A Reflective Power?

Foreign-Policy Positioning in Germany’s Electoral Campaign

Berlin TV Tower

Opening lecture at the Center for International Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 28 March 2017

Surrounded by global and European uncertainties, Germany is expecting federal legislative elections on 24 September 2017. European integration, the transatlantic alliance and the cooperation with Russia have been bedrocks of Germany’s foreign policy and its official international identity as a “reflective power” (Frank-Walter Steinmeier). All three fundaments are now subject to eroding forces or unprecedented political challenges. External turbulences interact with domestic tendencies of popular concern and distrust regarding the governing political elites and their European crisis management capacities. read more

Democracies Adrift

How the European Crises Affect East-Central Europe, in: Problems of Post-Communism, 63 (5), September 2016

The present article proposes to study and compare the state of democracy in East-Central European countries. Such a comparative survey is deemed timely because there have been electoral landslides, corruption scandals involving political leaders and mass protests in several of these countries. Popular satisfaction with democracy has declined and democratic accountability institutions have been eroded in Hungary and Poland. These developments pose questions about where these democracies are heading and how their paths are related to the crisis of European integration. read more

Politics and Religion in Eastern Europe

An interview with Magda Crișan, Romanian TV program Digi24, 11 May 2016

Political elites in East European countries have often referred to religious beliefs or sought to form alliances with church leaders. One aim of their efforts has been to convince citizens and the public that they share common values and are committed to act ethically responsibly.

Putin_KyrillMore frequent references and appeals to shared religious beliefs in recent years reflect the growth of right-wing populism, uncertainties caused by the crisis of European integration and fears regarding the inflow of predominantly Muslim refugees. The extent to which religious references are made in political discourses also varies according to the strength of religious allegiances and the respective influence of churches in societies. Contemporary resonance structures are rooted in state identities and the influences of historical state-building coalitions with churches. read more

Polens Verfassungskrise

Ein Interview mit Ivana Pribakovic, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF), Rendez-vous, 29.12.2015

In Polen verweigerte der Staatspräsident den vom alten Parlament neu gewählten Verfassungsrichtern die Vereidigung und ernannte stattdessen die von der neuen nationalkonservativen Parlamentsmehrheit gewählten Richter, obwohl das Verfassungsgericht diese Ernennungen für verfassungswidrig erklärt hatte. Im Dezember 2015 änderte die neue Parlamentsmehrheit das Verfassungsgerichtsgesetz, um die Richter zu zwingen, alle Entscheidungen mit einer Zweidrittelmehrheit zu treffen und die ihnen vorgelegten Fälle in der Reihenfolge des Eingangs zu bearbeiten. Die Gesetzesänderung ermöglicht der Parlamentsmehrheit, auf Antrag des Präsidenten und des Justizministers, einen Verfassungsrichter in besonderen Fällen von Fehlverhalten zu entlassen. read more

East-Central Europe and the European Crises

Claudia Matthes and I prepared a paper for the panel: “Demokratieentwicklung in vergleichender Perspektive”, organized at the annual conference of the DVPW section on Comparative Politics, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, 25 – 27 February 2015

The conference venue: GIGA Hamburg
The conference venue: GIGA Hamburg

East-Central European Democracies Adrift? Trajectories and their Causes

Electoral landslides, corruption scandals involving political leaders, declining satisfaction with democracy, mass protests and the erosion of democratic accountability institutions in one of the countries, Hungary, raise questions about the development of East-Central European democracies. Our paper argues that these democracies are subject to several drift processes triggered by the crises of economic and European integration and the deeping dealignment between voters and political parties. The impact of these factors differs from country to country, depending on its configuration of institutional constraints, socio-political cleavages and citizens’ expectations. In the paper, we examine how these structural factors influence democratic governance in East-Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and why some of these democracies have been more resilient than others. read more

On the Conflict between Orbán and Simicska

An interview with Andrej Matišák from Slovakia’s daily newspaper Pravda, 7.2.2015

In early 2015 Lajos Simicska, an influential businessman affiliated with Hungary’s governing party FIDESZ waged a conflict with Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

What is this “fight” between Simicska and Orban about, what’s the main problem?

On the surface, Simicska has waged this war against Orbán because he sees his media companies as a victim of the new media advertisement taxation rules the government is preparing. Since the government is under pressure to change the highly progressive, size-dependent tax rates targeting RTL Klub (a looming treaty infringement procedure before the European Court of Justice), the government decided to introduce a tax rate that would burden Simicska’s companies. However, this conflict is probably only a symptom of the more fundamental alienation that has occurred in the course of the last year between Orbán and Simicska, the hitherto prime oligarch of FIDESZ. The most likely explanation seems to be that Orbán lost trust in Simicska and has begun viewing him as too powerful and a threat to FIDESZ rule. Therefore Orbán sought to strengthen other FIDESZ-affiliated oligarchs (Zsolt Hernádi, MOL-CEO, and István Garancsi, Videoton FC owner) in order to reduce his dependence on Simicska. read more