Separation of Powers under Siege: What Went Wrong in Central Europe?

The concept of separation of powers is notoriously vague and contested. Usually, we realize what separation of powers (SOP) is only once we have lost it, as evidenced by recent efforts by ruling parties in Hungary & Poland. We argue that to understand recent challenges to the SOP in Central Europe (CE) we need to unpack the concept into four components and take into account historical-political trajectories of CE countries which have prepared ground for the recent assault on the SOP. We show that the SOP has no long tradition in CE and that it was “further” dismantled not only during the Communist rule, but also by a technocratic EU’s “let the experts rule without checks” version of the concept. This in turn opened the gate for populists who have dismantled its remaining components. Based on the CE case study, we argue that the two major recent challenges to the SOP in the region – populism & the rise of unelected institutions – are more interrelated than we thought.