In the Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (Yale University Press, 1999), Arend Lijphart compared the model of consensual (consociational) democracy to the model of majoritarist democracy. For Lijpahrt, the consensus or majoritarian aspect is built in relation to the executive-party dimension and the federal-unit dimension.

Arend Lijphart, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of California in the United States, one of the most influential political scientists in the world at the moment, describes the models of consociational democracies in Europe, in an interview given for Europunkt to Vladimir Adrian Costea.

Lijphart

Citeşte versiunea în limba română aici.

Vladimir Adrian Costea: What are the societal conditions that favor the construction of consociational democracies?

Arend Lijphart: Consociational democracy can be defined in terms of four basic characteristics: (1) power-sharing governments that include representatives of all major linguistic and religious groups, (2) cultural autonomy for these groups, (3) proportionality in political representation and civil service appointments, and (4) a minority veto with regard to vital minority rights and autonomy. This type of democracy is especially suitable, and in fact even necessary, for societies that are deeply divided into separate populations segments. There are a number of conditions that favor the establishment of consociational democracy in these societies. One is that the segments are all minority segments instead of divided into a majority segment and one or more minority segments; the reason is that majorities have a strong incentive to want to rule by themselves instead of together with the minority or minorities. Another is that the segments are approximately equal in socio-economic terms; the reason is that less advantaged segments tend to feel discriminated against and the more advantaged segments feel being taken advantaged of.

Which are the plural societies in Europe that have adopted this model?

Between 1945 and approximately 1970, the main examples of consociational democracy in Europe were Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In Austria and the Netherlands, consociational democracy was successful in decreasing the tensions and conflicts between the different segments of the population. As a result, these two countries moved away from the consociational model toward a more majoritarian model.  Belgium and Switzerland are now the only countries that can be called completely consociational. The most important example of consociational democracy in Europe today is not a country but the European Union, which may be called an extreme example of consociationalism: (1) all member states are represented in the governing organs, (2) the member states continue to be powerful and continue to be highly autonomous; (3) proportionality is the basic rule for elections to the European Parliament; (4) all important decisions require unanimous approval by the member states, which means that each member states has a veto power.

To what extent do these societies have a high level of proportionality and segmental autonomy?

In all four of the countries mentioned above, there was a high level of proportionality and segmental autonomy. Also, as noted above, these characteristics have decreased in Austria and the Netherlands, but they continue in Belgium and Switzerland—and, of course, also in the European Union.

What is the level of fragmentation of European societies that have adopted the model of consociational democracy?

Although, consociationalism has survived in Switzerland, the divisions in Swiss society have become less pronounced.  In Belgium, however, especially the linguistic division is very deep to the extent that there is a strong movement in Flanders to secede from Belgium and to form an independent Flemish state.  In the European Union with its many different languages and also unequal levels of wealth, the divisions are still very clear.

Looking at the model of consociational democracy, what are the similarities and differences that you identify between Western and Eastern Europe?

I do not see any examples of consociational democracy in Eastern Europe, but because there are only two examples of relatively small countries in Western Europe, there are really no major differences in this respect between the two areas.

What are the challenges confronting consociational democracy in the European space today?

In Belgium, although the consociational system is absolutely necessary, it is not at all certain that it will be sufficient to hold the country together.  In the European Union, the problem is different.  Critics of consociational democracy have often argued that power-sharing and the minority veto make government too slow and ineffective.  I do not agree with this criticism, because there are many examples like the ones I have cited that have worked very well.  But in the European Union, there is indeed a problem of slow and cumbersome decision-making that makes it difficult to make decisions.  Therefore, without abandoning basic consociational principles, a major challenge for the European Union will be to make adjustments in its rules and institutions in order to become more effective.

 

 

 

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