Yesterday’s post about the foreign visits of the Lithuanian president made me think about another article I had read. This was an article about the Finnish president and the fact that he was attending the NATO summit in Chicago. Given the Finnish president is now a symbolic figure, though, admittedly, with more legitimacy in foreign affairs than any other area, it was interesting that he was attending such an important summit.
Anyway, I checked the Wikipedia site for the summit and it gives a list of heads of state and government who attended. Obviously, the presidents of presidential countries attended and the prime ministers of parliamentary countries attended, but who attended for semi-presidential countries?
Part of the answer is easy. For semi-presidential countries with a strong presidency, the president attended (Azerbaijan, Armenia, France, Georgia, Romania, Ukraine). For semi-presidential countries with a figurehead presidency the prime minister usually attended (Croatia, Iceland, Ireland, Slovenia). Part of the answer, though, is more complicated. For a couple of semi-presidential countries with a very weak president the president still attended (Finland and Slovakia). For some semi-presidential countries where the president is more than a figurehead but where the Prime Minister is generally the more powerful figure, the president attended (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey). Finally, for one country in this latter category the prime minister attended (Portugal).
So, there is no obvious pattern. Presumably, the answer should be constitutional. For example, in Finland, even though the president is now very weak, Art. 93 still states that the “foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government.” So, whereas the PM is clearly responsible for EU policy, there is a reason why the president should go to a NATO summit. Equally, in Romania, even though there is a period of cohabitation at the moment, the president has clear powers in terms of foreign and defence policy. So, it is natural that he should go. There is some information on constitutional powers in foreign policy topic in Tapio Raunio’s article in Journal of European Public Policy, 19:4, pp. 567-584, 2012.
However, the case of Croatia is interesting. Even though the president of Croatia is a figurehead, Art. 94 of the constitution of Croatia states that the “President of the Republic is responsible for the defense of independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia”; Art. 99 states among other things that the “President of the Republic and the Government of the Republic of Croatia shall cooperate in the formulation and execution of foreign policy”; Art. 100 states that the “President of the Republic is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia”; and Art. 101 also gives more details of the president’s powers in time of war. If you were the President of Croatia, this would probably be enough for you to insist on attending. And yet, the PM attended and, I suspect, without any presidential protest.
Moreover, previously there have been disputes in countries such as Poland and Slovakia as to whether the president should attend equivalent summits.
So, while the constitution holds some of the answer, my guess is that power politics matters as well. If anyone has any more systematic answers, or any country experiences to reveal, then please feel free to comment.