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Grand Coalitions in Europe: Still an Anomaly?

Comparative Politics
European Politics
Political Parties
Coalition
Amir Abedi
Western Washington University
Amir Abedi
Western Washington University
Alan Siaroff
The University of Lethbridge, Canada
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Abstract

This paper examines ‘Grand Coalitions,’ that is, coalitions that are formed between the two largest parties in a party system with two such large parties (Ware, 1996). These coalitions, which according to the prevailing definitions must control at least two-thirds of all seats in the (lower house of a) legislature (Niedermayer, 2010), have so far not received a lot of systematic cross-national attention from comparative politics scholars. While Lijphart (1977) includes them as one of his key characteristics of consociational democracies, most of the in-depth research on the reasons for the formation of this type of coalition is based on examinations of two cases in particular – these being Austria and Germany (Strohmeier, 2009). In the former grand coalitions have been quite ubiquitous reflecting the consociational character of the post-WWII Austrian Republic, while in the latter they have until recently been quite rare as they were generally seen as an undesirable type of government that would only be formed if there was no other viable alternative. In our paper we shall attempt to provide the first systematic cross-national examination of grand coalitions in post-WWII Europe. We shall distinguish conceptually grand coalitions from all other types of governments. Then we identify the number of Grand Coalitions formed in all European countries that are democratic and have been so continuously for the last ten years. This will allow us to determine whether grand coalitions have truly been exceptional or whether they have been more frequent than has generally been assumed. Moreover, we shall ascertain whether there have been any temporal trends in the formation of grand coalitions. For example, have they become more frequent in recent years? We shall also note some cases of countries where the party system and specific election results allowed for the formation of a grand coalition, but where this was not established. Our paper thus aims to add to the existing research in the area of coalition formation by increasing our knowledge about this peculiar type of coalition government.