The three forms of government that will be examined in this paper include broadly, the Parliamentary system and the Presidential systems existing in Britain, France and Germany. Any comparative study of governing institutions involves an understanding of the governing institutions prevailing in different countries. All governmental institutions comprise a Legislature, an Executive and a Judiciary. Differences between governmental institutions primarily lie in how these three organs of government are related to each other and the extent of their functions.
Traditionally, Britain consists of a parliamentary form of government. A parliamentary government is one where the most important and powerful office belongs to the prime minister. In this form of government, the legislature and the executive arms of the government are closely related, with the executive being involved in the working of the legislature and the executive being formed out of the legislature.
In Britain, the legislature comprises the two houses of government, that is, the House of Lords (the upper house) and the House of Commons (the lower house). The House of Lords is a non-elective body and consists of both hereditary and life members who are called ‘Peers’. The strength of the House of Lords is over 900 members and a quorum of 30 members is the minimum for conducting proceedings in the House.
The House of Commons comprises the elected representatives of the country. Since Britain has a bi-party system, members of the legislature mainly come from the two major parties, namely, the Labour and the Conservative. Elections for forming the government are held every five years and the party that secures a majority of votes polled forms the government with the leader of the party assuming the post of prime minister.
It falls upon the prime minister to form the executive and he appoints his ministers and Cabinet members with the approval of the British Monarch. While the monarch and the prime minister together form the executive in Britain, the monarch is the constitutional head of the government and his powers are mostly ceremonial. It is the prime minister who is the real head of the government.
However, there is a close collaboration between the prime minister and the monarch with the prime minister having to meet with the monarch and discuss matters relating to the running of the government. The House of Commons is more powerful than the House of Lords and money bills can be initiated only in the House of Commons, thus the lower chamber of parliament controls the purse of the government. The judiciary is the third organ of government.
In the United Kingdom, there is no single judicial system and the judiciary of Britain consists of the judiciary of England and Wales. The House of Lords is the highest court of appeals both in civil and criminal cases. Since Britain does not have a written constitution, there is an absence of the system of ‘judicial review’ which enables the judiciary to act as the interpreter and guardian of the constitution.
The courts in England therefore cannot decide on the merit of any law passed by the parliament. An important feature of the judicial system in Britain is ‘rule of law’ which implies that every person is governed by the same law, punishment is meted out only if a breach of law has been committed and the law protects the freedom and rights of the person. The British courts use three types of laws – the Cannon law, the Statutory law and the law of Equity.
The judiciary functions on the basis of a jury system and open trial. Germany : In Germany, which is a Federal Parliamentary Democratic Republic, the parliamentary system of government prevails. In contrast to the two forms of governmental systems discussed above, Germany has a multi-party system unlike Britain and similar to that existing in France. In other words, while the political system in Britain is dominated by two major parties, in Germany there are several parties that contest elections.
Among these the two main parties are the Socialist Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union. The other parties such as the Alliance 90 or the Greens, the Free Democratic Party and Delinke support the SPD or the CDU. Another important characteristic is that in Germany, coalition politics has dominated and the SDP and CDU, despite being dominant, have failed to secure a complete majority in the elections. Therefore the other parties have systematically supported either the SDP or the CDU in forming the government.
The constitutional framework adopted in 1949 known as the Grundgesetz, or the basic law, has been in effect even after 1990. The executive in Germany is comprised of the Chancellor who is equivalent to a prime minister and holds office for a period of four years and the President who holds office for a period of five years. The Chancellor is the head of the government while the President is the head of the state.
Like a parliamentary system, the executive functions in close collaboration with the legislature. The legislature in germany consists of the Federal Diet or the Bundestag and the Federal Council or the Bundesrat. The Bundestag is a directly elected body through the system of proportional representation. The Bundesrat consists of the representatives of the 16 federal states who are also members of the state Cabinet. The Bundestag has the power to remove the Chancellor by passing a motion of no-confidence.
The judiciary in Germany is independent of both the executive and the legislature and follows the concept of Judicial Review. Almost all state actions are therefore subject to interpretation by the courts. In Germany, a complex and hierarchical system of appeals exists with separate branches dealing with administrative, taxation, labour and security aspects. In addition, there exists a Constitutional Court which handles violation of constitutional rights after the regular appeals system has been exhausted.
France : Arguably, France is the seat of modern democracy following the French Revolutions of 1789. Like Germany, politics in France in its present form is of recent origin from 1958 to the Fifth Republic. While the government in Britain and Germany is Prime Ministerial, the French government is semi-Presidential. In effect the executive arm of the government consists of two heads of government where the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is head of government.
On the other hand, unlike in Britain and very much similar to Germany, France has a pluralist and multi-party system of politics. The French Presidency is the oldest in Europe. France has had five Republics and the powers and functions of the President has varied in these five Republics. Parliamentary system of government was in order in the Third and Fourth Republics which made the presidential office a nominal one, where as in the Fifth Republic, the President has been vested with more powers.
Thus, although there exist two heads of government, the President is more powerful in comparison to the prime minister unlike in a parliamentary system. In addition, where as previously the Presidential tenure was seven years,, it has been cut down to five years. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party or coalition and can be appointed by the president indefinitely. He has no fixed tenure.
The prime minister forms and heads the Council of Ministers whose sessions, in turn are chaired by the president. The legislature consists of the National Assembly which is the lower house and represents single-member constituencies and the Senate which is the upper house and represents mainland France and its 13 overseas territories. The lower house is in charge of conducting the daily proceedings of the government while the Senate looks after constitutional and foreign matters.
The judiciary in France is composed of a two-tier system, one relating to the judicial branch dealing with civil and criminal law and the other relating to the administrative branch. France has a written constitution and therefore laws can only be interpreted by the judiciary in accordance with the process of judicial review. The Cour de Cassation is the highest court of appeals which is headed by six chief judges appointed by the president.
All judicial appointments to the Supreme Court are appointments for life and all former French presidents are de jure members of the Constitutional Court. In conclusion, it can be said that the merits of the presidential system involving a fixed tenure and separation of powers and more important than a parliamentary system. Similarly, a multi-party system offers more representation and accountability than a bi-party system. Refernces Curtis, Michael & Ammendola, Guiseppe. (2002) Western European Government and Politics. Longman.