Coalition Agreements as Control Devices: Coalition Governance in Western and Eastern Europe
Summary, in English
Why do political parties negotiate coalition agreements? Many coalition cabinets negotiate lengthy coalition contracts outlining the agenda for the time in office. Negotiating such an agreement not only takes time and resources, but compromises have to be made which may result in cabinet conflicts and electoral costs. We argue that coalition agreements are important control devices that allow coalition parties to keep their partners in line, but that their use varies with the preference configuration and the allocation of ministerial portfolios. First, we posit that parties will only negotiate about policy issues when they disagree on an issue that is important to all partners. Second, since controlling a ministry grants parties with important information and policy-making advantages, coalition parties moreover seek to particularly constrain their partners when their partners control the ministry in charge of a policy area. Finally, we argue that coalition agreements only work as effective control devices if coalition parties settle controversial issues in the coalition contract. To test our expectations, we have compiled the COALITIONAGREE Dataset that maps the content of 229 coalition agreements that were negotiated by 189 parties between 1945 and 2015 in 24 West and East European countries. We show that coalition parties systematically use coalition agreements to control their partners when policy issues are divisive and salient and when they are confronted with a hostile minister. Coalition agreements can, however, only effectively contain conflicts when coalition parties seize the opportunity and negotiate a compromise on precisely the issues that divide them.