Executive (government)

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For other uses of the term executive, see Executive (disambiguation).

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The executive in political science and constitutional law is the branch of the government which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the state. In many countries, it is referred to simply as the "government", but this usage can be confusing in an international context. The term "executive" comes from wording of the Constitution of the United States, which charges the President to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed".Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the executive is not supposed to make laws (role of the legislature), nor to interpret them (role of the judiciary): in practice, this separation is rarely (if ever) absolute.

The executive is headed by the Head of Government. In a presidential system, this person (the President) may also be the Head of State, whereas in a parliamentary system he or she is usually the leader of the largest party in the legislature as is most commonly termed the Prime Minister (Taoiseach in the Republic of Ireland, (Federal) Chancellor in Germany and Austria). In France, executive power is shared between the President and the Prime Minister and this system has been reproduced in a number of former French colonies: Switzerland and Bosnia and Herzegovina have collegiate systems for the role of Head of State and Government. The Head of Government is assisted by a number of ministers, who usually have responsibilities for particular areas (e.g. health, education, foreign affairs), and by a large number of government employees or civil servants.

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[edit] Role of the executive

The exact role of the executive depends on the constitution of the country. Not all of the following functions need be exercised by the central executive, particularly in federal countries: they may instead be exercised by local government (see below).

The two main functions of the executive are:

The executive is also responsible for regulating many (if not most) sectors of the economy, notably

  • the labor force (e.g. by enforcing labor laws)
  • agriculture
  • transportation
  • energy provision
  • housing and construction (e.g. by issuing building permits)
  • commerce in general (e.g. by enforcing minimum standards, and notably by issuing a currency)

The executive may provide health and education services: at the very least, it usually has a role in regulating these areas. It may also operate nationalized industries, and promote research and culture.

[edit] Foreign relations

An important symbolic role of the executive is to represent the country abroad. Under international law, this responsability falls on the Head of State and the Head of Government, who usually delegate some of the day-to-day responsibilities to a foreign minister. Holders of these posts have automatic diplomatic immunity abroad while they are in office, that is to say that they can only be tried before the courts of their home country (or, exceptionally, before an international court).

In practice, this function of the executive is often delegated in part to the executive of another country, even by fairly large countries such as France, Germany or the United Kingdom. No country, not even the United States, has diplomatic missions in every sovereign state, and small countries such as Andorra or San Marino have only one or two embassies. Despite their symbolic importance, foreign relations occupy only a small portion of the human and financial resources of the executive: the budget of the United States Department of State in 2004 was only 0.7% of the total budget of the federal government.

[edit] Relation to the legislature

While the legislature is responsible for approving the laws of a state, it does not usually, on its own, have the capacity to enforce them, notably in terms of employees and other infrastructure. The necessity to enforce a law if it is to be effective imposes a degree of cooperation between the legislature and the executive: the legislature may vote "free beer for all", but the executive would be in its role to ask "who pays the brewer?" In many countries the executive has the power to veto some or all types of legislation, or at least to delay their approval by insisting on a longer debate of the consequences.

Under the Westminster system, the Prime Minister and other ministers are members of the legislature, and in other parliamentary systems the executive is usually headed by the party or parties which control a majority in the legislature. This gives the executive some control over the legislation which is passed, but this control is rarely absolute in a democracy. In presidential systems, the executive and the legislature may be controlled by different political parties, a situation known as cohabitation: both sides must arrive at a compromise to allow the government to continue to function, although complete blockage is rare.

In general, the legislature has a supervisory role over the actions of the executive, and may replace the Head of Government and/or individual ministers by a vote of (no) confidence or a procedure of impeachment. On the other hand, a legislature which refuses to cooperate with the executive, for example by refusing to vote a budget or otherwise starving the executive of funds, may be dissolved by the Head of State, leading to new elections.

The legislature usually delegates some legislative power to the executive, notably to issue regulations or executive orders which complete a piece of legislation with technical details or points which might change frequently (e.g. fees for government services). The executive may also have powers to issue legislation during a state of emergency.

[edit] Relation to the judiciary

In principle, the executive is subject to the law (except in a dictatorship). However the exact powers of the judiciary to supervise the executive vary from country to country. The laws which apply specifically to the executive are known as administrative law, although this should not be taken to imply that the executive is exempt from other laws such as human rights or the rules of war. In some cases, the decisions of the executive may be challenged in court, a procedure known as judicial review: in general, the judiciary has the power to censure the executive in specific individual cases, while it is for the legislature to supervise the executive on a more general (and political) level.

As with the legislature, the judiciary cannot enforce its decisions without the help of the executive (e.g. police force, prison service). The executive is also responsible for providing courthouses and paying the salaries of judges: this technical management of the judicial system is the responsability of the justice minister, somecimes called the attorney general.

In some countries, the executive is responsible for taking legal action in the public interest, for example prosecuting criminals or protecting the interests of those who cannot defend themselves (e.g. children or the mentally handicapped). In other countries, these functions are under the direct responsability of the legislature or the judiciary, although the executive is still usually responsible for the day-to-day management (e.g. providing offices and paying salaries).

Most countries have safeguards to protect the independence of the judiciary from the executive, such as the impossibility of the executive to dismiss a judge. Similar safeguards may apply to other categories of government employees, in order to allow them to conduct their functions without undue political pressure. In return, judges and government employees may be expected not to take part in active politics themselves.

[edit] Local government

Individual states or provinces in a federal system have their own executives, legislatures and judiciaries in addition to the corresponding bodies at federal level. Even in non-federal systems, all but the smallest of countries have some form of local government, although legislative and (especially) judicial powers are often very limited. The distribution of executive powers between central and local government varies widely between different countries: for example, policing and education are local responsibilities in the United Kingdom but central responsibilities in France. An extreme example is Switzerland, where nationality, a central government responsibility in almost all other countries, is a matter for individual municipalities (albeit with federal minimum standards).

Local government may be funded through local taxes (often property taxes), through a grant from the central government or through a combination of the two. The head of the local executive of a municipality is usually known as the mayor; various terms exist for the head of the executive at other levels of local government. The local executive is usually supervised by an elected council, which is responsible for setting the rates of local taxes (where these exist, and often only to a limited extent) and for approving the budget of the local executive. The central government may also have a supervisory role, which may go as far as the power to dissolve the local government completely in exceptional cases.

As mentioned above, it is essential to consider the different roles of local (or State) government when comparing the roles of the executives in different countries: the provision of public education is an executive function whether it is provided by the central government (France), state governments (Germany), local education authorities (England and Wales) or school boards (United states).be:Выканаўчая ўлада bg:Изпълнителна власт ca:Poder executiu da:Udøvende magt de:Exekutive et:Täidesaatev võim es:Poder ejecutivo eo:Plenuma povo fr:Pouvoir exécutif id:Eksekutif it:Potere esecutivo lt:Vykdomoji valdžia mk:Извршна власт ms:Eksekutif nl:Uitvoerende macht ja:行政 no:Utøvende makt pl:Władza wykonawcza pt:Poder executivo ru:Исполнительная власть sl:Izvršilna oblast sr:Извршна власт sv:Verkställande makt tl:Kagawaran ng Tagapagpaganap tr:Yürütme zh:行政部门

Executive (government)

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