This Blog will feature opinions on European affairs by members of the Centre for European Politics. Comments are welcome in English.

The Greek Electoral System: Stable or Unstable?

Back in May, I wrote on this blog (click here) how the Greek electoral system created further instability in Greece. Although Greek elections are proportional, the largest party is awarded a top-up of 50 seats out of 300. Usually this would guarantee the largest party a majority on its own but in May 2012 it made the situation even more unstable. Without it, two coalitions could have formed (either a left wing government including Socialists and Communists - or an anti-austerity government, including Communists and Conservatives in ANEL but excluding the Socialists), whereas no government was possible so new elections were held.

What was the effect of the 50-seat top-up in June 2012? It allowed New Democracy to form a government with the Socialists (total 162 seats out of 300). To this was added Democratic Left (DIMAR), a small anti-austerity party. Without the top-up, an alternative left-wing government, including the Socialists, DIMAR, Syriza and the Communists would have been the only possibility. So maybe the 50-seat top-up creates stability after all, even if this was not the case in May 2012. An important feature of the top-up is that it attracts tactical voting to the detriment of smaller parties, making it all the more difficult for the Socialists to recover. Between May and June 2012, it became obvious that two contenders for power were New Democracy and Syriza. Their vote increased substantially at the expense of most of the other parties.


Table: Greek election results of 2012 compared

June 2012 elections

May 2012 elections


Party type

% vote


% vote









Radical Left






Radical Left






























Posted on Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10:04PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

Labour's anti-EU vote

...was non-sensical according to George Irvin. Read more here.

Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 05:54PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

European Parliament tries to block appointment of ECB board member

This week the European Parliament has voted against the appointment of Yves Mersch to the board of the European Central Bank by 325 to 300 votes. The reason is that Mersch is a man. The national governments of the eurozone have been repeatedly appointing men to the board so the Parliament put its foot down in order to try to secure some gender balance.

The Parliament's role in this process is only consultative so the governments could ignore the vote and appoint Mersch anyway, but this would be a unique situation of picking a fight with the Parliament. There is a precedent in parliamentarising appointments to the ECB. In 1998, the ECB's first President Wim Duisenberg, undertook to withdraw his candidacy if he failed to secure parliamentary backing. In so doing, Duisenberg killed two birds with one stone. He made the ECB appear more legitimate and accountable - but in becoming accountable to the European Parliament, the ECB could insure its independence and lack of accountability to national parliaments. If Mersch is nonetheless appointed, the ECB may find that it has to account to national politics and loses an ally in the European Parliament, which controls the ECB's administrative purse strings.

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2012 at 11:04AM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

The EU has just won the Nobel Peace Prize

Why would the EU have won the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, it is the world's largest donor to the developing world, largest contributor to world wide peace keeping and following the collapse of Southern European authoritarian dictatorship in 1974-75 and East European Communism in 1989, has been a major stabiliser and promoter of democracy and economic development in Southern and Eastern Europe.

We are now living through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The crisis of the early 1930s resulted in Fascism and the Second World War. Today, we have the European Union and other international institutions like the IMF to stabilise the situation. These did not exist in the 1930s and we under-estimate their effect in preventing conflict.

Posted on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:57AM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

European Union Budget Reform: Institutions, Policy and Economic Crisis

This month, Simona Milio and I bring out an edited volume on reform of the European Union budget published by Palgrave-Macmillan. The European Parliament and the 27 national governments of the European Union have until next year to approve a new multiannual spending programme for the years 2014 to 2020. Three outcomes are possible: reform, continuity or deadlock. The expenditure from the EU budget is limited at just 1 percent of the collective gross national income of the EU, equivalent to just 2 percent of total public spending. In percentage terms, this appears to be rather little but could total € 972 billion for the seven year cycle of 2014-2020, a real terms freeze compared to the previous budgetary period of 2007-2013. Although the budget is small in global terms, it matters because it is what saves the EU from being a mere free trade area, which is precisely what makes it controversial. Within that 1 percent of gross national income, there are also large subsidies for agriculture and for economically deprived regions, which have real significance. The approval of a new spending programme for 2014-2020 faces a number of challenges:

  1. the rule changes brought in by the Treaty of Lisbon, which do not make decisions easier to reach and reinforce continuity;
  2. the effect of enlargement of the EU since 2004 which means that a larger number of players are found around the table at the negotiations, each with demands for spending and each with the power of veto; and
  3. most significantly, the effect of the global economic and euro zone crises, which has led to three contradictory impulses -  i) the desire for the practice of national austerity to be implemented at EU level; ii) the desire to provide public goods, such as investment in innovation and technology to combat the economic crisis; iii) the desire to protect existing expenditure for traditional EU redistribution in agriculture and regional cohesion in the face of demands for austerity

Our book brings together contributions that assess the political and institutional processes of budget change, before looking at their possible effects on areas of spending. We include chapters on innovation, public goods, agriculture, cohesion and foreign policy. The book assesses how reform might happen, reviews the theory on budget change in the EU and analyses the impact of the budget rule changes of the Lisbon Treaty. Sara Hagemann’s contribution goes beyond the rules to profile the prospect of negotiating in a different way to achieve a different outcome in keeping with the needs to incentivate economic innovation. As Robert Kaiser and Heiko Prange-Gstoehl reveal, the chance of a new shift in favour of innovation under heading 1a is slim given the incentives both to reduce the budget and protect traditional redistribution via agriculture and cohesion. Charles Blankart and Gerrit Koester provide a solution for financing public goods and economic innovation by creating a parallel budget through enhanced cooperation. This means that a sub-group of at least nine member states could produce an additional budget to which only the participating states would contribute and gain benefit. Unlike the agriculture budget, a parallel public goods budget would be reversible since its set-up rules would require unanimous re-approval every few years. We hope that this idea will gain traction given the recent pressure for the euro zone countries to develop a fiscal and budgetary identity separate from that of the EU as a whole.

The chapters on agriculture by Alan Greer and cohesion policy by Simona Milio predict that these policies will remain largely stable, will be oriented further towards the new member states and will be dressed more in the language of public goods, for example by associating agriculture with the environment. In the case of cohesion policy, an orientation away from economic and towards social objectives for example in employment could provide greater value through improving the capacity for economic resilience. Budget heading 4 (Global Europe) is predicted to see an increase from 5.7 to 6.8 percent of the budget. While much of the EU’s external policy is financed and managed by member states, extra resources will be required by the European External Action Service established by the Lisbon Treaty.

The Cypriot presidency has indicated a hope to conclude an agreement by November 2012 in which cuts would apply to all headings. A familiar division is taking place between net contributors and recipients in which public goods appear likely to face a squeeze. The book’s conclusion analyses the outcomes of the two most recent agreements on EU spending in 1999 and 2006 and predicts that continuity will be the result of the agreement of 2013. A deal which includes a small cut but which manages to protect agriculture, cohesion,  rebates for the UK and other net contributors, and payments for the poorest member states will be an agreement of the lowest common denominator. An overall cut that protects traditional redistribution in the EU can only be financed by reducing expenditure on public goods that would otherwise have helped to re-invigorate the European economy.


Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 09:13PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment