Countries that function despite having no government

Northern Ireland is the latest case of a country that has been operating for months without a government.

At the heart of any modern democracy is the idea that leaders must be elected to govern.

But in the face of cases such as Germany and Northern Ireland, which begin without their leaders having been able to form an executive, the question arises: do we really need the politicians?

Long ago, the Northern Irish found themselves without a government after the country’s senior deputy minister resigned amidst a controversy over the management of an energy programme.

The resulting decline in trust between the nationalists in government and the unionist parties shows no sign of being resolved.

Since the adoption of any law requires the support of both sides, activity has been kept to a minimum in the Stormont Assembly, the Ulster Parliament.

The blockade in the Stormont Parliament has forced the budget to be approved from London.

The budget of this British autonomous territory has had to be approved from London and the day-to-day decisions on the transferred powers are being taken by officials and not by political leaders.

Such a situation might seem extraordinary, but the lack of political leadership has not led to a collapse of public services and the people are continuing with their normal duties.

And, as Northern Ireland is by no means exceptional, cynics might wonder if there is any point in having a government, considering that we apparently function so well without them.

Germany, for example, has not had a government since last September’s federal elections, which left an inconclusive political picture.

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Although talks to find a solution began last Sunday, it could be months before the new ministers take office.

In Belgium, a record long period of government was set after a dispute between Flemish and Walloon leaders led to 589 days of political deadlock.

Broken countries

It is not difficult to find other examples outside Europe.

Somalia was without anything that could be called a government for 15 years between the 1990s and 2000, a time when the country was torn apart by tribal militias, pirate clans and Islamic extremists.

And Iraq was in a similar situation for much of 2010, prompting fears that insurgents might exploit the blockade and take advantage of the reduced U.S. military deployment.

The announced democratic elections in Somalia never took place.

But what does it mean to lack government in a stable and advanced state, where the consequences are less profound?

In Germany, politics is able to continue while “acting ministers”, an extended budget in force and local and regional governments, which are immediately responsible for policy implementation, ensure normalcy.

The country continues to be represented in the institutions of the European Union (EU).

In any case, there are at least three profoundly negative consequences.

Firstly, without proper parliamentary or political scrutiny, there is a risk that someone will inadvertently implement major decisions.

Germany’s acting Minister of Agriculture, Christian Schmidt, caused a stir in his country when he voted in the EU to allow the continued use of a controversial pesticide, which was contrary to the agreement of the main German parties and not supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Secondly, a country without a government may simply be unable to take strategic action, both domestically and internationally.

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes that Merkel will succeed in forming a government in Germany.