Liz Truss served just 49 days as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 2022, the United Kingdom had three Prime Ministers. All raises a question – How long do governments in Europe tend to last?
The Pew Research Centre has come up with an analysis that shows that most of the European countries analysed have seen changes in government at least once every two years.
NOT EVEN A YEAR
Though governments change at least once every two years, the analysis says that governments in Belgium, Finland and Italy often haven’t lasted even a single year. In these countries, the median length of government since World War II has been less than 365 days – far less than the full constitutional terms afforded to a new government.
On the other end of the spectrum, Luxembourg has had the longest median length of government among the countries analysed: more than four and a half years. Governments in Luxembourg have also come the closest to reaching their full constitutional terms (five years, in Luxembourg’s case).
in most of the European Union countries, parliamentary democracies exist. In parliamentary democracies, the party (or parties) that wins the most seats in parliament forms the government (or cabinet) and selects the head of state.
In the analysis, the Pew Centre says that if a government has shifted into a “caretaker” role, meaning the administration operates with a limited legislative mandate, it is considered a new government in this analysis. For example, in Germany, former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign is broken down into five distinct governments: three governments consisting of traditional four-year terms; one caretaker government that lasted half a year as Merkel struggled to form a government; and a final three-and-a-half-year term once she eventually succeeded in building a coalition.
Once a government fails – whether through a vote of no confidence, a resignation or the restructuring of a cabinet – a new one forms in one of two ways:
- Coalition building: In parliamentary democracies, it can be common to form or re-form governments between scheduled elections. For example, although the UK had three prime ministers in 2022, the transitions occurred without the general public going to the polls. This type of process has occurred in every country included in this study and has been particularly common in Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Slovenia, where there have been at least two government transitions per election term (four or five years), on average.
- Snap elections: If a government collapses before an election is scheduled to occur, countries may call “snap elections” to form a new government. For example, in 2022, Slovenia had its first regularly scheduled election in over a decade after holding snap elections in 2011, 2014 and 2018. In 2022, two of the 23 countries included in this study – Bulgaria and Italy – held snap elections.
For comparison, while Bulgaria and Slovakia’s governments have tended to last roughly the same amount of time (1.17 and 1.16 years, respectively, on average), Slovakia has been able to form and re-form coalitions without elections much more frequently than Bulgaria. And some countries, like Italy, have frequently formed governments through coalition building and held snap elections.
In transition governments, a caretaker government is one possibility. For example, the current prime minister of Bulgaria, Galab Donev, and his government are serving in a caretaker capacity after a vote of no confidence in the previous administration
In the analysis, the PEW Centre says that The Netherlands had more caretaker governments than any other country, with 11 since World War II. Present Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been in office for nearly 12 years, but of the seven consecutive governments he has led, three have been in a caretaker capacity. Belgium and Bulgaria have the next-highest counts of caretaker governments, with nine and eight, respectively. Finland and Austria follow with seven each.
In Luxembourg, even caretaker governments have tended to last long. Although the country has had caretaker governments on only two occasions since World War II, the median length of a caretaker government in Luxembourg is just over 10 months (309 days). Other countries with median lengths greater than six months include Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain.
Belgium stands out for having the longest-lasting caretaker government of any country studied. Yves Leterme’s third government acted in a caretaker capacity for nearly a year and a half (541 days) between 2010 and 2011. Italy’s longest caretaker government was the only other one to surpass 500 days, with the government of Mario Monti holding power for 528 days in the wake of the European debt crisis.