Executive (government)

In political science and constitutional law, the executive is the branch of government 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 executive branch contains the head of government, who is the head of this branch. 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); rather, their purpose is to enforce them. In practice however, this separation is rarely absolute. The executive is identified 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 and 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, while Switzerland and Bosnia and Herzegovina likewise 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.

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, 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.

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.

Relation to the Judicial Branch

The Executive Branch acts by and with the advice and consent of the Legislation made by the Legislature and thus is subject to the Legislative Branch. The judiciary acts as a competent administrator to ensure compliance with the laws crafted by the Legislative Branch.

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. The Executive Branch may be challenged in court for failure to comply with the decisions of the Legislative Branch. The idea of judicial review is that the competent administrators in the judiciary have the responsibility to review compliance with Legislation wherever there is a party claiming injury. The Legislature Branch has the responsibility to supervise the execution of its laws and the compliance of the judiciary and the Executive branch with them.

The Legislature makes decisions and the Judiciary and the Executive Branch enforce its decisions with the help of the forces funded by the Legislature to enforce its laws (e.g. police force, prison service). The Legislative Branch is responsible for providing funding for courthouses, establishing and paying the salaries of judges: The Executive Branch is responsible for getting them built and staffed as instructed. The competent administration of the judicial system is the responsibility of the justice minister, also referred to as the attorney general.

The Legislative Branch makes laws and the Executive branch executes them as instructed. In the Department of Justice the Attorney General oversees the staff responsible for taking legal action in the public interest, for example enforcing Civil Rights, Public Safety, policing corporations, prosecuting them as any other criminal and protecting the interests of those who cannot defend themselves (e.g. children or the mentally handicapped). The authority to perform these functions is delegated by the legislature to be both the executive Branch and the judiciary as required. The executive is responsible for the day-to-day management after the Legislature decides to provide the necessary infrastructure and pay the necessary 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. In the United States the Congress has all the power and the sole responsibility of removal by means of impeachment.

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).


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