Sunday, 30 December 2012

Merger and Resistance: History repeating itself in Andorra

I have something of an interest in European politics which may not be immediately obvious given most of my writing is quite Scotland-centric.

I have been sufficiently intrigued by the politics of the small principality of Andorra recently to read a little about its recent history.  It really is quite a fascinating study for various reasons, not least on account of the complex democratic system that such a small nation has in place.

I have to confess my principal purpose in researching Andorra's political system was to explore the relationship the country had with the EU. It is intriguing that a nation that is not a member of the EU should adopt the Euro as its currency, largely on account of relationships with its neighbours.  I was also interested in the constitutional anomaly that while the 1993 Constitution of Andorra provided for a democratic modern state respecting human rights and international law, it also allowed for the continuation of the strange practice by which the position of Head of State is jointly shared by the president of France and the Catalan Bishop of Urgell.

Quite uniquely Andorra can claim to be the only nation with two heads of state - one elected and the other appointed by the church of a foreign power.  In the the form of the French president, Andorra also can lay claim to being the only country whose elected head of state is chosen entirely by the popular vote of a neighbouring nation.  It is an odd arrangement, owing more to tradition that the near pure democracy inherent in the system of election for the General Council.

Politics in Andorra have in recent years been dominated by the Liberal Party, our partners in both the Liberal International and the ELDR.  In 2009, however, following 15 consecutive years of Liberal Party rule, the Liberals entered into an alliance known as the Reformist Coalition to see off the threat of the Social Democratic Party.  It was ultimately unsuccessful, with the SDP emerging as the largest party in the election but crucially one seat short of an overall majority.  This led to significant difficulties in approving the budget and an early election.

The alliance continued into the new parliament and ahead of new elections in 2011, with another stalemate beckoning, sought to extend its progressive collaboration by making overtures to the SDP.  What followed was essentially a merger between the Liberal Party and part of the SDP - plus United for Progress which had been a member of the Reformist Coalition.  The new name of the merged party?  The Democrats.

And just to reinforce the feelings of deja vu, many members of the SDP opted against merger and are continuing the fight, led by the Owenesque personality of Jaume Bartumeu.  In spite of his political experience he led his continuing SDP to crushing defeat in 2011.  Even more intriguingly, disgruntled members of the Liberal Party who did not agree to the merger to form the Democrats have decided to create a new continuing Liberal Party and contest the next election. Their new president, Jorge Gallado, was elected by a special conference at which 30 members were present.  He already seems something of a Michael Meadowcroft figure, intellectual yet charismatic - although his party seem more interested in debating a construction of a new mosque than they do the realignment of Andorran politics that Gallado seems to yearn for.  The new Liberal Party has not been accepted into the Liberal International.

It will be interesting to see which, if either, of the "continuing" traditions emerges as the principal challenger to the Democrats.

All this sounds incredibly familiar.  Why any political leaders would wish to relive the difficult experiences of 1987-1990 I cannot comprehend.  You might have thought the Andorrans would learn the lessons from British politics - or at least the histories of our Liberal and Social Democratic parties.  I wish the new Democrats well, although I would warn them to consider carefully the potential ramifications of entering into any future coalitions with the conservative Unió Laurediana...

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