I tend to avoid the word liberal as much as possible in conversation. My reticence does not come from any ideological aversion (although that could be forgiven), but from an abundance of caution. What exactly do my peers mean by liberal? ‘Does it include respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression and other unenumerated rights?’ Yes, they nod. ‘What of free markets and a rules-based international order.’ Their enthusiasm is now palpable. Here, I cannot help but goad them. ‘Or does it merely guarantee that my rent increases without end and that I’ll never actually own anything?’ A dose of cynicism and the conversation stalls. ‘That’s not the point,’ they usually reply! ‘It’s dishonest to confuse neo-liberalism with classical liberalism, and besides, it’s certainly better than the alternatives.’ Ah yes, the perfunctory defense: it could be worse. ‘Is that the best we can do?’ I ask. ‘That it could be worse?’ On cue, the coffee machine growls, and the conversation ends. The comment is barbed, but not without making a point. What are the liberal values worth defending? And why does it matter now?
Germany’s current debate about the ‘schwarze Null’ is heating up. Last month, SPD-frontwoman Saskia Esken threw her weight behind existing calls to let go of Germany’s unwritten rule that bans government deficits and has yielded eight consecutive years of budget balance for the federal government. Even Jens Weidmann, notorious throughout Europe for his hawkish stance as president of the Bundesbank, has said Germany should not fetishize the black zero. The debate is a welcome development not only for Germany but for the EU as a whole.
Note: A first version of this article originally appeared in December 2019 on E-IR.
The past three decades have seen a considerable rise of political authority enjoyed by international organizations (IOs). At the same time, however, IO authority practically remains highly constrained. In everyday politics, disagreement among powerful states, legal hurdles, and general sovereignty concerns not only hinder discreet expansions of IO authority, but also impede its effective exercise more generally.
Yet, in times of global or regional crisis, windows of necessity and opportunity sometimes create conditions in which “leaps of authority” occur, as IOs intervene assertively in circumvention of legal or political constraints of normal times. Justified by exceptional circumstances, IOs may do something structurally very similar to what we know of national governments in the state of exception: they adopt emergency powers by expanding their executive discretion and interfering with the rights of their rule-addressees. This, at least, is what I argue in my new book Emergency Powers of International Organizations (EPIO).
According to Omid Nouripour, foreign policy spokesman of the Green Party in the Bundestag, just a small time window remains to save the Nucelar Deal with Iran. A failure to do so could result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. After the killing of general Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian announcement to resume uranium enrichment without restrictions, Europe has triggered the dispute settlement mechanism, allowing for possible negotiations until February 14th. But with Donald Trump pushing for a completely new agreement and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson siding with the U.S. president, cracks become visible in the European front. Read more in the whole interview in German here.
Austria has a new government. While the country is still grappling with the legacies of the previous administration, Sebastian Kurz and Werner Kogler, the leaders of the conservative ÖVP and the Green Party, respectively, sealed the deal on their unequal marriage to guide the nation into a new decade. Their coalition agreement going by the name of “Out of Responsibility for Austria” reads like a 326-page appraisal of the lowest common denominators between the two parties, much like the joint statement of chancellor and vice-chancellor in front of the press after the conclusion of negotiations. Last Tuesday, the new government was sworn into office. The functioning of this experimental partnership will prove decisive in reestablishing trust in Austria’s scandal-ridden political system.
In the past weeks, Tunisia elected a new parliament and a new president. Nine years after the so-called Arab Spring, the country has achieved considerable progress in terms of democratic institutions and processes. Yet, severe challenges call for the right balance between consensus and political dispute. A fragmented political landscape and public mistrust of elites are paralleled by grim economic prospects and high unemployment rates, which will demand serious reform efforts by newly elected president Kais Saied. Furthermore, structural issues like the lack of a constitutional court and the overdue dismantling of power structures established under former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali still linger over the country. Mariam Salehi and Ilyas Saliba shed light on the problems faced by post-election Tunisia. Read the full article in German here.
There is an old rock station back in Boston which had a special knack for playing those lesser-known B side tracks. I am reminded of one, a late 70s pop song by Warren Zevon with the quirky title: Lawyers, Guns and Money. It chronicles the exploits of an English expat who finds himself ensnared by a Russian Mafioso after a late night gambling. Half way through the second stanza he sings ‘send lawyers, guns, and money!’ Partially for its whimsy refrain and partially because I happen to like obscure 70s pop, the track strikes me as the perfect namesake for a piece on the rise of crony capitalism.
In this episode of our interview series, Lynda Iroulo talks to Prof. Siddharth Mallavarapu from the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies at Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Listen in, as Prof. Mallavarapu shares his thoughts on the current state of International Relations, how global the discipline really is and how IR can profit from incorporating perspectives from the Global South.
[Photo: Siddharth Mallavarapu]
Find a short abridged transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:
Public support for the European integration project can hardly be treated as given any more. Public opinion on the EU fluctuates heavily. Critical media reporting from and about Brussels increases. And Eurosceptic campaigns and parties flourish in most EU member states.
Both the public and the academic debates concentrate primarily on the strategies of the challenging actors in this regard. Yet, politicization is an interactive process. For the evolution of the debate about Europe, the political signals of the established actors are at least equally decisive.
For these actors – especially from governing or major opposition parties – political science mainly expects reluctant communication about European integration. The political ‘mainstream’ is expected to avoid internal partisan conflict on the EU while trying not to endanger supranational compromises. Thus clear political signals on the EU should be rare. Against surging public politicisation, however, this strategy is risky: a lack of competition about political alternatives within Europe may quickly lead to more fundamental opposition against Europe (for versions of this argument see here, here, here, or here). So, how do established political actors actually communicate on European integration?
[Photo: Kaja Smith]
The ancient Greeks and Plato had this idea of the philosopher kings. In their kingdom, the people enjoyed all freedoms and were governed by wise, benevolent rulers—and by them alone. In practice, this never happened because every supposedly benevolent ruler eventually came to a point where he saw his power under threat. If he is unwilling to share power, he cannot allow demonstrations, the founding of parties, or critical opinions. He needs to curtail the freedom of his citizens.
Today, autocratic tendencies are intensifying worldwide, with China under president Xi Jinping often being seen as a vanguard. The economic success of the People’s Republic has made autocracy a real option for some states. Even in the EU, where membership criteria prescribe a stable democracy, undemocratic values are experiencing a revival in states like Poland and Hungary, as well as in the thought of right-wing populist parties.
Paradoxically, in order to sustain their power, autocrats will resort to means usually associated with liberty and democracy. Take elections as an example. Virtually every autocratic state holds elections to uphold the pretense of participation, transforming people and opposition into accomplices. Whoever doesn’t play along becomes a target. A second example is internet access. In China, for instance, almost everything is being handled online. This renders life more convenient, but the state is eavesdropping, censoring, and intervening when it gets critical. Moreover, cooperation among autocracies has tightened. They join forces and help one another cope with sanctions.
The rise of autocracy has surprised many. After the fall of the Soviet Union, political scientist Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history”. He thought that sooner or later, every state on the globe will eventually democratize and people will live freely and in peace. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a premature assumption. It gives us a headache to think about the many people who still do not possess the right to speak and act freely. Our wish is to overcome the remaining autocracies one day. And to overcome them, we need to understand them.
Note: This text was originally published in the latest issue of Leibniz magazine. Read it in German here.