Thursday, November 3 2011

The influence of European integration on consensus democracy is being investigated in a cooperative research project of universities from the three Benelux countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. This project will result in a book which will be presented mid 2012. The project holds regular meetings, the last of which was held on October 14th and 15th in Luxembourg. An earlier meeting was held in January in The Hague and the next one will be held in Brussels in the spring of 2012. At this meeting public professionals will also be invited.

Most of the research into the functioning of consensus democracy, carried out in line with political scientist Arend Lijphart, gives an overview of the political system. Consensus democracy is herein compared to systems with a culture of political majority. Consensus democracy is characterized by less delineated differences between winners and losers in the political game.

Even though consensus democracy is a elitists model of decision making, it does leave more room for political minorities. The existence of political minorities (political parties which will never get an absolute majority) in the Benelux-countries has led to a tradition of coalition cabinets. In the past these were often large coalitions, but the basis for these is increasingly narrow, as shown by the current minority cabinet in The Netherlands that has to do with fragile tolerance support. A motto which has always been strongly linked to consensus democracy is: the government governs. About European affairs, the governments in all three countries have always had a huge information advantage.

The special thing about this book project is that it looks at how consensus democracy functions in separate institutions, more than has been done before. The central question is: will the consensus tradition be enhanced or weakened by European integration?

One of the analyses is aimed at the parliaments of the three countries. Astrid Spreitzer (University of Luxembourg) and Arco Timmermans (Montesquieu Institute) look at the changing rules of the game and, more importantly, at the political and behavioural patterns of the players in the three parliaments. Those parliaments differ constitutionally on some points but show differences in another aspect as well: the consensus politics in the Netherlands, more so than in Belgium or Luxembourg, have come under huge pressure mainly because of European integration.

For more information about the planned meeting with public professionals in Brussels please mail to: a.timmermans@montesquieu-instituut.nl

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