This handbook article applies an intuitive and informal principal-agent perspective as an organizing framework to provide a comparative description of executive-legislative relations in Europe with a focus on the member states of the European Union.
Building on Key’s fundamental distinction and Katz’s and Mair’s modifications to this distinction, this chapter describes and analyzes the interaction of German voters and party elites at three distinct levels: the ‘party-in-the-electorate’, the ‘party-in-the-government’ (Key) or ‘party in public office’ (as Katz and Mair put it), and the party organization outside the legislature, particularly the ‘party on the ground’ (Katz and Mair). Our analysis focuses on individual parties and also covers the party system as ‘the system of interactions resulting from inter-party competition’ (Sartori 1976). We will aim to track important continuities in, and changes to, voting behaviour in respect of the main German parties individually and of the party system as a whole, concentrating on the period since unification in 1990. Drawing on a number of theoretical perspectives, including theories of electoral change, theories of organizational reform in political parties (in response to electoral change), and coalition politics at the governmental level, we will develop our argument as follows: after introducing the main parties and analyzing continuities and change in voting behaviour and party membership, we will analyze how political parties have responded to the growing levels of political uncertainty in organizational terms and will seek to address the seemingly paradoxical question why Germany’s party system has remained relatively stable at the governmental level (the party in public office), while parties in the electorate and parties as organizations have become far more fluid and vulnerable. (On the electoral system in Germany, including proportional representation and the statutory minimum of 5 per cent of the national vote a party must achieve to be represented in the Bundestag.
This introduction connects some of the main themes covered in this special issue on Chancellor Merkel’s second coalition cabinet, which was formed in October 2009 and ended with the electoral collapse of the FDP in the Bundestag election of September 2013. It starts by setting out an interesting ‘puzzle’: The parties forming the coalition of 2009-2013 (CDU, CSU and FDP) had expressed a strong preference for this coalition in the run-up to the election of 2009. Despite their seeming agreement in many policy areas, the coalition formed in 2009 faced tough negotiations and conflicts between the parties from the beginning. The economic crisis the preceding government faced between 2005 and 2009 and unforeseen events during the course of the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition 2009-2013 (e.g., the Euro crisis and the Fukushima environmental disaster) had altered the policy agenda in important ways and rendered the former ‘Christian-Liberal reform project obsolete.
This chapter seeks to add an important empirical dimension to the study of coalition and executive politics. In particular, it deals with the value of executive offices in coalition formation and governance and thus contributes to the evaluation of theories of portfolio allocation (Laver and Shepsle 1996) and governing in coalitions (Martin and Vanberg 2011). The key contribution of this article is the following: Empirical and formal scholarship dealing with the allocation of portfolios has made invaluable contributions to our understanding of the motivations for parties to join governments, but it has generally not considered ministerial organization below the cabinet level. Due to the limited cross-fertilization between formal coalition theories and academic scholarship on ministerial organization, coalition theories have remained unspecific about the precise nature of the ‘prize’ parties are believed to pursue when entering government. At the same time, students of public administration have done little to build on recent advances in formal coalition theories to study the strategic context of administrative change.
Our contribution builds on such work but ultimately seeks to constitute a first step towards a closer marriage of these distinctive traditions of research. The focus of the present piece is empirical. We will go beyond previous work on portfolio allocation by studying variations in the organization of government departments across a sample of German regional state governments during the past two decades and demonstrate that these variations below the cabinet level are too significant to be ignored in empirical studies of portfolio allocation. While we do not wish to generalize too strongly from our sample, our main conclusion – namely that meaningful assessments of the ‘value’ of ministries in bargaining over government formation require more accurate empirical information on the actual jurisdictions behind the names of ministries than has been used by scholars of coalition politics in the past – is clearly in line with empirical work on ministerial organization in other countries (e.g., Pollitt 1983; Rose 1987).