Contemporary Political Systems
Contemporary Political Systems
Study: Civil Law - 9. semester
Commercial Law - 9. semester
Constitutional-Administrative - 9. semester
Criminal Law - 9. semester
International Law - 9. semester
The European Union Law - 9. semester
Code: 79158
ECTS: 4.0
Course coordinators: prof. dr. sc. Branko Smerdel
Basic data
Contemporary Political Systems Civil Law - 9. semester
Commercial Law - 9. semester
Constitutional-Administrative - 9. semester
Criminal Law - 9. semester
International Law - 9. semester
The European Union Law - 9. semester
4.0 79158
Lecturer in charge Consultations Location
prof. dr. sc. Branko Smerdel Trg Republike Hrvatske 3, room 15/I
Thomas Fleiner, Lidija Basta Fleiner; Constitutional Democracy in a Multicultural and Globalised World; Springer Science + Business Media (2009), str. 1-29; 130-265; 511-650
Branko Smerdel; Central European Democratic Transition: the Paradigm of a Constitutional Revolution, in:Key Developments in Constitutionalism and Constitutional Law, Lidija R. Basta Fleiner and Tanasije Marinković (eds.); Eleven International Publishing, The Hague (2014), str. 51-62
Branko Smerdel; ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT - Conflict of Interest and the Constitution, in: Zbornik Pravnog fakulteta u Zagrebu (Collected papers of the Zagreb Faculty of Law) (2000) 5; Pravni fakultet u Zagrebu (2000), str. 769-794
Branko Smerdel; Convention on the Future of Europe and the Process of Constitutional Choice, in: Revus - journal for constitutional theory and philosophy of law 1 (2003); GV Revije, Ljubljana (2003), str. 4-16
Branko Smerdel; The Croatian Parliament in a Comparative Perspective, in: Croatian critical law review, 1 (1996) 1-2; Croatian Law Centre (1996), str. 137-154
Branko Smerdel; Relevance of the Theory of a Compound Republic for the European Process of Constitutional Choice, paper presented at the international conference "Vincent Ostrom: The Quest to Understand Human Affairs", Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University Bloomington, June 2006; (2006)
Branko Smerdel; Constitutional Identity: Beyond the view from the Courts, paper presented at the Jean Monnet Conference on National and Constitutional Identity in EU Law (Regensburg, Germany), March 2012; (2012)
Branko Smerdel; Platypus Reconsidered: How to Integrate Independent Regulators Into The Croatian Constitutional Order, in: Bodiroga Vukobrat, N., Sander, G.G., Barić, S. (eds.), Regulierungsagenturen im Spannungsfeld von Recht und Okonomie (Regulatory Agencies in the tension Between Law and Economics), Verlag Dr. Kovač GmbH, Hamburg; Verlag Dr. Kovač GmbH (2012), str. 11-24
Branko Smerdel; Republic of Croatia, in: Constitutional Law of the EU Member States (Besselink, L.; Bovend Eert, P.; Broeksteeg, H.; De Lange, R.; Voermans, W. (eds.)); Deventer: Kluwer (2014), str. 191-1763
Branko Smerdel; Design and operation of the "hybrid" presidency - evaluation of the power sharing in the Croatian top executive, in: Zbornik Pravnog fakulteta u Zagrebu (Collected papers of Zagreb Law School), 65 (2015) 2; Pravni fakultet u Zagrebu (2015), str. 181-211
Branko Smerdel; In quest of a doctrine: Croatian constitutional identity in the European Union, in: Zbornik Pravnog fakulteta u Zagrebu (Collected papers of Zagreb Law School), 64 (2014) 4; Pravni fakultet u Zagrebu (2014), str. 513-534
The course offers an in-depth analysis of contemporary political systems, focusing on their institutions and functioning, particularly with regard to a comparison of the old democracies and former communist/socialist countries undergoing democratic transformations, as well as the European Union. It further studies and defines the position of the Republic of Croatia in these processes, and assesses the development of her democratic political institutions. The students will be familiarized with concepts of constitutional engineering and constitutional choice, and study particular issues of designing and realizing democratic and functioning political institutions. To this end, the course will particularly focus on the theory of division of power - in its "horziontal" application (contemporary parliamentarism in comparative law), as well as in "vertical" arrangements (compound states and communities of states - from American theories of federalism, through the fall of communist federations, to new, sui generis associations of states such as the EU).

Main topics:

1.The subject and contents of the comparative study of contemporary political systems. The modern science of comparative political systems.

2.Classification of political systems: democratic and autocratic regimes. Modern democracies, Europe and North America. New democracies in Central and East Europe. Problems of democratic transformation in the former communist countries. The position and perspectives of the Republic of Croatia in this process of transformation. Problems of development of political institutions. New institutional analysis. The theory of constitutional choice. The pluralist model of political systems.

3.The theory of the division of power and its application in contemporary developed democracies: Great Britain, the United States of America, Germany, France. Contemporary parliamentarism. Problems of application in the political system of the Republic of Croatia.

4. Compound states and communities of states: American theories of federalism. The comparative approach in the study of compound states and communities of states. The fall of communist federations and the emergence of new and independent states. Emergence of the independent and sovereign Republic of Croatia. The realisation of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia.
Exam dates
Detailed data
Cognitive Skills:

Knowledge and understanding

After successful mastering of the course, students will be able to:

Determine, and distinguish between, basic terms and concepts of political systems, in their capacity as frameworks and operational arenas for the application of constitutional law concepts in the everyday political struggle, the output of which is legislation and other regulations. On the basis of interdisciplinary study, they will be able to understand the basics of various sets of political theories and explanations of political processes within the set limits of constitutional and public law. They will be able to determine, and distinguish between, basic politological concepts, such as power, authority, democracy, rule of law. They will be able to recognise how these theories and concepts are used in political activities and efforts to realise provisions of constitutional law, such as the rule of law and spearation of powers. They will be able to distinguisbetween and explain concepts as they appear in everyday speech and siimple analyses of social phenomena.

They will be able to recognise the rational constitutional law concept of constitutionalism in building and strengthening the institutions and institutional sets. They will be trained to participate in constitutional law and legislative activity of drafting regulations. They will be able to recognise sophisms used in political activity. For example, understand and explain the frequently abused phrase "let the institutions do their job" or "the sin of the structures". To recognise ideological sophisms and misconceptions, such as constant demands for "the principle of equal stomachs" as a basic norm of political marketing.

Explain: how the individual, politics and social community are mutually connected in a system of balance of power and struggle for power; the scope of constitutional provisions and their revisions; and the real influence of the constitution and legislation on individual behaviour. The essence of political activity, as a struggle for the distribution of social resources, and the relation between social institutions and structures to the balance of power in various systems of government organisation. The important difference between semantic constitutionality of autocracy and normative constitutionality of modern democracies.


Group and describe basic approaches in the analysis of comstitutional and political phenomena and processes, and describe their differences using examples. Be able to adopt, apply and teach the application of structured 'tests', as instructions to those applying the law. To understand the acquirements of the democratic transition of old democracies, as well as the development of European constitutionality.

Understand and interpret mechanisms that constantly produce and renew processes such as the struggle for power, as well as the means of restricting these tendencies in political life. Limitations of all political institutions, that can serve various political aims and forces. Scope and restrictions of constitutional norms in various social circumstances.

Apply the knowledge acquired and offeriing an explanation of political processes, with the aim of preparing various applicable regulations. To direct task forces in drafting bills and regulations. To monitor bills with regard to protection of European constitutionality.

Sketch basic contours of an assesment of the results of proposed regulatory changes, applying the cost-benefit and SWOT analysis. To draw understandable and usable drafts of various regulations. To knowledgeably apply contemporary methods of constitutional and legal interpretation.


Demonstrate: the universality of phenomena such as the struggle for power, disrespect of constitutional norms, monopolistic position of political parties, autocratic behavior of their leaders, types of deviant behaviour such as corruption and nepotism, and difficulties connected with the changes to the legal system and legal culture. Constitutional law concepts and means of combating these phenomena, as a basis for rational choice of means of suppression ('tools') on the constitutional law level.

Analyse: Internal logic of the emergence and functioning of political institutions. Types of constitutional law sets and models that are important for further analysis of causal relations, such as: checks and balances, judicial independence and its limits, restrictions of direct democracy, realisation of free access to information and so on, as well as the important role of legal institutions in these processes. Comparative achievements of "judicial dialogue" on European and global scale.

Compare: Different approaches to political, legal and social phenomena. To compare common sense and scientific explanation, knowledge and belief.


Construct elementary explanation of political institutions using and comparing various theoretical approaches. Suggest the best ways to research a certain phenomenon.


Examine everyday occurences and place them within the scientific framework of constitutional law explanations.

Compare theoretical frameworks of explanation (political responsibility, freedom of opinion and expression) in explaining individual political and social institutions.

Evaluate: Advantages and disadvantages of individual methods for the normatisation of social phenomena nad processes, and advantages and disadvantages of theoretical approaches in explaining various social phenomena.

Assess to what extent certain measures can provide answers to normative tasks, and to what extent certain theoretical frameworks enable elaboration of answers to formulated questions. In other words, to assess the applicability of a theoretical approach and methods applied to a specific phenomenon the law is applied to.

Practical and Generic Skills:

After successfully mastering the course, students will be able to understand the social determination of individual political phenomena. In addition to a purely legal approach, they will thus be trained to rationally plan and prepare drafts of regulations from the area of political legislation on the state and local levels. Equally, they will be able to consistently interpret regulations while preparing individual laws. For that purpose, students will develop presentation skills and the ability to express their own thoughts, as well as lead argumented debates and polemics about regulations - both during and after their drafting.

Matching Assessments to Learning Outcomes:

Knowledge is tested during interactive classes, and by oral exams.

Oral exam

It consists of testing the understanding of basic concepts and theories, the comparison of these theories and concepts, the demonstration of ability to apply them in an explanation of social phenomena and everyday occurences, the evaluation of applicability of these concepts and theories in the sense of their explanatory power for individual phenomena.