Leading political writer Timothy Garton Ash presents his ten principles for “robust civility” in a digital age

Oxford Professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash presented his ten principles to help navigate the promise and perils of the digital age at Wolfson College earlier this week, at a lecture organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society in collaboration with the Faculty of Philosophy.

The Constitutional Court of Poland: The Battle for Judicial Independence

Constitutional Court of Poland

In this policy brief, human rights and criminal lawyer Mikołaj Pietrzak argues that Poland's ruling party is implementing a programme of deep constitutional, social, and political change, including limitations on the role of the judiciary, which poses a threat to the constitutionally enshrined separation of powers in the fledgling democracy.

A former Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Polish Bar Council, the author contends that the Law and Justice Party, through a series of statutes relating to the functioning of the Constitutional Court and the process of appointing new judges, has managed to undermine the position and legal stability of the Court.

Moreover, in its refusal to publish crucial judgments of the Constitutional Court (without legal authority to do so), the government has raised the threat of dualism in the Polish legal system, which in turn presents a serious threat to the protection of rights and freedoms of Polish citizens.

The policy brief details the political and legal changes occurring in Poland in recent years, and suggests that, despite resistance from within the judicial system and popular protests, the continued independence of the judiciary may only be secured through the combined efforts of internal and international actors. 

The Authoritarian's New Clothes: Tendencies Away from Constitutional Democracy

In this policy brief, constitutional law and human rights expert Gábor Tóth examines the changing face of authoritarianism, warning that this could become known as the century of authoritarianism as a result of the institutional erosion of democracies around the world.

The author argues that modern populist leaders have increasingly sought to impose authoritarian rule under the façade of constitutionalism, legitimizing themselves through popular elections and referenda. Yet these seemingly democratic constitutional norms are merely protective camouflage, designed to create systematic advantages for the incumbents.

Toth examines the typical tactics of the modern authoritarian leader, including:

  • fierce control of elections;
  • harsh constraints imposed on rival political parties and civil society;
  •  the erosion of institutional checks and balances within the legislature and judiciary;
  • curtailing civil liberties and freedom of the press;
  • and introducing arbitrary emergency measures by invoking threats posed by financial crisis or terrorism.

In a wide-ranging indictment of regimes across five continents including the cases of Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland, Toth shows that, when a populist leader gains concentrated power, referendums and reshaped constitutions are increasingly being manipulated to present a façade of democracy that cloaks purely authoritarian aspirations.

The policy brief concludes with the prospects for the culture of constitutional democracy currently in peril, which, it is argued, depend not only on institutional checks and balances but also on the dynamic of a strong civil society to recognize the authoritarian’s new clothes and resist these efforts to invoke the will of the people, only in order to oppress them.

FLJS partners with Centre for Turkish Studies to debate President Erdoğan's "high-stakes gamble" constitutional referendum

Last week, we partnered with the Centre for Turkish Studies (CEFTUS) to convene a forum to discuss the constitutional referendum in Turkey that would decide far-reaching reforms to the constitution and consolidate President Erdoğan’s hold on power.

What Is at Stake in the Turkish Constitutional Referendum?

In this launch event for the FLJS Policy Brief What Is at Stake in the Turkish Constitutional Referendum?, the author Dr Bill Kissane will assess the prospects for a free and fair vote in the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum, which could see President Erdoğan further entrench his authoritarian hold on power following the failed military coup of 2016. 

The Constitution of the French Fifth Republic and the Implications for the 2017 Presidential Elections

In this Policy Brief, Professor of French Government and Politics David S Bell analyses the French presidential election and the constitution of the French Fifth Republic. He charts the extraordinary fall from grace of Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon, following the scandal known as 'Penelopegate', in which he allegedly paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for little or no work. 

Professor Bell argues that the rise of populist movements in the form of the far right Marine Le Pen's Front national party is seen as the
primary threat to stability in France and in Europe.

The policy brief assesses the prospects not only of the respective presidential candidates, but also the balance of power between the president and the National Assembly, the latter of which is the ultimate source of authority according to the constitution.

Consequently, Professor Bell forecasts that the constitution may become a contested issue in the months to come, and that, whichever candidate wins the election, they are likely to face a divided Assembly, which could in turn lead to a dissolution of the Assembly and a snap general election. In any event, the presidential elections on 23rd April are likely to be just the beginning of a long process of political and constitutional contestation.

What Is at Stake in the Turkish Constitutional Referendum?

In this policy brief, Dr Bill Kissane of LSE examines the Turkish referendum on the most ambitious changes to the Turkish constitution yet seen, which was called in the aftermath of the failed military coup of 2016.

If passed, the referendum will allow President Erdoğan to dissolve the parliament and to declare a state of emergency.

The policy brief outlines the passing of a consensual approach to constitution-making, and views the changes as part of a process of partisan entrenchment, under which the dominant AK party has gradually gained control of state institutions in Turkey.

Dr Kissane argues that the polarized and violent conditions that now exist in the country may threaten the prospect of a free and fair vote on the changes.

The policy brief places the dynamics of the complex constitutional amendment in the context of a polarized party system and assesses:

  • The failure of the consensus approach in Turkey.
  • President Erdoğan’s desire to codify the executive power he already exercises.
  • The divergent attitudes of the political parties to the current proposals.
  • Fears that the changes will create a presidential system without effective checks and balances.
  • The origins of what may be a system of pure majoritarian rule in Turkey.