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   Course Title    Western European Politics
Lecturer    Vahur Made
Institution    Estonian School of Diplomacy
Country    Estonia


May 21-25, 16.30-20.00, (ESD Lecture Room)

May 26, 10.00-13.30, (ESD Lecture Room)


Before taking this course a student has to pass the following courses:
  • Political Theories and Systems
  • Theories of International Relations
  • Cold War History


Students will be graded on the basis of:
  • participation in the classes (20% ,
  • an essay (50%)
  • and the written test (30%).

Aims and Objectives of the Course

The aim of the course is twofold. First, it will focus on the key concepts and models of comparative politics. Some of the classical writings of Arend Lijphart are used as the basis for the further analysis during the course. The second aim is to make the students familiar with the political institutions (constitutional design, center-region relations, party systems, parliaments, president’s and prime minister’s institutions) of the major countries of the Western European region - Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. The similarities and differences of the political systems of those countries are addressed by using the concepts and theories discussed in the course.

After completing the course students are expected to understand the national patterns of policy making in the most influential Western European countries and to be able to see and create links between theoretical concepts and daily political developments.

Role of the Course in the Overall Curriculum

The Western European Politics is an optional course, parallel with the Central and Eastern European Politics, in of the European Studies module of ESD’s study plan. It constitutes an addition to the compulsory course European Political Integration and gives the regional aspect to the study of European integration theories, institutional build-up and politics.

Lectures and Seminars

The course is divided between 6 lectures and 6 seminars. Lectures provide an introduction to the subject and literature as well as give instructions as to writing the essay.

Seminars are discussion forums concentrated around given topics. In some cases students are asked to give an oral presentation (15-20 min) followed by the group discussion.

Written Paper and the Test

Each student is supposed to write an essay on a topic within the range of Western European politics (800-1000 words). In the beginning of the course the teacher will discuss the theme and literature of the essay individually with each student. The theme can touch upon an aspect of a political system in a particular country or a comparative approach of a particular subject area within the field.

The test is a 30-question multiple-choice test. The questions are based on the factology of the institutional setting of the major Western European countries.

Course Outline

Two weeks prior to the course:

Students are given syllabus, the list of readings and proposed essay topics.

Lecture 1, May 21, 16.30-18.00. – General introduction

Structure of the course: topics of the lectures and seminars, instructions for essay writing and the test (duplicated by handouts)*.

What is comparative politics: the subject and methodology.

Comparative Western European politics: issues and countries covered by the course.

* - Essay topics will be finally confirmed on May 22, at 16.00. Essay deadline May 25, at 16.00.

Seminar 1, May 21, 18.30-20.00 – Arend Lijphart and comparative political systems’ theories

Introduction to the works of Arend Lijphart and his critics. Key issue: is contemporary European integration going to challenge the classical views on political systems?


Almond,G.A. Comparative Political Systems. / Journal of Politics, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1956. Pp. 391-409.

Lijphart,A. Typologies of Democratic Systems. / Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1968. Pp. 3-44.

Lijphart,A. Democratic Political Systems: Types, Cases, Causes and Consequences. / Journal of Theoretical Politics, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1989. Pp. 33-48.

Lecture 2, May 22, 16.30-18.00 – Germany I

An overall view of German domestic policies after the Second World War. Political power and the Bundestag elections since 1949.

German constitution and the role of Constitutional Court in German politics. Electoral system.

Lecture 3, May 22, 18.30-20.00 – Germany II

German party system. Parliament. The role of Federal Chancellor and the Länder in German politics.

Lecture 4, May 23, 16.30-18.00 – United Kingdom

The tradition of British political system. Constitutional acts. Electoral system. Party system. The inter-relationship of Parliament and Prime Minister.

Seminar 2, May 23, 18.30-20.00 – Comparison of Germany and the United Kingdom

Two main aspects will be compared. electoral systems and the legislative/executive relationships. The key issues are: does Britain need a major reform of the electoral system? Is the strong executive a prerequisite to stable political system?


Jones,B. Reforming the Electoral System. / In: Political Issues in Britain Today. Ed. By Bill Jones. Manchester University Press, 1999. Pp. 42-61.

Hurd,D. The Present Usefulness of the House of Commons. / In: Political Issues in Britain Today. Ed. By Bill Jones. Manchester University Press, 1999. Pp. 62-70.

Clemens,C. The Chancellor as Manager. / West European Politics, No. 4, 1994. Pp. 28-51.

Recommended reading:

Smith,G. The Resources of the German Chancellor. / West European Politics, No. 2, 1991. Pp. 48-61.

Lecture 5, May 24, 16.30-18.00 – France

Tradition of French political system and the role of constitution. The Constitution of the 5th Republic. Electoral system. Referendums. Dual executive and cohabitation. Party system. Parliament.

Seminar 3, May 24, 18.30-20.00 – Presidents, prime ministers and parties of the 5th Republic.

Key issue: French Left and Right: accommodating to the permanent cohabitation?


Elgie,R., Griggs,S. French Politics: Debates and Controversies. Routledge, 2000. Pp. 26-48.

Berstein,S. The Crisis of the Left and the Renaissance of the Republican Model, 1981-1995. / In: The Mitterrand Years: Legacy and Evaluation. Ed. by Mairi MacLean. MacMillan, 1998. Pp. 46-65.

Recommended reading:

Shields,J. France’s Presidential Election: The Gaullist Restoration. / The Political Quarterly, Vol. 66, 1995. Pp. 320-327.

Lecture 6, May 25, 16.30-18.00 – Italy

The Constitution of 1948. Political institutions until 1993 (electoral system, party system, president, prime minister, parliament, legislative/executive relations).

Political change of the 1990s. Reform of the electoral system. Plans to reform the Constitution. General elections of 1994 and 1996. Changing party system.

Lecture 7, May 25, 18.30-20.00 – Spain

Spanish politics after Franco. Constitution. Electoral system. Parties and elections. Parliament. The king and the prime minister. Regions.

Seminar 4, May 26, 16.30-18.00 – Changing party systems of Italy and Spain

Key issue: what is the force behind a party system change?


Buffacchi,V. The Coming of Age of Italian Democracy. / Government and Opposition, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1996.

Amodia, J. Spain at the Polls: The General Elections of 3 March 1996. / West European Politics, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1996.

Recommended reading:

Donovan,M. The 1994 Election in Italy: Normalisation or Continuing Exceptionalism? / West European Politics, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1994.

Seminar 5, May 26, 16.30-18.00 – Comparing West European party politics

Seminar focuses on the common trends which can be observed in Western European party systems generally. Notice is given to the ideological rapprochement of the Left and the Right and the rise of the Green, national and regional parties.

No reading.

Test, May 15, 17.00.

Final results May 25 on homepage.

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