Rhein on Energy and Climate

Historically, governments in Western countries used to stay in office for four years, a heritage of two centuries US constitutional tradition.

For the majority of EU member countries four years continue to be the norm, though some like UK, France and Italy have shifted to five years and others like Germany may consider doing so for the next term starting in 2017.

The most conspicuous example of successful five year terms is the EU with the directly elected parliament since 1979.

Stability is the major justification for moving to five-year terms.

In our hectic times governments need stability to undertake worthwhile reforms. Four years, of which one is lost for the election campaign and the initiation of a new administration are too short to get important reform work done.

The extension of the terms of government, which will require constitutional changes, might usefully go along with a review of the number of deputies, especially in two-chamber legislatures.

In the European systems of government with overlapping competences countries have avoided adapting the numbers of deputies and executive officials to changes of competences between different levels of government. This often leads to over-staffing, at both legislative and executive levels.

A constitutional review of the number of legislative chambers is equally overdue: do we need four levels of governance, local, regional, national and European, in Germany, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, and, if so, what is the optimal division of labour between these levels?

These are no ultra-urgent issues. But if the EU is to further extend its competences, which is inevitable from a global perspective, member states` competences will have to shrink or become increasingly entangled by costly bureaucracies.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 7/11/2013


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  1. As the EU parliament is not really a government at all , what difference would 5 rather than 4 years make . The sooner the change the better , next year may produce enough eurosceptic MP to be really disruptive and 4 years may be really appreciated , rather than 5 .

  2. David
    I am sorry. You have misunderstood my blog. I do not want to shorten the five-year EU term. ON the contrary, I want Germany and others which still stick to four years to extend their terms to five years as I hope this will introduce a higher level of “tranquillity” and dispenses politicians from constantly at the next approaching elections.
    Eberhard Rhein

  3. Eberhard Rhein

    I feel honoured that you should reply to my post , even to correct a misunderstanding .
    I have read your article through again , more than once and am still not clear about the point you are making , but I do agree that a five year term of government makes more sense than four years .
    As to EU competences , my feeling shared by many , is that the EU tries to take on too much . What you term competences become seen as incompetences . We don’t want the EU to control every aspect of our lives , that bread shall mean steam baked and sliced in plastic wrapping , because that keeps better is more economic , less wasteful .
    Soon the EU is planning to standardize water closets that have two flush systems . Next they will be teaching us how to wipe our bottoms , to use the minimum of toilet paper . Where will it ever stop .

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