WESTERN EUROPE: The Trouble with Coalitions

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In most Western European nations these days, no party commands an absolute majority, and most must rule by coalition. The net effect of coalitions is usually to dull debates, to narrow ambitions and to blunt the cutting edge of bold politics. Rivalries that would otherwise be threshed out in the open, are fought out instead inside Cabinet meetings. Cabinets fall unexpectedly and new ones must be formed. Examples of these processes at work last week:

Finland. A coalition of five non-Communist parties—the 19th government since World War II—was forced out by internal bickering and pressure from outside. Finland's big neighbor, the Soviet Union, recalled its ambassador, and played hard-to-get in trade talks with the Finns in a bald attempt to force a less conservative regime. The Communists, who hold 50 seats in a 200-seat Parliament, now hold something of a balance of power among the squabbling nonCommunists.

The Netherlands. Premier Willem Drees and his Labor Party (Socialists), who hold 50 out of 150 seats in Parliament, wanted to extend last year's higher taxes for two more years. The Catholic People's Party (49 seats) partner of the Socialists for twelve years, wanted a one-year extension. Down went Drees.

Iceland. The leftist coalition fell apart on methods to halt the rising cost of living and to solve a wage dispute in the important fishing industry (the Minister of Fisheries and Trade is a Communist, and most of the fish is sold to Russia). Non-Communist Premier Hermann Jonasson wanted a one-month wage-and-price freeze; the Communist-led Labor Alliance objected, and the dispute has left Iceland with no government for two weeks.

Italy. Left-of-Center Christian Democratic Premier Amintore Fanfani was the victim of an old Italian parliamentary game he used to be very familiar with. He lost two votes on minor issues because right-wing members of his own party voted in secret against him. He called for an open vote of confidence, won it by eight votes. At the first opportunity to vote in secret again—a bill on wholesale food regulations—he lost again last week. By these methods a Premier may survive for a time, but his authority is severely weakened. One day he falls.