, but also a younger generation versed in the modern social media, the Brotherhood was seen to be slowly nearing a point where it would be able to make the transition to a party. It began to formulate a political platform and an economic blueprint for the country. A modicum of democracy was adopted, and more openness towards the integration of women was seen. After winning a relatively large (minority) representation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the regime was scared enough to allow the Brotherhood to win only one token seat in 2010.
The revolution of 2011 ousted Mubarak and then led to relatively free elections with a solid victory for the Freedom and Justice Party, which had been formed by the Brotherhood, as well as a new Islamist-inspired constitution and the election of Muhammad Mursi as president. However, within a year the Muslim Brotherhood government had missed this historical window of opportunity. It proved inadequately prepared for efficient and orderly governance, did not bring order and stability, nor did it advance the aspirational goals of demonstrators. This is how the army, not for the first time in Egypt’s history, came to intervene and depose Morsi in July 2013, replacing him with Defense Minister ʿAbd al-Fattah al-Sisi. It was not long before the Brotherhood was once more suppressed and outlawed. With many leaders in jail, but latent support continuing, observers tend to believe it is not the end of the Brotherhood’s existence.