An end to balance

This morning’s Independent had a map of the EU on its cover this morning (concerning which states may hold a referendum on the constitution), but looking at it, another thought struck me. When the ten new member states join the EU next month, for the first time in its history republics will heavily outnumber monarchies within the EU. Of course, all monarchies within the EU are constitutional and limited monarchies, but the two forms have always been in close balance throughout the EU’s history.

The original six members who signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 were balanced: Three republics (France, Germany, Italy), two kingdoms (Belgium and the Netherlands) and one Grand Duchy (Luxembourg), giving a 3-3 split. The first enlargement in 1973 placed the monarchies in the lead for the first and only time with the UK and Denmark making them five-strong to only 4 republics (now including Ireland). Balance was restored with the accession of Greece eight years later and maintained with the addition of Spain and Portugal in 1986.

The republics took the lead for the first time in 1995, adding Finland and Austria to their ranks, with only Sweden joining the monarchies. Exact balance, of course, is impossible with an odd number of members, yet had Norway decided to join then, balance would have been maintained.

However, that balance will be lost, probably forever with the next ten members, all of whom are republics, none of whom seem to be likely to be restoring or introducing a monarchy in the near future. The closest any of the new members come to a monarchy are Malta and Cyprus, both members of the Commonwealth which has the UK’s Queen Elizabeth at its head. Indeed, balance seems likely to never be restored with Norway and Liechtenstein (and perhaps Morocco in the long term) the only monarchies left to not be members.

Of course, this has very little effect on the politics and operation of the EU, but I thought it was a interesting point of trivia worth noting.

5 thoughts on “An end to balance

  1. There are other historical differences too. The 1986 membership consisted of the bulk of European imperial powers. The new membership tends more towards states with a similar experience to Ireland.

  2. Nick,

    The more fundamental distinction is not between republics and monarchies but between parliamentary systems of government and presidential systems.

    America has a presidential system of government while Germany, a republic, also has a president as head of state but the functions of that office are similar to those that constitutional monarchs in Europe have come to exercise – ceremonial duties, inviting the leader of the largest party after an election to form a government and, if necessary, intervening as a broker in partisan politics to facilitate the formation of a government should a parliament become deadlocked not long after an election.

    In 1867, Walter Bagehot, a renown past editor of The Economist, wrote that the sovereign in a constitutional monarchy has “three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn.” Mind you, I’ve heard those same rights be claimed on behalf of the civil service in Britain, and only partly in jest. Be that as it may, the last occasion on which the monarch of Britain declined to sign an Act of Parliament was Queen Anne in 1707.

    Famously, King Juan Carlos of Spain intervened after an attempted coup by dissident army officers against the parliament building in Madrid in 1981 by making a radio broadcast saying he would not recognise any government they attempted to form. After the king put himself on the line like that, the coup leaders lost credibility and were subsequently arrested.

    Most European countries have parliamentary systems of government where the offices of head of state and head of government are separated, unlike America. A few, like France and Finland, have hibrid systems with executive presidencies where the head of state takes a proactive role in foreign affairs. In Finland’s case, this constitutional arrangement evolved after this fashion to put its presidency above the partisan fray of politics because of the unusual sensitivity of relations between Finland and its neighbour, the Soviet Union. In the case of France, it is because of De Gaulle who was instrumental in drawing up the provisions of the constitution for France’s fifth republic in 1958.

    It seems to me the challenging questions in a European context are as to why European countries have mostly opted for parliamentary systems of government, whether as republics or monarchies, and why the remaining monarchies are all on the western fringe of the continent – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Britain.

    Walter Bagehot also wrote in 1867, “It has been said, not truly but with a possible approximation to the truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch in Europe was insane.”

    For that reason, some incline to the view that it is therefore generally a good idea to separate the offices of head of state and head of government by way of insurance against contingencies. You’ll probably recall that it is now considered good corporate practice to separate the position of company president or chairman from that of the chief executive officer or managing director.

  3. Bob, Richard – interesting points, which I’ll try and reply to at length sometime later. On just one minor point for now, Bob wrote:

    why the remaining monarchies are all on the western fringe of the continent – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Britain.

    I think the simple answer to this is that the Eastern countries that were monarchies – for instance Bulgaria, Romania and Albania – all became republics after 1945 when they became Communist states. While there has been some talk of restoration (particularly in Bulgaria), though only amongst a minority, there are very few countries anywhere who have restored a monarchy (France is a notable exception, as is Spain) and it seems that once countries have lost their monarchies there’s little demand to reinstate them, especially when the same role is now being carried out by a non-executive President.

    The ‘Western fringe’ countries who have kept their monarchies do seem to be those where the monarch became a symbol, especially during WW2, of opposition to totalitarianism – Norway and Denmark for instance – and so the maintenance of the monarchy was seen as a guarantee of the democratic settlement (the best example of this, though not connected as such to WW2, is Juan Carlos’ role in restoring democracy to Spain). Those monarchs who were seen to be complicit in dictatorships – Italy, and perhaps Greece – were removed as part of the restoration of democracy and replaced with Presidents.

  4. For one reason or another, most European countries have constitutions only a few decades old at most.

    Britain is one of the few exceptions. Even more unusually, we don’t have a constitution in one document. Some say we have no constitution at all but that is not strictly true. Our constitution is distributed over umpteen Acts of Parliament, the outcome of court cases, the rules of Parliamentary procedure, and an assortment of precedents and conventions. A guiding principle of our constitutional arrangements has been that no Parliament can bind its successors. Put like that, it seems a bit ramshackle but, somehow, we have managed to cope for quite a few centuries and without Britain becoming an oppressive despotism, perhaps because Magna Carta of 1215 is the ultimate ancestor of most subsequent Bills of Rights. I’m reminded of that bit in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Act ii, Sc.1:

    This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war, etc
    – from:

    The consequence of most European countries having relatively young constitutions is that the choice between presidential and parliamentary systems of government is quite fresh. Presented with the opportunity to choose, European countries have mainly opted for parliamentary systems with a separation between the offices of head of state and head of government. Put to the test, Europeans have mostly not opted for the American model.

  5. Hi Nick,

    “Opposition candidate Heinz Fischer has been elected Austrian President – the first Social Democrat to hold the largely ceremonial post since 1986. . . ” – from:

    I’ve not read through Austria’s constitution but the role of the presidency there looks remarkably similar to that of a constitutional monarchy.

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