Interministerial Coordination

 

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination?

EUOECD
 
Informal coordination mechanisms generally support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
10
Finland
Intersectoral coordination has generally been perceived as an important issue in Finnish politics, but rather few institutional mechanisms have in fact been introduced. One of these is the Iltakoulu (evening session), an informal meeting between the ministers with the objective of discussing and preparing key matters to be handled in the government’s plenary session the following day. In addition, there are other informal government meetings and items can also be referred to informal ministerial working groups. To a considerable extent, then, coordination proceeds effectively through informal mechanisms. Recent large-scale policy programs have enhanced intersectoral policymaking; additionally, Finland’s membership in the European Union has of course necessitated increased interministerial coordination. Recent research in Finland has only focused tangentially on informal mechanisms, but various case studies suggest that the system of coordination by advisory councils has performed well.
Citations:
Eero Murto, Power Relationship Between Ministers and Civil Servants, pp. 189-208 in Lauri Karvonen, Heikki Paloheimo and Tapio Raunio, eds. The Changing Balance of Political Power in Finland, Stockholm: Santérus Förlag, 2016.
https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/government/informal-government-meetings-and-ministerial-working-groups
Hungary
The strong formal role of Prime Minister Orbán and his Prime Minister’s Office is complemented by informal coordination mechanisms. As the power concentration has further increased in the fourth Orbán government, so has the role of informal decision-making. Formal mechanisms only serve to legalize and implement improvised and hastily made decisions by the prime minister. Orbán regularly brings together officials from his larger circle in order to give instructions. Many decisions originate from these meetings, which subsequently ripple informally through the system before any formal decision is made. These informal coordination mechanisms make rapid decision-making possible. Given the pivotal role of the prime minister, this system encourages anticipative obedience, but also creates a bottleneck in the implementation of decisions and precludes any genuine feedback. Orbán travels with a large retinue of personal staff and rules the country by the “remote control” use of phone calls, which terrifies medium-level politicians. If the prime minister is not available, ready or able to decide, issues remain in the air without any decision being made. A case in point was the widespread chaos in the government and Fidesz following the weak showing of Fidesz in the 2019 municipal elections and the Borkai scandal. Since Orbán had a very busy international program immediately before and after the elections, in some instances, Fidesz leaders received instructions four days after the elections.
9
Japan
Informal relations and related agreements, which are very common in Japan, can facilitate coordination but may also lead to collusion. In terms of institutionalized informal coordination mechanisms in the realm of policymaking, informal meetings and debates between the ministries and the ruling party’s policy-research departments have traditionally been very important.

Under the government in power since 2012, the political leadership has had to navigate skillfully between the coalition partners, line ministries and their bureaucrats, and a more inquisitive public. The chief cabinet secretary is a key actor in this regard. Cabinet meetings are essentially formalities, with sensitive issues informally discussed and decided beforehand. Ministries collect and make public few, if any, records of meetings between politicians and bureaucrats as they are supposed to do under the 2008 Basic Act of Reform of the National Civil Servant System.

The general trend toward greater transparency may even have strengthened the role of informality in order to avoid awkward situations. In a number of instances, it has become apparent that senior agencies have deleted files relating to discussions extremely early. In 2019, the chief cabinet secretary admitted that no records of meetings between the prime minister and senior officials are kept at the prime minister’s office.
Citations:
Cabinet minutes show formality, no substance, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/05/national/politics-diplomacy/cabinet-minutes-show-formality-no-substance/

Enhancing government accountability (Ediorial), The Japan Times, 13 August 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/08/13/editorials/enhancing-government-accountability/

Tadashi Kobayashi and Taiji Mukohata, Japan trade ministry told employees to obscure meeting records, The Mainichi, 30 August 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180830/p2a/00m/0na/004000c

Hiroyuki Oba, Suga admits Japan PM office kept no records of meetings between Abe, gov’t agency execs, The Mainichi, 4 June 2019, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190604/p2a/00m/0na/011000c
Luxembourg
There are many opportunities for informal coordination given Luxembourg’s small size, close-knit society and interconnected government administration. Public administration staffers responsible for early policy research and formulation are typically well familiar with representatives of social organizations and members of civil society research institutions. In such a small state, there are many opportunities for informal contact between public servants and experts from research institutions, business and civil society. Senior civil servants are simultaneously responsible for multiple projects, have an enormous workload, and represent the government within a number of different bodies, boards and committees.
Citations:
Bossaert, Danielle (2008): Die Modernisierung der öffentlichen Verwaltung und des öffentlichen Dienstes im Großherzogtum Luxemburg in: Wolfgang H. Lorig (ed.): Moderne Verwaltung in der Bürgergesellschaft, Nomos Verlag, Baden-Baden, pp. 298 – 312.
New Zealand
In addition to formal coordination, there are a number of informal channels between coalition partners, government and legislative support parties (parliamentary rather than extra-parliamentary), and ministers and their parliamentary advisers. Although media commentary tends to not draw a distinction between formal coalitions (e.g., Labour/NZ First, 2017-present) and non-coalition support parties (e.g., Green Party, 2017-present), the Cabinet Manual seeks to at least formally clarify which procedures should be used as a guideline in case of informal coordination. It is important to mention, however, that the coordination process is largely limited to party leadership and excludes the extra-parliamentary wing of the party (i.e., party members, activists and officials).
Citations:
Cabinet Office Circular CO (17) 10, Labour-New Zealand First Coalition, with Confidence and Supply from the Green Party: Consultation and Operating Arrangements. December 17, 2017.https://dpmc.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2017-12/coc-17-10.pdf
Switzerland
Given the small size of the federal administration and the country’s tradition of informal coordination, there is a continuing presence of strong and effective informal coordination. According to Mavrot and Sager, informal coordination not only takes place among administrative units in the seven departments, but also between the respective administrations at the different federal levels.
Citations:
Mavrot, Céline, and Fritz Sager (2018). Vertical epistemic communities in multilevel governance. Policy & Politics, Volume 46, Number 3, pp. 391-407.
 
In most cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
8
Australia
Information coordination procedures exist at the level of the party, where informal consultations on policies take place on a regular basis to make sure that the party leadership supports the government’s direction. This occurs regardless of which party is in office. The federal system and the division of responsibilities between the federal government and the state and territory governments means that informal coordination is always an important component of any policy that may involve the states. These procedures are ad hoc, and take place at two levels, among ministers from different jurisdictions, and at the level of senior public servants.
Belgium
Belgian governments are typically broad coalition governments, and informal coordination mechanisms are indispensable to their operations.

The central unit of coordination – the inner cabinet or “kern” – is comprised of deputy prime ministers (one from each coalition party), and the prime minister. The kern meets regularly to negotiate any strategic decision not foreseen in the governmental agreement which arises due to changing circumstances or specific difficulties within the coalition. Further down the line, party leaders and party whips ensure policy coordination with other ministers, secretaries of states and members of parliament. This kind of coordination relies heavily on strong linkages between each deputy prime minister and his or her respective party leader, and on the ability of both to impose the compromises reached within the kern to their respective ministers/secretaries of state and parliamentary groups. This is most frequently the case, as strong party discipline normally prevails.

The functional logic of the kern was, however, shattered in December 2018. An international campaign against the signing of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration rendered further coordination impossible. While the government had initially agreed to sign the compact, the N-VA, the right-wing conservative member of the government, made a u-turn and declared it would vote against Belgium participating in the conference held in Morocco and voting to endorse it. The rest of the government, together with the left-wing opposition parties, instead decided to oppose what they viewed as the N-VA’s efforts to commit “blackmail.” The N-VA then withdrew from the government, which has since operated as a minority government with very little capacity to initiate proactive policymaking beyond daily management. Nonetheless, the kern system has been maintained with the remaining parties in government.

Legislative elections held in May 2019 delivered a strongly polarized parliament, with both the Flemish extreme right and the Walloon extreme left gaining seats. Popular movements in support of a faster “green transition” also stimulated green parties. This fractionalization of parliament has produced a deadlock and – so far – (November 2019) prevented a new federal government from being formed.
Chile
Informal coordination plays an important role in settling issues so that the cabinet can focus on strategic-policy debates. Existing informal mechanisms might be characterized as “formal informality,” as informal coordination mechanisms are de facto as institutionalized as formal ones in daily political practice.
Denmark
The Danish administrative system is a mix of formal rules and norms and more informal traditions. As a few examples, officials hold informal talks in the halls of government, over lunch and during travel to and from Brussels. The informal mechanisms can make formal meetings more efficient. Of course, important decisions must be confirmed in more formal settings. At the political level, informal mechanisms are probably more important than formal ones among officials. The fact that most governments have been coalition governments (and often minority governments) has increased the importance of information coordination mechanisms.
Citations:
Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen, Peter Munk Christiansen og Marius Ibsen, Politik og forvaltning, 4. udgave, Hans Reitzels Forlag, 2017.
France
A crucial factor and essentially an invisible coordination mechanism is the “old-boy network” of former students from the “grandes écoles” (École nationale d’administration (ENA), École Polytechnique, Mines, ParisTech, etc.) or membership in the same “grands corps” (prestigious bureaucracies such as Inspection générale des Finances, Diplomatie, Conseil d’Etat and so on). Most ministries (except perhaps the least powerful or those considered as marginal) include one or several persons from this high civil servant super-elite who know each other or are bound by an informal solidarity. These high civil servants (especially “énarques” from ENA) also work in the PMO or the president’s office, further strengthening this informal connection. The system is both efficient and not transparent, from a procedural point of view. It is striking, for instance, how much former President Hollande relied on people who were trained with him at ENA, and to whom he offered key positions in the political administration – ranging from ministerial positions or the chair of the central bank to many other high offices. President Macron has maintained these informal links.
Greece
Most coordination mechanisms are informal and complement the more meager formal coordination mechanisms, such as the infrequently convened cabinet and ministerial committees. Most informal mechanisms are ad hoc meetings among ministers convened at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Such meetings are followed up by person-to-person contacts between staff members of the PMO and advisers to ministers. In the review period, under pressure to complete the Third Economic Adjustment Program for Greece, informal coordination was frequent and organized by close associates of Prime Minister Tsipras (e.g., ministers without a portfolio) working at the PMO. Following the cabinet reshuffle of August 2018, at least three ministers were successively given such informal-coordination roles. The role of informal coordination was preserved after the government turnover of July 2019, as a deputy prime minister, one additional minister and one junior minister without portfolio were appointed to serve directly under the prime minister, and tasked with steering the government mechanism. Overall, the importance of informal coordination has increased over time.
Ireland
All governments in Ireland between 1989 and 2016 have been coalition governments. The 2016 general election produced a Fine Gael-led minority government with nine independent deputies, a government which is dependent on the abstentionism of the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, in votes relating to confidence and supply.

The impression conveyed by accounts of cabinet meetings is that the agenda is usually too heavy to allow long debates on fundamental issues, which tend to have been settled in various ways prior to the meeting. On the whole these informal coordination mechanisms appear to work effectively (see also Ministerial Bureaucracy on the importance on ministers’ special advisers).

During the 2011 to 2016 coalition government, the need for tight coordination was greater given that this government had to deal with the economic and financial crisis. An Economic Management Council (EMC) was introduced as a kind of “war cabinet.” It was composed of four key cabinet members: the taoiseach and tánaiste (the two party leaders) and the two key economic portfolios, the minister for finance and the minister for public expenditure (one from each party). The EMC also included these four ministers’ top officials and advisers, about 13 in total. The EMC was an inner cabinet that took key decisions – a level of formal tight coordination not previously seen in Ireland. Partly because the crisis had mainly passed, the EMC was discontinued after the 2016 election.
Citations:
The two most recent Annual Reports on the Programme for Government are available here:

http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Publications/Publications_2014/Programme_for_Government_Annual_Report_2014.pdf

http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Publications/Publications_2015/Programme_for_Government_Annual_Report_2015..pdf
Poland
Informal mechanisms of coordination have played an important role under the PiS government. PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has served as the gray eminence behind the scene. He makes many important decisions himself, and government ministers’ standing strongly depends upon their relationship with him. Prime Minister Morawiecki’s informal power has grown as both his public reputation and his personal relationship with Kaczyński have improved.
South Korea
Most interministerial coordination is both formal and informal in Korea. Informal coordination is typically, if not always, more effective. There is also a clear hierarchy structuring the ministries. Staffers at the newly created Ministry of Strategy and Finance see themselves as the elite among civil servants. However, the leading role of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance is defined by the president’s mandate.
In addition, informal coordination processes tend to be plagued by nepotism and regional or peer-group loyalties, particularly among high-school and university alumni. There has been both cooperation and competition between the ministries. Informal networks between the president and powerful politicians work very effectively to further specific policies. However, these practices can also lead to corruption and an inefficient allocation of resources. The Moon government has been criticized for working within relatively small networks of key staffers; moreover, in a number of cases of failed implementation, it has emerged that informal networks and coordination have overridden formal policy.
Citations:
Seungjoo Lee and Sang-young Rhyu, “The Political Dynamics of Informal Networks in South Korea: The Case of Parachute Appointment” (2008), the Pacific Review, 21(1): 45-66.
Spain
The relative weakness of formal coordination among ministry civil servants in Spain is to some extent compensated for by helpful informal procedures. When interministerial problems cannot be solved informal contacts, or meetings between officials of the various ministries involved are organized. Many policy proposals can in fact be coordinated in this fashion. As senior civil servants are clustered into different specialized bureaucratic corps, informal mechanisms rely often on the fact that officials involved in the coordination may belong to the same corps or share a network of old colleagues. Nevertheless, the existence of specialized corps tends to aggravate administrative fragmentation, since every corps tends to control a department according to its specialization. In this sense, the administration seems to follow a “silo” structure, in which each ministry, department, agency, organism or public entity follows its own operating logic. Within the cabinet, these informal mechanisms are less necessary, since the stable experience of single-party governments with strong prime ministers has up to this point required less coordination than would coalition cabinets. During the period under review, meetings of the heads of ministers’ private offices were introduced.
Citations:
Círculo de Empresarios (2018), La calidad de las instituciones en España. https://circulodeempresarios.org/app/uploads/2018/04/Calidad-insti-CdE-WEB.pdf
Sweden
Informal mechanisms of coordination among civil servants and higher-ranking politicians alike are common and important in the Swedish system, although they may not always be effective. And yet, informal contacts between departments and agencies are believed to be integral to the efficiency of the politico-administrative system. Informal coordination procedures effectively filter many, but not all, policy proposals.
Citations:
de Fine Licht, J. and J. Pierre (2017), Myndighetschefernas syn på regeringens styrning (Stockholm: Statskontoret).
UK
Informal coordination was a hallmark of the Labour governments under Tony Blair (1997 – 2007). However, informal coordination was reduced during the Labour government of Gordon Brown (2007 – 2010) and largely abolished under the coalition government (2010 – 2015), because of the need for avoiding tensions within the coalition.

Having returned to one-party government in May 2015, it was expected that informal forms of coordination would become more common again. Yet, the divisions within the governing Conservative Party, namely among senior ministers and party factions, over the United Kingdom’s future relations with the European Union complicated informal coordination, to a point of more or less open sabotage, that finally lead to the collapse of the May government. The rift within the Conservative Party even widened under May’s successor Boris Johnson.

Cabinet committee discussions are regularly preceded or accompanied by bilateral meetings of relevant ministers supported by senior officials across government. These will often be chaired by the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or by other senior ministers.
Citations:
Collaborative Civil Service: https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2016/04/28/a-model-for-a-more-collaborative-civil service-the-estate-strategy-in-action/
7
Canada
Some policy proposals are coordinated through informal mechanisms with government members or across levels of government.

It is worth noting that Canada’s federal system has no formal provisions that deal specifically with federal-provincial coordination. Pressing federal-provincial issues and other matters that require inter-governmental discussions are usually addressed in the First Ministers’ Conference, which includes the prime minister, provincial premiers and territorial leaders, along with their officials. These meetings are called by the prime minister and have typically been held annually, but there is no formal schedule. The lack of any requirement for the conference to be held regularly is cause for concern, as it is critical for first ministers and the prime minister to engage in face-to-face discussions or negotiations, given the many policy areas that demand federal-provincial coordination. The latest First Ministers’ Conference, held in 2018, revealed deep interprovincial and federal-provincial rifts, ranging from the quarrel between Alberta and British Columbia on the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion, provincial resistance to the carbon tax and the debate over immigration to the persistence of interprovincial trade barriers.

To promote provincial-territorial cooperation and coordinate provincial-territorial relations with the federal government, provincial premiers and territorial leaders have met at the Council of the Federation twice a year since 2003.
Estonia
Informal coordination has played an important role in ensuring efficient policymaking. In addition to contacts between high-ranking civil servants in ministries, the coalition committee and governing bodies of political parties have been key players in this regard. Getting support from coalition partners is generally the first step in successfully passing legislation.
Iceland
There is evidence that informal cooperation between ministers outside of formal cabinet meetings is increasing. These cooperative ministerial clusters were referred to in the Special Investigation Committee’s 2010 report as “super-ministerial groups.” The SIC report pointed out that examples of such cooperation immediately after the 2008 economic collapse demonstrated a need for clear rules on reporting what is discussed and decided in such informal meetings.

The SIC report also identified a tendency to move big decisions and important cooperative discussions into informal meetings between the chairmen of the ruling coalition parties. In March 2016, revised regulations on the procedures for cabinets were introduced but this only addresses formal cabinet meetings and not informal ministerial meetings. Therefore, we can conclude that the SIC report’s call for clearer regulation has been addressed in part. However, informal meetings continue without proper reporting.
Citations:
The SIC report from 2010. Chapter 7. (Aðdragandi og orsakir falls Íslensku bankanna 2008 og tengdir atburðir (7). Reykjavík. Rannsóknarnefnd Alþingis).

Reglur um starfshætti ríkisstjórnar. Nr. 292/2016. 18. mars 2016. (Rules on procedures in cabinets).
Latvia
A coalition council that represents the political parties forming the governing coalition meets for weekly informal consultations. Despite its regular meetings with formal agendas, the council is not a part of the official decision-making process. Given that cabinet meetings are open to the press and public, coalition-council meetings provide an opportunity for off-the-record discussions and coordination. The council plays a de facto gatekeeping function for controversial issues, deciding when there is enough consensus to move issues to the cabinet. The coalition council can play both a complementary role, creating an enabling environment for consensus-building, and a destructive role, undermining the legitimacy of the official decision-making process.

Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the coalition council has made it a controversial institution. “Who Owns the State?” – a populist party that won the second-largest share of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary election – promised to eliminate the coalition council. Indeed, the government coalition formed in January 2018 no longer has a coalition council to coordinate its political work. Instead, a new collaboration council, with similar functions, has been created.
Lithuania
Formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination still dominate the decision-making process, despite the emergence of new informal coordination mechanisms and practices at the central level of government. Political councils are created to solve political disagreements within the ruling coalition. In addition, the leadership of political parties represented in the government is often involved in the coordination of political issues. Informal meetings are sometimes called to coordinate various issues at the administrative or political level. Since the Skvernelis government decided at the end of 2018 to make all government meetings public (official government sessions had already been public before this decision), cabinet ministers have more frequently engaged in informal policy discussions.

Furthermore, the 2012 to 2016 government planned to develop a senior civil service stratum, which could actively engage in policy coordination at the managerial level. However, these politically sensitive provisions were later withdrawn from subsequent drafts of the Civil Service Law. New civil service legislation adopted in 2018 did not establish a higher civil service. In addition, by making ministerial chancellors into political appointees, Lithuanian authorities have further politicized the ministry administrations.
Malta
The government tendency toward informal coordination mechanisms has increased since Malta joined the European Union in 2004. Many directives from Brussels cut across departments and ministries, and ministries have to talk to and work more closely together. Preparations for the EU presidency in January 2017 and the actions taken during the presidency itself raised this informal coordination to unprecedented levels. Government longevity has also helped to strengthen this informal consultation process. As senior managers remain in their place, they build networks which they can employ informally. This also applies at ministerial levels. Informal consultation also takes place within party structures, since these are seen as a link to the grassroots level.
Norway
Cabinet ministers meet frequently and keep in close touch with one other on issues of policy. Efforts have been made to encourage cross-ministerial relationships on the level of lower officials as well. There is extensive informal coordination between cabinet and parliamentary committees and party organizations.
Portugal
Informal coordination mechanisms are central to government functioning and coordination. The horizontal informal links between ministries help compensate for the absence or rigidity of formal horizontal linkages. Informal coordination became even more important as the Socialist Party government depended on the PCP and BE to pass legislation during the 2015 – 2019 legislature. It appears likely that this pattern will continue under the new government formed in late October 2019.
Slovenia
Slovenia’s tradition of coalition governments has meant that informal coordination procedures have played a significant role in policy coordination. In the period under review, the leaders of the five coalition parties met frequently, making major decisions at coalition meetings that were often also attended by the ministers and from time to time also by the leaders of parliamentary majority groups and coalition members of parliament. There were also regular meetings between the coalition and their outside supporting partner Levica (The Left). In press conferences and public statements after these meetings, very little information about the decisions made was provided to the public. The dominant role of the party leaders within their parties also meant that a considerable amount of policy coordination took place in party bodies.
Netherlands
Very little is actually known about informal coordination at the (sub-)Council of Ministers level regarding policymaking and decision-making. The best-known informal procedure used to be the “Torentjesoverleg,” in which the prime minister and a core members of the Council of Ministers consulted with the leaders of the political parties supporting the coalition in the Prime Minister’s Office (“Het Torentje”). Although sometimes considered objectionable – as it appears to contradict the ideal of dualism between the executive and the legislative – coalition governments cannot survive without this kind of high-level political coordination between the government and the States General. Given the weak parliamentary support held by the Rutte I and II councils of ministers (October 2010 – February 2017), such informal coordination is no longer limited to political parties providing support to the governing coalition.

Under the present conditions, in which civil servants are subject to increasing parliamentary and media scrutiny, and in which gaps in trust and loyalty between the political leadership and the bureaucracy staff are growing, informal coordination and the personal chemistry among civil servants are what keeps things running. Regarding interministerial coordination, informal contacts between the senior staff (raadadviseurs) in the prime minister’s Council of Ministers and senior officers working for ministerial leadership are absolutely crucial. Nonetheless, such bureaucratic coordination is undermined by insufficient or absent informal political coordination.
Citations:
R.B. Andeweg and G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 154-163, 198-203, 220-228.

S. Jilke et al., Public Sector Reform in the Netherlands: Views and Experiences from Senior Executives, COCOPS Research Report, 2013

M. van Weezel and T. Broer, Max en Thijs over de premier: het geheim van politiek trapezewerker en ‘nat zeepje’ Mark Rutte (Vrij Nederland, vn.nl, accessed 8 November 2019)
USA
The U.S. government is highly prone to informal coordination, relying on personal networks, constituency relationships and other means. As with formal processes, the effectiveness of such coordination is adversely affected by underdeveloped working relationships resulting from the short-term service of political appointees. The overall or average performance of informal coordination mechanisms has not been systematically evaluated. The Trump administration’s lack of experienced personnel in key agency positions leads to an increased role for informal coordination, often based on various personal networks, such as people connected with Trump’s family or businesses. These arrangements, however, are not sufficiently developed to make up for the lack of personnel and organization in the departments and agencies. The executive branch under Trump has seen calamitous failures of coordination – for example, in the failure to provide timely disaster assistance after a devastating 2017 hurricane in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and the failure to provide effectively for the humane custody of more than 2,000 children seized in 2018 from asylum-seeking parents at the Mexican border. These failures of coordination, however, largely reflect general problems of understaffing and lack of competent leadership in the departments and agencies in the Trump presidency.
6
Austria
Previous coordination mechanisms – like weekly informal meetings within each cabinet faction and the cabinet as a whole, as well as the regular informal meetings between the chancellor and vice-chancellor – were sufficiently effective. They did not guarantee a smooth decision-making process based on consensus, but did allow the cabinet to make a realistic assessment of what collective decisions were possible or impossible. Informal coordination mechanisms were used to negotiate a compromise when a proposal from one party’s minister was unacceptable to the other coalition party.

The most effective form of informal coordination within the new government seems to be regular, but not formalized meetings between the chancellor and vice-chancellor. During 2018, the first year of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government – before the coalition imploded in 2019 – this pattern obviously worked given that no conflicts between the two coalition partners or between different ministers became public. Only at the end of the coalition – after the FPÖ tried to save the coalition by sacrificing its chairman (and vice-chancellor), Strache, following the “Ibiza scandal” – did informal coordination between the two partners collapse.
Czechia
Informal coordination mechanisms have featured prominently in Czech political culture. Like its predecessor, the Babiš government depends on a coalition agreement, which includes agreements on policies as well as coordination mechanisms. Fundamental issues are addressed at the level of the chairmen of the coalition parties or the coalition council. The coalition council consists of the chairpersons of the coalition parties and a maximum of three other representatives of the respective coalition parties. Coordination mechanisms at the level of parliamentary and senatorial clubs are also important. Moreover, the coalition partners also maintain expert commissions consisting of members and party supporters. Because the Babiš government relies on support from the Communist Party (KSČM), it must also take the latter’s reactions into account even though it is not a formal coalition partner. President Zeman is often personally engaged in negotiating Communists support for governmental policies. In fall 2019, the president also personally appeared in the Chamber of Deputies to elicit support for the 2020 budget.
Germany
There are a number of informal mechanisms by which government policy is coordinated. The most important of these is the coalition committee, which comprises the most important actors (the chancellor, the vice chancellor, the chairpersons of the parliamentary groups and the party chairpersons) within the coalition parties. According to the recent coalition agreement from 2017, the coalition committee is expected to meet regularly, or can be convened at the request of any of the coalition partners. The coalition committee deals with the most controversial issues, typically yielding decisions based on the lowest common denominator.
 
In some cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
5
Bulgaria
Given the tendency of the Bulgarian political system to produce coalition governments, informal coordination mechanisms have played a vital role in interministerial coordination. The rules of coordination between government coalition parties or parties supporting the government are traditionally not communicated to the public. In 2019, informal coordination within the governing coalition was complicated by the fact that the junior partner, a coalition of three nationalistic parties, had de facto fallen apart, with its three leaders engaging in severe and public attacks on one another. This has forced Prime Minister Borissov to rely on purely ad hoc tactics in every specific decision-making context.
Israel
Israel’s government system is greatly influenced by informal coordination mechanisms, such as coalition obligations and internal party politics. However, due to its highly fragmented party system, it is hard to determine whether they support or undermine formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination. While coordination between like-minded parties may be made easier by the situation, fragmentation may result in stagnation over disputed policies.
Citations:
“Annual report 61 for the year 2010: Treatment of prolonged interministerial disagreements,” The State Comptroller office website (Hebrew)

Blander, Dana and Ben Nur, Gal, “Governmental coalitions: A steering mechanism in the political system,” in The political system in Israel 2013: http://www.idi.org.il/ספרים-ומאמרים/הוצאה-לאור/הספרים/הספרייה-לדמוקרטיה/המערכת-הפוליטית-בישראל (Hebrew).

“Coalition management,” the Knesset website: http://main.knesset.gov.il/About/Lexicon/Pages/coalition-management.aspx (Hebrew)

Rivlin, Reuven, “The intellectual independency of the Knesset member: the limit of the coalition obligation,” The Israel Democracy Institute (December 2010) (Hebrew).
Italy
Under the first Conte government, meetings between the president of the council and the two main political leaders, deputy prime ministers Di Maio and Salvini, acquired increased importance. But these were often hastily convened upon the eruption of an internal conflict. This coordination mechanism did not work smoothly, as the leaders of the two coalition parties were often busy conducting political campaigns. This often produced poorly prepared decisions that later needed to be corrected. This pattern has continued under the second Conte government.
Mexico
A number of informal mechanisms for coordinating policy exist, and given the lack of “formal” coordination capabilities within the Mexican administration, informal coordination often functions as a substitute. This is normal in a presidential system where only a few cabinet secretaries have independent political bases. Ministers retain their positions, for the most part, at the will of the president. It is important to note, however, that some cabinet secretaries are more equal than others. Since his election, President López Obrador has dominated Mexican politics, with interministerial coordination in the hands of the presidency.
Turkey
Informal bodies, which are usually made up of senior party members and their personal networks, are typically used to sketch the framework of an issue in consultation with experts, while civil servants develop proposals, and finally the upper administrative echelons finalize policy. The higher levels of the ruling party in particular, in cooperation with ministers who have considerable experience in their fields, continue to form a tight network and contribute significantly to policy preparation.


As of 1 August 2018, several coordination committees and boards, presidential policy councils and other public institutions were established in association with the presidency. During the review period, observers have publicly pointed to the need for coordination mechanisms between the ministries, parliament and the AKP. The president appears to make use of an informal coordination network but exactly how it works is not clear.
Citations:
Z.Sobacı et al.,Turkey’s New Government Model and the Presidential Organization, SETA Perspective No. 45, July 2018.
M. Turan, “Türkiye’nin Yeni Yönetim Düzeni: Cumhurbaşkanlığı Hükümet Sistemi,” Social Sciences Research Journal, 7(3), 2018: 42-91. http://dergipark.gov.tr/download/article-file/524784 (accessed 1 November 2018)
4
Croatia
Informal coordination both between the coalition partners and between different party factions in the HDZ has played an important role in interministerial coordination under the Plenković government. The strong reliance on decisions in coalition meetings or party bodies has helped maintain the tradition of keeping strategic decisions and policy coordination largely within the political parties’ ambit, preventing the development of more formal and transparent mechanisms of policy coordination or a strengthening of the public administration’s role.
Cyprus
A practice of informal meetings exists but has been infrequently utilized. During the post-2010 economic difficulties, more formal meetings took place than before. In the period under review, we noted an increased number of ad hoc formal meetings, in particular with political parties, for important issues, such as migration, refugees and general reforms.
Slovakia
Informal coordination has played a significant, yet ambivalent role in policy coordination. On the one hand, the Pellegrini government has sought to complement the formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination through a complex system of coalition councils, meetings and agreements. On the other hand, former prime minister Robert Fico has frequently tried to undermine coalition compromises by capitalizing on his power within Smer-SDS. As a result, the governing coalition went through a number of coordination crises in the period under review. In late 2018, Smer-SD and SNS opposed Slovakia joining the U.N. Global Migration Compact, which had been approved by the country in July 2018 when Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák served as president of the U.N. General Assembly. In October 2019, the Pellegrini government withdrew a healthcare reform, which had already been approved by the cabinet, but was opposed by Fico. Also in October 2019, Smer-SD and SNS ignored opposition from their coalition partner, and the concerns of Prime Minister Pellegrini and other senior cabinet figures to join forces with the far-right opposition party ĽSNS to pass a bill prolonging the moratorium on the publication of pre-election opinion polls.
3
Romania
In addition to the formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination, there has been an informal coordination of the government’s work by PSD chef Liviu Dragnea, the “éminence grise” of the PSD governments. Barred from becoming prime minister himself by a criminal conviction, Dragnea has been keen on preventing prime ministers to act in too independent a manner. In January 2018, he toppled Prime Minister Mihai Tudose, barely seven months after his predecessor Sorin Grindeanu had suffered the same fate. Thus, the informal coordination within the governing party has tended to undermine rather than complement the formal coordination mechanisms within government. Since his imprisonmnet in May 2019, however, Dragnea’s control over the PSD and the Dăncilă government has weakened.
 
Informal coordination mechanisms tend to undermine rather than complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
2
---
---
1
---
---
Back to Top