In spite of the increasing differentiation between CEE democracies one striking commonality appears to be the fact that virtually all ended up having an institutional set-up with a high number of "veto players" in decision-making, or something Arend Lijphart would call consensus democracy. (4)
Most CEE systems are marked by the following factors: strongly proportional electoral systems, weak, short-lasting coalition governments, multi-party systems, rigid constitutions with a strong judicial review, independent Central Banks and an increasing degree of decentralisation. These features endow the democratic systems of these states with a high number of veto players and require much more negotiation and accommodation between participants in the political game than more majoritarian systems.
However, both domestic and external observers find little signs of accommodative and consensual patterns of elite interaction in the region reaching the standards of established Western consensus democracies. (5) Moreover, having successfully concluded EU accession some external incentives for enforcing consensualism on a narrower range of policies and institutions have diminished. Indeed, the first post-accession years saw a surge in electoral support for parties lacking commitment to both European integration and certain core values of liberal, Western style democracy (as seen in Poland or Slovakia). This included a startling revival of authoritarian, nationalistic, xenophobic, and illiberal ideas as well as a questioning of certain constitutionally enshrined key elements of consensus democracy and the EU acquis (such as minority representation in parliament) by some political leaders.
In many instances it seems that institutions cannot regulate political conflict the way they are expected to do and conflicts are carried out beyond boundaries of the established institutions. Elster, Offe and Preuss see democracy consolidated when the rules according to which political and but also concerning distributional conflicts are carried out are no longer object of conflict themselves. (6) According to this definition we cannot really talk about fully consolidated democracies in CEE: In some countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia or Romania political elites appear to be more and more separated by unbridgeable cultural-ideological divides impacting day-to-day politics and a lack of agreement on the fuctioning of basic political institutions. Hungary, a so far seemingly stable democracy experienced a partial breakdown of routinized democratic politics in favour of partly violent street politics. Conflicts touching upon the legitimacy of basic democratic institutions (parliament, presidency, justice) and their rights have been seen in Hungary, Romania or Poland. Populist, polarizing policies seem to be increasingly adopted by political leaders in a number of countries. More generally, these observations shed doubt on the expectation that institutional convergence with mainstream European institutions would also lead to a convergence in elite political culture in terms of commitment and adaptation to the values of the new democratic system. This paper therefore focuses on some of the sources of the (lack of) commitment by political elites to the existing democratic set-up, in particular their limited ability to interact in a consensus-democratic institutional setting. Finally, some consequences shall be discussed.
In this regard, I view institutions and institutional changes as following both rationalist and sociological dynamics. This means that actors aim at efficiently pursuing certain pre-existing preferences in picking institutions and interacting through them (i.e. the "logic of consequentialism"), and they also act according to the logic of "appropriateness" (i.e. in their behaviour they adapt to collective norms of "what is right," which are embodied in institutions). (7) For the context of consensus democracy this means that institutional constraints, such as a high number of veto players in the democratic game, forces actors to some extent to co-operate, exchange information, and seek commonly acceptable solutions for pursuing their individual interests. On the other hand, institutional constraints themselves are not sufficient to consolidate consensus democracy. As Korosenyi points out: a power-sharing consensus-democratic set-up does not create consensus by itself, but makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to govern in a majoritarian, confrontational style. (8) In fact, a consensus-democratic set-up with a high number of veto players actually offers actors the resources for both confrontational and co-operative strategies. (9)
Put differently, if the survival of a consensus-democratic system is only dependent on either continuously favourable output for all players or upon coercion, it is built upon shaky ground indeed. This is especially the case if democratic consolidation is to go along with the upheavals of economic reform or social change. Therefore, I do not regard mere instrumental support for the democratic system as a sufficient indicator for CoD. Instrumental support means that "actors follow the rules of the democratic game because they do not see a chance to, or advantage in, changing them". (10) Yet if actors are only to pursue predefined, egoistic interests, they might not regularly prefer co-operative strategies over confrontational ones in the context of a consensualist institutional setup (i.e. a democracy with many inbuilt veto-players). Thus, next to mere instrumental support for consensus democracy, we should also pay attention to the normative foundations of consensus democratic institutions and their reflection in political culture. Consequently, the persistence of consensus democracy becomes more likely if political elites not only regard consensus democracy as serving their interests best but also come to embrace its underlying norms and values. Here are six dimensions of elite political culture, which express the "spirit of accommodation" of consensus democracy:
1. the centrality of compromise and consensus (opposed to free-for-all competition only)
2. politicians as keepers of the common good (and not just representatives of particular interests)
3. an emphasis on established procedures (as opposed to a focus on outputs only)
4. support for preserving the institutional status quo
5. respect towards "the other". (11)
In this paper I will discuss some hypotheses of why some of these dimensions are rather absent in CEE elite political cultures.
Around 1990, when the outcome of the transition processes was still unsure scholars theorized about various "modes of transition". They discussed the chances and pitfalls of installing democracy gradually or quickly, the various constellations between masses and elites, and between old and new leaders. (12) In the end, liberal democracies were rather quickly and successfully installed in all CEE countries. Later on, scholars of CoD turned to more long-term structural conditions as explanatory variables such as the level of economic development, the absence of deep-cutting cleavages, neighbourhood to other democratic countries etc. (13) Therefore, most students of democracy basically agree to Dankward Rustow's insight that the factors that keep a democracy stable may not be the ones that brought it into existence in the first place. Differently from that, I argue in this paper that also the dynamics of transition do leave a legacy and keep impacting upon the stability and future development of an existing democracy.
Historically, consensus democracies are to be found in a number of West European countries as opposed to majoritarian forms predominantly found in the English-speaking world or South America. (14) West European countries developed consensus democracy with a power-sharing institutional set-up and utilized coalescent, co-operative elite strategies as an answer to the threats of deep societal cleavages (e.g. religion, language, class). CEE countries ended up with power-sharing institutions due to the contingent dynamics of the transition process, though largely lacking the differentiated cleavage structures and not featuring particularly consensus-oriented elite practices. A high number of veto players in the political system became an outcome almost by default, and thus a point of convergence among the different countries of the region. Institutional designers deliberately chose to insert power-sharing elements instead of opting for majoritarian solutions in response to a high degree of uncertainty and political volatility, which soon became visible in the rapid proliferation of multiple parties and rather instable party systems. Consensus institutions in the East were the outcome of short-term contingencies as transition took place in an 'underdetermined political situation." (15) In this context institutions were hardly the outcomes of endogenous structural or cultural conditions, but rather depended on contingent power constellations, individual agency, and exogenous factors (e.g. West European models).
Majoritarian solutions were preferred only by post-communist parties when they were clearly in a strong position assuming the popularity of their individual leaders. (16) Later these arrangements were often reverted once the former opposition came to power. Consensus solutions from the beginning were usually the result of a balance of power between the old elite and the opposition during transition. Cases with the dominance of opposition groups in the transition also mostly ended up with consensus set-ups as an insurance against a potential return of communists into power.
Also, the motivation to strengthen the rule of law supported the development of consensus institutions as it led to rather rigid constitutions and a strong judicial review in deliberate opposition to the communist dead-letter constitutions. Once installed, consensus systems also have the tendency to reinforce themselves due to their inherent brakes on constitutional change. (17) Finally (and quite importantly), the process of Europeanization with its focus on subsidiarity, minority representation, civil society involvement, regionalization, decentralisation and monetary stability constrained the choices of aspiring EU member states in CEE and supported the development of more consensual institutions. In fact, EU conditionality for accession put a particular focus on "getting the institutions right". The existence of prescribed formal institutions is, of course, much easier to ascertain and to monitor than their subsequent operation.
Nevertheless, by this approach the EU seems to follow Lijphart's and others' somewhat optimistic assumption that the existence of a specific formal institutional set-up will transform political culture (as well as bureaucratic, business, and legal cultures).
CEE countries in their constitutional features thus increasingly resemble West European consensus democracies but lack the differentiated social landscape of Western European societies in the mid-20th century. Save for re-emerging ethnic cleavages in some countries, the post-communist social landscape is rather flat, unstructured, and de-mobilised. (18) Therefore, there are no deep cleavages posing an immediate danger to democratic stability which would require power-sharing approaches. Moreover, in the West European context, political leaders and parties can organize political conflict and still represent more or less stable and homogeneous groups of voters. This is much less true for the much more volatile and socially disconnected party systems in CEE. (19)
Consequently, one might wonder which factors might actually condition elites' support for consensus democracy if domestic pressure from below is absent. In terms of historical factors, pre-transition legacies are rather mixed and ambiguous in terms of carrying consensual elite political cultures in the region. Unlike the West European tradition, most CEE political elites do not have …