Comment by Dr Ingo Friedrich

Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Kaczinski, the presidential candidate Le Pen and other Heads of State or Government aim to be strong or even authoritarian leaders of their countries without their actions being “disturbed” by the “perpetual” palaver in parliaments or independent media. The dispute about the way of governmental exercise of power will therefore be at the centre of future constitutional discussions: Which kind of governmental separation of power increases the chances for long-term stability and prosperity, and which forms do maybe create the impression of efficient governance, but turn out to be unsuccessful in the long run.  

The first historically defined separation of power in history happened 2000 years ago and stems from Jesus Christ himself, who with his remark “give the emperor what is the emperor’s and God what is God’s” practically decreed the separation of state and church. This first separation of tasks, by now mostly internalised and practiced by the western world, is of central significance for a successful political system. But it is exactly this separation of power which still lies ahead for the Islamic world that is one of the big hurdles on the path to an Islam that is compatible with the modern world.  

The next important separation of power stems from the French expert of constitutional law, Montesquieu, and divides the powers of state in the three branches of the judiciary, the executive and the legislative power.  This form of governmental separation of power has also been proven in the western world and by now is considered the generally accepted model. However, there are some gross attempts to deviate from this even here in the West, considering the most recent developments in Poland and Hungary and their attempted limitation of constitutional jurisdiction. The adherence to the rules of separation of power requires time, nerves and mastering complexity, while “governing through” without long debates in parliament seem to be oh so efficient.  Faced with the lack of clarity and the speed of change in the world of the 21st century, many people seem to develop a longing for simplicity with clear and fast political decisions by specially predestined “chosen” leadership personalities. 

But a sober historical analysis of reality shows that even charismatic, autocratic and highly gifted leadership personalities have a tendency to make gross errors if there is no counter control by parliament and the judiciary. Think only of the failure of dozens of European dictators or South American “Caudillos”, ranging from Perón to Castro to Chaves and Stroessner. Experience quite clearly teaches us: Only with the exchange between the separated powers of state including a critical media the likelihood increases that larger mistakes are prevented.

The next step in separation of power developed in the reverberation of the reformation by one Martin Luther and manifested itself in the freedom of religion. Only freedom of religion freed the people from the claim of monopoly to be the “one and only true” church. The acceptance of thus further form of “separation of powers” is also still ahead for the Islam.

Finally, today historically another new form of regional separation of powers is added:  Because the classical national states are often overburdened with mastering current challenges, the cooperation with neighbouring states is gaining increasing importance.  Concrete consequence of this new “separation of powers” is a partial surrender of sovereignty to higher mutual institutions or at least the joint exercise of governmental power.  

In conclusion one can say: Historically several steps of evolved models of separation of powers have developed throughout the centuries that have proven themselves in political practice.  In this sense the founding of the European Union also proves to be the logical adoption of historical experiences with intelligent forms of separation of powers of state. Thus the European Union lies as much within the logic of historical experiences as the fact that authoritarian leaders make more mistakes than systems of state with functioning control mechanisms.