In Senegal and the Côte d’Ivoire parties the concept of coalition governments is not as common as in Europe. Since more and more small parties arise, however, the dominate parties have trouble to from stable single-party governments. To ensure strong and solid cooperation on party-level, leading representatives of the governing parties from Senegal and from the Côte d’Ivoire visited Brussels. During their stay they gained insights into coalition building and management experiences in Europe, through meetings with representatives from several European member states, who shared their different perspectives.
The Importance of Coalition Agreements for a Stable Government and Smooth Negotiations
Political consultant Thierry Coosemans emphasized the importance of coalition agreements. They increase the loyalty among Members of Parliament and the trust on international level. Coosemans underlined that choosing the right ministerial positions is key for the party to satisfy their own voters. The Ministry of Education, for example is of high importance to the Senegalese, as teachers have a lot of influence, but is a comparatively less prestigious Ministry in Europe. To get a better knowledge about their parties’ electorate, Joakim Frantz, Manager Campaigning and Capacity Building for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, introduced strategies to analyze the current voters’ support. According to him, it is crucial that they need to know “who they are, where they live, why they vote for you, how to reach them”. That way, potential voters can be targeted via election campaigns. Have a consistent message is also of importance when negotiating coalitions, to know what to expect of coalition partners and to not disappoint voters.
Sharing the European Experience
To get a clearer practical picture of what coalition governments look like in Europe, the group met with representatives of liberal parties in Belgium, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek, currently International Secretary of the Open Vld who has in the past held various positions in the Belgian and European political sphere, explained how Belgium can build a government even if the country’s population is very diverse; an issue very well known to the politicians from both Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. In that context, finding a common ground can be very difficult and all coalition partners will be in need to make compromises, so Neyts-Uyttebroek. But she also emphesized: “You cannot give up on a topic that you clearly promised to your voters, otherwise you are going to lose their trust”.
In contrast to the coalition government tradition in Belgium, Denmark uses a very different approach to coalitions. Lars Peter Svane, Chair of the Brussels Group of the social-liberal Party “De radikale Venstre”, introduced the group to the Danish example of minority governments. As a consequence of this government model, the governing party can negotiate with different parties during their legislative session and is not bound to one partner. According to Svane’s experience, the negotiations however mostly happen with the same few parties, depending on the topic. A center-right party, for example can easily negotiate with a center or a right party, but hardly with a left-wing party. At the same time, also single-party governments need to make compromises to be able to gain majorities in the Parliament.
During many meetings, the role of populist right-wing parties was part of the discussion and seen as a big issue that makes coalition building more difficult. Troubles occurred for example in the Netherlands, where the current government consists of two parties that in terms of political ideology do not have a lot in common, in order to avoid the involvement of a populist right-wing party. Jeroen Benning, former deputy campaign manager of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), pointed out that it was therefore impossible to negotiate a detailed coalition agreement. Nevertheless, an alternative solution was found: through clear distribution, both parties were represented in each Ministry: one with the Minister, one with the State Secretary. A different approach to right-wing parties is used in Finland. As Anneli Jäätteenmäki, ALDE MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Finland, explained, instead of trying to keep the right-wing party out of government, they negotiated a coalition. Thereby, the party was forced to work on projects and present actions to the public instead of just being against everything. Since then, the party has lost a lot of voters according to the polls, because they are not functioning as a protest party anymore.
To use the stay not only to gain perspectives on coalition building but also to strengthen the relationship between the European Union and Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, the participants also met with representatives from the European External Action Service (EEAS): Hans Peter Schadek, Acting Director for West and Central Africa, Patricia Maugain, Desk Officer Côte d’Ivoire & Benin and Sybille Rieder, Desk Officer Senegal.
After taking this horizontal look at various experiences in forming coalition governments, the group travelled on to Germany, to, among other aspects, learn about experiences about building coalitions on state and local level governments.