Checks and balances

The principle of checks and balances refers back to the separation of powers introduced by the French political theorist Montesquieu in his writings “De l’esprit des loix” in 1748. 40 years later in 1788 James Madison wrote as §51 in “The Federalists Papers” explicitly about the system of checks and balances as part of the constitution of the USA. For maintaining the principle of separation of powers it is necessary to install a system of checks and balances between the powers to prevent one power dominating the others. These well-known principles of democracy face, nevertheless, continuous challenges as to the balance of the powers (legislative, executive, judiciary). In order to safeguard democracy a basic scepticism towards the exercise of power is warranted. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” (Federalist Papers, 1788, p. 239).
The necessity of auxiliary precautions has led modern democracies to a multiplicity additional checks and balances. Independent Anti-fraud offices, disciplinary committees within the separate powers as well as the checks and balances between the separate powers play a role in the survival of democracy. Recently, in July 2023 services like the internal service of the police to overlook the adequate execution of the force applied by police have been much in the headlines. Checks and balances apply to each branch of separate powers internally, and if they prove inadequate, they have to be corrected by other powers. This is the procedural as well as fundamental interaction within the separation of power. Presidential systems, where this system of checks and balances has major deficiencies, are very likely to fail its people through an overpowering executive. Neither the country of Montesquieu, nor of the Federalists is free of these dangers. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement and to meet with people, all contribute to strengthen checks and balances in a democracy. “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control of the government” (p.239).


Proud to be part of the European Trade Union Congress. We take so many things for granted that we no longer really aware of the importance they have for our daily lives. Trade unions are part of these things. We only start to miss them when we no longer can count on their impact on legislation or collective bargaining as well collective agreements. In Ukraine 🇺🇦 lots of things we take for granted were destroyed by Russia from one day to the other. We learn from their courage to defend our common values like the freedom of association to form a truly independent trade union and to decide yourself which other unions in Europe to associate with. The Ukrainian unions made their choice and they are proud and committed members of the ETUC as of May 2023. Great to have met you in Berlin. We have a lot to defend together. Basic human rights and workers including their families need their and our support. This will remain a priority as well as a challenge. Thank you for the sticker on the wall of greetings for 50th anniversary of the ETUC.