The Political Economy of Reform in Europe: Weak Government or Strong Executive?

Rethinking the Irish and Italian case

Ireland and southern European countries previously resorted to the negotiation of social pacts in adjusting to the constraints of monetary integration. These were seen as a mechanism to mobilize broad support for weak governments to legitimate difficult reforms. Drawing on the two cases that defined the literature - Ireland and Italy - I suggest that the Prime Minister’s Office, and the executive branch of government more generally, has been overlooked in this literature. In the pre-EMU period social pacts were a strategy to centralize decision-making in the Prime Ministers Office, and to legitimate reform through a non-parliamentary coalition with organised interests. The causal intervention that made this possible was not an electorally weak government but a strong executive vis-à-vis parliament. In responding to the present Euro crisis, executive leaders have opted to legitimate reform unilaterally, through constructing grand coalition governments. Both strategies of legitimating reform (social pacts and supermajority coalitions) enhance executive autonomy vis-à-vis parliament and continue the trend toward the Prime Ministerialisation of government in Europe