George M. Bob-Milliar
Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015.
Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.
Thomas Kwasi Tieku
The African Union (AU), an international organization comprising all 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara, was established in May 2001 to, among other things, promote regional integration, interstate solidarity, peace, good governance and to enhance the African voice in the global system. Pan-African organization is like the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees. The AU has been very successful in addressing the needs of the African political class but it is yet to make a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. The importance of the pan-African organization to African political elite is such that they would have created it today if it did not already exist. The AU has socialized African leaders to accept liberal values as the foundation of international cooperation in Africa; enhanced the agency of African political class on the world stage; and established progressive and innovative rules and norms for the African continent. It has also created many useful decision-making structures that have contributed to the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa.
The AU has, however, been less successful in connecting its activities and programs to many ordinary Africans; providing common public goods and services valued by commoners in Africa; giving voice to the majority of young people in Africa; promoting intra-Africa trade, good governance, and financial independence of the African continent as well as struggled to address the expressed material needs and quotidian concerns of ordinary Africans.
Support for democracy, human rights, and good governance reforms in Africa has become a prominent objective in engagement by European Union (EU) institutions, EU member states, and the United States with African countries since the early 1990s. Western actors have gradually increased democracy aid, used sanctions, and developed a range of other instruments to support political reforms on the continent. Academic research has analyzed the “substance” and “content” of political reforms that Western actors seek to promote, what instruments they use, and how effective these instruments are in different political contexts. This body of work comes to mixed conclusions as to whether and under what conditions external support has contributed to democratic reforms in African countries between 1990 and 2015. Yet, evidence suggests that external democracy support has made some positive contributions and has been more effective in Africa compared to other regions. However, after a period of 25 years during which democracy support gradually became an important element in the United States’ and European cooperation with African countries, this agenda is now under considerable pressure. Domestic challenges to democracy within Europe and the United States, domestic dynamics in African countries, and the rise of China as an alternative political model make it difficult for European and other external actors to contribute to political reforms on the continent. In this new era of uncertainty, there are three main areas to which policymakers as well as academic research should pay more attention. First, more debate is needed how the contestation of democratic norms in Europe and the United States affects not only the legitimacy but also the decision-making processes on democracy support. Second, more research is needed how urbanization, demographic change and digitalization and their combined effects influence political reforms in Africa and what implications emerge for democracy support. Finally, how China’s more proactive and assertive foreign policy will affect democracy support in Africa is an area that policy-makers and researchers should follow closely.
Lisa M. Holmes
The American judicial system is not a static, simple, or mechanical entity. Rather, it is a complex organization that is developed and staffed in response to changing caseload and societal pressures through a process that is inherently political. The key personnel who help the judiciary function bring varied backgrounds and perspectives with them that influence the work they do. As is the case with any political system, understanding American politics and policy making requires an understanding of the judiciary’s role in the American political system. In addition, on a daily basis, courts function to resolve disputes. While most cases have little direct impact on American policy or society broadly speaking, the resolution of these cases is important to those who turn to the courts of law to resolve their disputes.
Making decisions is a complex and often problem-ridden process in a union of almost 30 member states. Most political science research hence discusses aspects of either decision-making or contents of specific EU policies. However, intricacies do not end when the governments and the European Parliament come to an agreement about, for example, regulative standards in a given policy. In actual fact, it is all but clear that the rules decided on the top layer of the European multi-level system will be implemented on the lower levels, ranging from the central governments of member states down to local communities. Multi-facetted issues related to the actual practice of implementing EU rules, and the Commission’s tough job in controlling this compound process, need to be addressed, while also evaluating the social science coverage of the topic. Research has a strong bias toward looking into the early phases of the implementation of EU law as opposed to the later ones, a trend which has only somewhat softened in the “new school” of relevant studies. A hardly researched but increasingly relevant factor in non-compliance with EU law is unwillingness by national governments. Therefore, it is important to consider the state of the rule of law in several member states and democratic backsliding—both essential for a healthy European integration process.
Conal Duddy and Ashley Piggins
Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility” theorem is rightly considered to be a landmark result in economic theory. It is a far-reaching result with implications not just for economics but for political science, philosophy, and many other fields. It has inspired an enormous literature, “social choice theory,” which lies on the interface of economics, politics, and philosophy. Arrow first proved the impossibility theorem in his doctoral dissertation—Social Choice and Individual Values—published in 1951. It is a remarkable result, and had Arrow not proved it, it is unlikely that the theorem would be known today.
A social choice is simply a choice made by, or on behalf of, a group of people. Arrow’s theorem is concerned more specifically with the following problem. Suppose that we have a given set of options to choose from and that each member of a group of individuals has his or her own preference over these options. By what method should we construct a single ranking of the options for the group as a whole? Any such method may be represented mathematically by a “social welfare function.” This is a function that receives as its input the preference ordering of each individual and then generates as its output a social preference ordering.
Arrow defined some properties that would seem to be essential to any reasonable social welfare function. These properties are called “unrestricted domain,” “weak Pareto,” “independence of irrelevant alternatives,” and “non-dictatorship.” Each of these properties, when taken alone, does appear to be very necessary indeed. Yet, Arrow proved that these properties are in fact mutually incompatible. This troubling fact has been central to the study of social choice ever since.
Ariadna Ripoll Servent and Natascha Zaun
Since the crisis of 2015/2016, asylum has become the focus of attention in the European Union (EU). The right to seek refuge raises issues of sovereignty and control of the territory; hence, with the gradual integration of European member states into a single area free of internal borders, there has been a functional pressure to harmonize domestic asylum policies. However, this process of integration continues to be highly contested on two main axes: the extent of harmonization (how much should the EU do in the area of asylum) and the content of the policies (should the emphasis lie on territorial security or individual rights). The tension between this “core state power” status and the EU’s international obligations has shaped both policy developments and academic debates since the emergence of asylum as an EU policy field in the mid-1990s.
The integration of asylum policies is intimately linked to the emergence of Schengen as a borderless zone. Indeed, the idea that, in a Europe without borders, member states cannot control the flow of migrants led national governments to find common rules on ascribing responsibility for international protection claims. The rules agreed in the Dublin Convention of 1990 have become the core pillar that structures the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). This system aims to harmonize the definition of a refugee and the procedures and rights that need to be followed when considering asylum requests, as well as the conditions for receiving asylum seekers (e.g., housing, access to healthcare, and the job market). This process of harmonization has not been uncontested: while the first legislative phase (2001–2005) remained highly intergovernmental and was characterized by little progress being made in the approximation of domestic asylum systems, the second phase (2008–2013) showed an increased reluctance of member states to strengthen the powers of the EU in this field. As a result, the CEAS has been epitomized by faulty implementation and weak approximation—especially among those member states that did not have strong asylum systems in place before integration began. These gaps have left the CEAS in a dangerous position, since they have created incentives for those who benefit the least from EU cooperation to bypass their obligations. There, the principles underpinning the Dublin regime have been at the core of the functional crises that have recurrently emerged in the EU. The so-called “asylum crisis” has shown the weaknesses of the CEAS as well as the incapacity of member states to reform the system and find a solution that addresses the current imbalances. The main solutions have come via externalization, whereby the EU has sought to strengthen the responsibility of third countries like Turkey and Libya.
These trends have also been the focus of attention in this highly interdisciplinary field. Debates have generally concentrated on either the internal or the external dimension of EU policy-making. When it comes to the internal dimension, early scholarship centered on the process of integration and the development of asylum into a new policy field. They showed how the major drivers of integration followed functional logics of spillover from the single market and Schengen—but that the nature of this policy area called for different political dynamics. This process remained highly intergovernmental until the early 2000s, which gave interior ministers the power to escape domestic constraints (e.g., civil society, national parliaments, and courts) and shape EU policies in relative isolation. This does not mean, however, that this intergovernmental process was uncontentious. Indeed, it has been shown how the core principles of EU asylum respond to a public goods logic, whereby member states try to shift their responsibility for asylum seekers away from their territory and onto that of their neighbors. Although the idea of “burden-sharing” (and hence a generalized negative perception of asylum) is shared by most member states, the processes of uploading and downloading policies between the domestic and the EU level have been more complicated than just building a “Fortress Europe.” Among those who were traditional recipients of asylum seekers and had strong asylum systems, there has been a clear game of regulatory competition that has sometimes led to a race to the bottom. In comparison, those that had no experience with international protection and lacked a strong asylum system have generally struggled to adapt to EU standards, which has reinforced the imbalances and weaknesses of the Dublin regime. Given these dynamics, most scholars expected the shift to a fully supranational decision-making process to produce far-reaching policy changes and have a rights-enhancing effect. The outcomes have not always fulfilled expectations, which underlines the importance of opening up the black box of preference formation in the EU institutions and member states. What scholars do agree on is that policy outputs on the EU level have often failed to materialize into policy outcomes on the domestic level, which has led to processes of informal adaptation and the strengthening of EU operational agencies like Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). In addition, these internal failures have pushed the EU to externalize border controls as well as push the responsibility for international protection toward third countries. There has been a clear case of policy diffusion toward neighboring countries, but also an increased dynamic of policy convergence among hosting countries like Australia and the USA. These policies tend to emphasize exclusionary practices, notably extraterritorial processing and border control—leading to major questions about the survival of asylum as an international human right in the years to come.
These trends show that asylum continues to be a highly contested EU policy both in its internal and external dimensions. We need, therefore, to look more closely at the impact of polarization and politicization on EU policy-making as well as on how they might affect the role played by the EU and its member states in global debates about migration and the right to seek asylum.
Austria was occupied at the end of World War II by the four Allies, but in contrast to Germany the four powers left in 1955—the condition being its declaration of permanent neutrality, on which the Soviet Union had insisted.
In the first half of the 1950s, relations with the new-founded European Coal and Steel Community were being discussed in Austria, because the organization encompassed Austria’s two most important trading partners at that time, West Germany and Italy. But after the uprising in October-November 1956 in neighboring Hungary, Austria started to stress more its neutrality, excluding European Economic Community (EEC) membership. Instead, it joined other European countries to create a less integrated economic entity, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960.
Not until the mid-1980s did debate about membership in the now European Community (EC) start again. Economic problems and a narrower interpretation of neutrality led to Austria’s application for EC (later European Union) membership in July 1989. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the application of other EFTA countries, Austria finally acceded to the EU on January 1, 1995 (along with Finland and Sweden). The political system and its economy adjusted relatively smoothly to the challenges of EU membership; the “social partnership,” while losing some of its power, could maintain its influence on Austrian politics. Eastern enlargement of the EU brought further economic advantages for Austria.
As one of the smaller EU countries and a non-NATO member, Austria has a somewhat unique position in the EU. Environmental policy and supporting EU membership of the Balkan countries are among the important “niches” for Austrian EU activities. But the country has no close partners in the EU, because it is not participating in the “Visegrad” cooperation of the other Central European EU members. This difficulty clearly showed during the “sanctions” period of the EU-14 against the new Austrian government in 2000.
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.
Tanel Kerikmäe, Archil Chochia, and Max Atallah
Integration with the European Union has been far less distressing for the three Baltic States than for numerous other accessing countries owing to their strong societal impetus to (re)join Western political, economic, and legal culture after they regained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, the accession of these states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—had several distinctive features related to constitutional background and settings, which heavily influenced problem solving between government and the EU institutions.
In general, the controversial issues regarding how to solve the problems with supranational power have never been dramatic with regard to the Baltic States, which leads to the assumption that often the governments have taken rather compliant positions. The latest cases, such as the European Stabilization Mechanism, indicate the change in paradigm: the three Baltic States are more aware of the margin of appreciation and actual borderlines between policy making- and decision making.
Today, in setting up an EU-related agenda, more skills than previously are needed in finding allies and choosing partners. The road the Baltic States took in joining the EU was a difficult one, nor has their role in the EU been easy. Should a small state with a big initiative be allowed to mentor other member states regarding that initiative, meaning in particular Estonia and its digital development?
Another peculiar aspect of the Baltic States is their (inter)relationship with Russia. Considering themselves a bridge between East and West, the Baltics have been active in Eastern Partnership and Development Aid initiatives and have also spoken out strongly against intervention in Georgia and Ukraine. This position sometimes complicates any EU attempt to achieve consensus on foreign policy.
Belgium is one of the six founding members of European integration, but it is often seen as a special one. In both policy and research, the country is widely known as the “heart of Europe.” It even sells itself to the outside world in this way. This metaphor has a double meaning, a literal and a figurative one. First, Belgium’s capital, Brussels, qualifies as the unofficial capital of the European Union. This meaning is strongly supported by facts, with the city hosting the most numerous and the most important institutions. The second meaning requires more detailed consideration. Indeed, and second, Belgium is perceived to be the most European of all European countries, even prepared to exchange sovereignty for supranationalism at any time and any price. A closer look at data, decisions, and developments shows, however, that while support for European integration is widespread, it is not omnipresent either in time or in place. Particularly in Flanders, the northern part of the country, support has been less obvious than elsewhere.
Indeed, to understand Belgium and/in the European Union, one also has to understand the functioning of Belgium as a federal state composed of communities and regions, thus as a system of multilevel governance. While it is not the only federation among European Union member states, it uniquely combines a wide variety of federal characteristics. Most importantly here, the gradual process of federalization that Belgium has experienced has given the federated entities a strong voice in European Union decision-making. Member states still need to speak with one voice, however, resulting in a complex system of coordination and representation. The possibilities and realities of this system have attracted quite a lot of scholarly interest. The same goes for the rather fundamental question of whether the European Union and federated entities should be seen as unintended partners in the hollowing out of the federal state or whether the opposite holds true and the European Union is coming to Belgium’s rescue. The jury is still out on this, though the answer seems to be growing more and more complex as time passes.
Bas Hooijmaaijers and Stephan Keukeleire
Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) have, since the beginning of the 21st century, gained greater influence in global political and economic affairs and, since 2006, also steadily developed and increased their political dialogue and cooperation. South Africa joining the BRICS political grouping in 2011 was matched by a strengthening of the BRICS dialogue. This was reflected in the broadening range of issues covered, the increasing level of specificity of the BRICS joint declarations and cooperation, and the institutionalization of BRICS cooperation in various policy fields, including the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB). Notwithstanding the increased interaction between the BRICS states on the various political, economic, and diplomatic levels, the countries differ considerably in their political, economic, military, and demographic weight and interests and in their regional and global aspirations. China particularly stands out among the BRICS due to its political and economic weight. There are sufficient reasons to question the significance and impact of the BRICS format. Still, the BRICS countries have found each other in their commitment to counter the “unjust” Western-dominated multilateral world in which they are generally underrepresented.
The EU did not develop a “BRICS policy” as such, which is understandable given the major differences between the BRICS countries and the ambiguous nature of the BRICS format. To deal with the various emerging powers and complement its predominantly regional partnerships, the EU instead institutionalized and deepened the political and economic bilateral relations with each of the BRICS countries, including through the objective of establishing a bilateral “strategic partnership” with each of these countries. However, the analysis of the EU’s relationship with the BRICS countries indicates that the label “strategic partnerships” mainly served as a rhetorical façade which belied that the EU failed to turn these relationships into real strategic partnerships and to behave strategically toward the BRICS countries.
Another challenge for the EU appears when analyzing the BRICS within the broader context of various emerging power constellations and multilateral frameworks, including variations of the BRICS format (such as BRICS Plus, BASIC, and IBSA), multilateral frameworks with one or more BRICS countries at their center (such as the SCO, EAEU, and BRI), and regional forums launched by China. Taken together, they point to an increasingly dense set of partially overlapping formal and informal networks on all political, diplomatic, and administrative levels, covering an ever-wider scope of policy areas and providing opportunities for debate, consultation, and coordination. Whereas most of these forums are in and of themselves not very influential, taken together they have an impact on the EU and its traditional view on multilateralism in several ways. Seen from this perspective, the BRICS and other multilateral forums pose major challenges for both European diplomats and European scholars. They will have to make considerable efforts to understand and engage with these various forums, which are manifestations of an increasingly influential and powerful non-Western world wherein the role of Europe is much more limited.
The bureaucracy is a central body in the effective functioning of democracy and oversight of the rule of law, and knowledge of how public agencies interact with politics and effect policy implementation is crucial in understanding the “black box” of the state. However, this body of non-elected officials can only fulfill its mandate and achieve good governance if it meets certain conditions, such as technical expertise, a clear organizational hierarchy, meritocratic recruitment for personnel staffing, as well as political support, resources, and the autonomy to devise solutions based on expertise. Unfortunately for Latin America, its bureaucratic agencies have seldom enjoyed these conditions. Instead, public administration in the region has been characterized by patronage appointments, patrimonialism, and a weak capacity to execute public policies.
Yet this blanket depiction of the Latin American bureaucracy obscures a great deal more diversity—as well as the fact that Latin American bureaucrats and public agencies are more dynamic and responsive than they are often portrayed. To begin, the size and role of the public administration have evolved constantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, growing under statist development policies of the mid-20th century before shrinking under neoliberalism in the 1990s and again growing during the 2000s in some countries. Moreover, the quality of the bureaucracy to efficiently provide services and implement policy varies by country, over time, and even within countries among agencies. This means that there is also variation in the scope and quality of the bureaucracy’s chief functions of policymaking, regulation, and implementation. In fact, politicians and bureaucrats in the region have found a number of creative solutions to agency weakness. Moving forward, politicians can guarantee even better bureaucratic performance by addressing some enduring challenges, such as public sector corruption and an institutional setup that favors short-term policymaking.
Amy R. Poteete
The multifaceted nature of decentralization, democracy, and development renders relationships among them ambivalent and conditional. It is certainly possible to decentralize in ways that foster local democracy and improvements in socioeconomic well-being. The empirical record, however, is mixed, and not only because the phenomena of interest have multiple dimensions and are open to interpretation. Whatever its form, decentralization is inherently political. In the African context, the extent and form of decentralization has been influenced by international support, the challenges of extending state authority in relatively young multi-ethnic states, and, increasingly, electoral considerations.
By the 1980s, the broad consensus in the constructive developmental role of a strong central state that had characterized the immediate postwar period gave way to a growing perception of statist approaches as impeding democracy and, especially, development. For some, decentralization implied an expansion of popular participation that promised greater sensitivity to local knowledge and more responsiveness to local concerns. Others saw decentralization as part of a broader agenda of scaling back the central state, reducing its role, its size, and its costs. Yet others saw decentralization as part of a strategy of achieving sustainable natural resource management or political stability in post-conflict societies. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of international organizations were promoting decentralization and providing both financial and technical support for decentralization reforms.
In the African context, political decisions about whether and how to decentralize reflect the continued salience of ethno-regional identities and non-state authorities, especially traditional or customary leaders. Incumbents may decentralize because they hope to consolidate their political position by crowding out or co-opting rivals, depoliticizing conflicts, or deflecting blame to subnational actors. Indeed, reforms made in the name of decentralization often strengthen the political center, at least over the short to medium term. Whether it attempts to co-opt or sideline them, decentralization interacts with and may reinforce the salience of ethno-regional identities and traditional authorities. To the extent that democracy presumes the equality of all citizens, regardless of ascribed status or identity, the reinforcement of ethno-regional identities and unelected authorities threatens democracy.
The international spread of decentralization reforms coincided with the increasing prevalence of multiparty elections. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and the quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals. Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels (national, regional, local) and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system. Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice.
The American Catholic Church has a long history in health care. At the turn of 19th century, Catholic nuns began developing the United States’ first hospital and health care systems, amassing a high level of professionalization and expertise in the field. The bishops also have a well-established record advocating for health care, stemming back to 1919 with the Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, which called for affordable and comprehensive care, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Moving into the latter part of the 20th century, the bishops continued to push for health care reform. However, in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade (1973), the American bishops insisted that any reform or form of universal health care be consistent with the Church’s teaching against abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. The bishops were also adamant that health care policy respect religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In 1993, these concerns caused the bishops to pull their support for the Clinton Administration’s Health Security Act, since the bill covered abortion as a medical and pregnancy-related service. The debate over health care in the 1990s served as a precursor for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) opposition to the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraception mandate. The ACA also highlighted a divide within the Church on health care among religious leaders. For example, progressive female religious leadership organizations, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and their affiliate NETWORK (a Catholic social justice lobby), took a different position than the bishops and supported the ACA, believing it had enough protections against federally funded abortion. Though some argue this divide lead to institutional scrutiny of the sisters affiliated with the LCWR and NETWORK, both the bishops and the nuns have held common ground on lobbying the government for affordable, comprehensive, and universal health care.
Jaimie Bleck and Nicolas van de Walle
Between 1990 and 2015, 184 multicandidate presidential elections and 207 multiparty legislative elections were held in some 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What does the routinization of multiparty electoral politics mean for political life in Africa? Much that is unexceptional and recognizable about African elections is well worth documenting, since most international accounts of African elections focus on their more exotic side. In fact, candidates engage in standard political rhetoric in mass rallies and undertake campaign stops around the country. Many make use of social media to communicate with citizens. Voters reward office holders who have delivered good economic performance; they pay attention to the professional backgrounds and personal qualities of candidates and their policy promises. Opposition parties win legislative seats and subnational offices, as well as the presidency, albeit more rarely.
While the routinization of high-quality elections has deepened democracy in some countries, there is tremendous cross-national variation in election quality across the continent. The relationship between elections and democratic deepening is mediated by national political circumstances that vary across the region. Even in cases where incumbents do not resort to oppressive tactics during campaigns, the patterns of presidential dominance typically create tremendous incumbency advantage at the executive level.
Elections neither necessarily advance nor prevent further democratization. Instead, they should be conceptualized as “political moments,” which temporarily create greater uncertainty and heightened attention to politics, which can either lead to democratic gains or bring about regression. However, citizens across the continent are resolute in their commitment to elections. As opposition parties gain greater experience in office, as an older political elite transition out of politics, and as voters continue to access unprecedented information, the continent is likely to experience a democratic deepening in the longer term.
Ezequiel Gonzalez-Ocantos and Virginia Oliveros
Clientelism is a type of nonprogrammatic linkage strategy that political parties deploy to win elections. Specifically, the concept refers to the personalized and discretionary exchange of goods or favors for political support. Scholars of comparative politics investigate variation in the prevalence of clientelism across countries, as well as the organizations that parties create to distribute personalized gifts and favors. A large body of work also studies the types of voters more commonly targeted by machines. The debates about the determinants of clientelism and specific targeting patterns are important because they inform broader discussions about democratic quality in Latin America and other developing regions, where nonprogrammatic linkages such as clientelism are common. In particular, the literature on clientelism has implications for discussions about the use and misuse of public and private funds to support electoral efforts. It also raises questions about the ability of citizens to vote their conscience and hold politicians accountable in the privacy of the voting booth.
Coalition governments are observed frequently in parliamentary systems. Approximately 70% of all governments in postwar Europe have been one type of coalition or another. Israel has never been ruled by a single-party government in its history. Recently, majoritarian systems like Britain produced coalitions, taking many by surprise.
The prominence of coalitions in parliamentary democracies compels researchers to study them more closely. The Comparative Politics literature investigates, in particular, the dynamics of coalition formation and termination, as well as the domestic policy outputs of coalitions, especially compared to governments ruled by a single party.
Coalitions have generated interest on the International Relations front as well. One avenue of research transcends the “political party” as a building block and conceptualizes coalitions as a “decision unit” by focusing on the group of veto players in a regime’s foreign policy apparatus. Another line of scholarship, situated in the “Democratic Peace” framework, looks at coalitions as a domestic-institutional factor to observe their effects on the likelihood of international conflict.
Departing from the “Democratic Peace” tradition, more recent research in Foreign Policy Analysis rejuvenates the study of coalitions in international politics. This literature not only encourages theory development by scrutinizing why coalitions behave differently than single-parties in the international arena but also bridges the gap between International Relations and Comparative Politics. Emphasizing the organic relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy, foreign policy researchers dissect coalition governments to highlight the role political parties play on foreign policy formulation and implementation. This literature also illustrates the merits of methodological plurality in studying foreign policy. Using a combination of comparative case studies, process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and regression modeling, it sheds light not only on the broader trends that characterize coalition foreign policy but also on the causal mechanisms and contextual factors which often go unaccounted for in purely statistical analyses. The recent advances in role and image theories in Foreign Policy Analysis are expected to influence the study of coalitions and their foreign policies, offering an interpretivist take alongside this positivist trajectory.
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.
Rules issued by the European Commission, based on powers delegated by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, constitute the vast majority of all EU rules. They regulate the daily operation of common policies in all areas. Because the devil is often in the details, Commission rules are tightly controlled by the member states. This traditionally takes place in the so-called comitology system, which is a system of 200–300 member state committees set up to control and approve draft Commission rules. Comitology dates back to the early 1960s, when the Common Agricultural Policy was introduced. The institutional setup of the comitology system is a four-tiered structure composed of Treaty rules, framework rules, daily legislation, and the formal and informal working practices in the individual comitology committees. The Treaty of Lisbon gave the comitology system a major overhaul and introduced new types of Commission rules, delegated acts, and implementing acts. Research on comitology has focused on the purpose and design of the system and its daily workings. Relevant research questions for future studies include the legislative choice between delegated and implementing acts, the daily workings of the comitology committees, lobbying of comitology committees by interest groups, introduction of comitology through the back door in the delegated acts system, and the relationship between comitology and the new rule-making role of European agencies.