Contemplating Havel’s legacy: ‘power and truth remain locked in combat around the world’

Reading Havel’s obituaries, among the many tributes, what resonates with me is Jeffrey Sach’s parallel between Havel’s courage to live in truth and our challenges in today’s world of spin doctors, greed and continued suppression:

Havel’s death comes at a time of massive demonstrations in Russia to protest ballot fraud; violence in Egypt as democratic activists battle the deeply entrenched military; an uprising in rural China against corrupt local officials; and police in body armor violently dismantling the Occupy protest sites in American cities. Power and truth remain locked in combat around the world.

Much of today’s struggle – everywhere – pits truth against greed. Even if our challenges are different from those faced by Havel, the importance of living in truth has not changed.

Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.

Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.

In contrast to these titans of dissent, we are empowered with the instruments of social media to spread the word, overcome isolation, and mobilize millions in support of reform and renewal. Many of us enjoy minimum protections of speech and assembly, though these are inevitably hard won, imperfect, and fragile. Yet, of the profoundest importance and benefit, we are also blessed with the enduring inspiration of Havel’s life in truth.    

Britain, Central and Eastern Europe, Enlargement

enlargement, deadlock, democracy

A lot of the media attention for the European Council meeting of last week has been so far focused on the rift between the UK and the other member states. Apart from a fleeting announcement that Hungary agreed with the UK stance (quickly withdrawn and more indicative of the confusion arising from the populist rhetoric beloved of the Orban administration), Britain’s isolation seems to draw more commentary than the decisions of the summit. It is worth noting that Britain has always, since the time it joined the European Community, been an outlier in terms of its preferences on European integration. As we know from veto player theory, the number of veto players matters, but so do their preferences. If the new member states preferences cluster closer to the older member states preferences, the increased numbers post enlargement need not cause deadlock. And vise versa, with unanimity, as in treaty change, one veto player with different preferences is enough to cause deadlock. No wonder the other member states favoured the 26+1 option.

Thus, often recently I have the occasion to observe that division or deadlock are not the result of the last enlargement of the EU and that the member states that joined in 2004-2007 have had much less difficulty adjusting their preferences and interests to the prevailing consensus or sometimes, like Poland, actively seeking to facilitate one. In several of the new member states (see here for the Slovak stance for example), the memory of hyperinflation is much more recent than in Germany and commitment to monetary discipline is hard-won and not only inspired by external guidance.

One cannot help but wonder at the unshakeable assumptions underlying the statements of those who continue to insist that it was the last enlargement that made the EU ‘ungovernable’. Recent events show that just the three largest member states are capable of achieving this all by themselves.

In other news we find a worrying reminder how fast the EU is losing what Milada Vachudova, in her book, Europe Undivided, aptly termed ‘passive leverage’ with neighbours and candidates. The comments by just retired Turkish ambassador to the EU Selim Kuneralp, that the EU should give up its commitment to democracy and start printing money, remind me that it was doubts about Turkey’s commitment to democracy that slowed down the start of its accession negotiations. Hopefully, the usual enlargement method will still work in this case, namely that the EU helps the candidate reaffirm its commitment to democracy, rather than the candidate helps the EU weaken its own. Then again, Mr Kuneralp was pointing to the existing tensions between a common monetary policy and sovereignty and democracy that have been highlighted  in the Dani Rodrik lecture which we discussed in this blog and, in the EU context, by Frits Scharpf in his LSE lecture on the crisis and democracy..

Academic research on the EU, Euroscepticism

EU Research Digest (November 2011)

During the past few months several important academic articles dealing with EU attitudes and support were published. In this post I will briefly review the most important insights from these studies:

First, attitudes towards the European Union are multidimensional. This means that whether you trust the European Parliament for example is not strongly related to some other opinion on European integration like whether you perceive the EU as a threat to national identity. A survey in the Netherlands (2008) reveals five separate dimensions of EU attitudes – negative affection, identity, performance, utilitarianism, and strengthening the EU [2].  

As a result, several different factors relate to anti-EU voting in EP elections – assessment of the democratic deficit, low perceived utility of the EU, negative affection, opposition to EU integration, and the absence of EU identity [6]. This is an important finding because it shows that voting in EU elections is not related only to national concerns and satisfaction with the national government, and because it identifies several different aspects of EU attitudes that matter.

Similarly, specific issue concerns rather than general dissatisfaction with the EU or national governments explain the No votes in the French and Dutch referenda on the ill-fated EU Constitution [4]. Hence, voter attitudes towards the Constitution are multidimensional as well.

Second, group identity considerations affect strongly hostility towards the EU [5]. Attitudes towards immigrants are the most important predictors of Euroscepticism in Ireland and the Netherlands [5]. While how religious you are is not systematically related to your assessment of the EU, religious intolerance and negative feelings towards Islam increase Euroscepticism (in the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent in Ireland) [5]. Negative feelings towards immigrants (in NL) and religious intolerance (in Ireland) explain opposition to Turkey’s membership of the EU as well [5].

The importance of identity and the fear of economic migration, however, differs across the members of the EU. In wealthy states economic xenophobia matters more than in poor states, and for the high net-contributors to the EU budget the negative effects of exclusive national identity are greater [3].

So perhaps not surprisingly, EU contestation exists mostly in the realm of identity politics (during the last EP election campaign at least) [1]. Election and referendum campaigns matter because they emphasize certain issues and aspects of EU integration over others, thus priming the voters [4]. Right wing parties are the ones more likely to bring identity concerns during the election campaigns and countries with more Eurosceptic parties are more likely to put attention to EU issues [1]. But when the campaign environment is intense, party messages matter less to the voters [4].

In summary, from the many dimensions of EU attitudes that are important for how you assess and vote on EU issues, identity (and the related fear of immigrants) is one of the most important and the one that is the most likely to get politicized , mostly by right-wing and Eurosceptic parties.

[1] Adam, S. and M. Maier 2011. ‘National parties as politicizers of EU integration? Party campaign communication in the run-up to the 2009 European Parliament election’, European Union Politics, 12, 431-453.

[2] Boomgaarden, H.G., A.R.T. Schuck, M. Elenbaas and C.H. de Vreese 2011. ‘Mapping EU attitudes: Conceptual and empirical dimensions of Euroscepticism and EU support’, European Union Politics, 12, 241-266.

[3] Garry, J. and J. Tilley 2009. ‘The Macroeconomic Factors Conditioning the Impact of Identity on Attitudes towards the EU’, European Union Politics, 10, 361-379.

[4] Hobolt, S.B. and S. Brouard 2010. ‘Contesting the European Union? Why the Dutch and the French Rejected the European Constitution’, Political Research Quarterly.

[5] Hobolt, S.B., W. Van der Brug, C.H. De Vreese, H.G. Boomgaarden and M.C. Hinrichsen 2011. ‘Religious intolerance and Euroscepticism’, European Union Politics, 12, 359-379.

[6] van Spanje, J. and C. de Vreese 2011. ‘So what’s wrong with the EU? Motivations underlying the Eurosceptic vote in the 2009 European elections’, European Union Politics, 12, 405-429.

Euroscepticism, the Netherlands, Uncategorized

the lessons from Rodrik’s globalisation paradox

Last week we had the pleasure to hear Professor Dani Rodrik deliver the annual lecture of the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). The lecture was a brilliant example how a widely published academic economist, active in the best scientific journals in his field, can fulfill a public role and explain in an elegant, yet simple way, without a single graph or table, a complex argument. The full lecture is not available (summary here), but the theme and content were the same as the arguments developed in Rodrik’s latest book, The Globalization Paradox. Briefly, Rodrik argues that the move towards hyperglobalization in the last two decades, meaning the removal of all border controls to trade and financial capital, has led to a reduction of policy space for governments.  Democracy has been affected, as in many cases constituencies have lost their access to points where policies were being made, leading to a situation where a trilemma exists between national sovereignty, democracy and (hyper)globalisation.  The trilemma means that we cannot, as he argues in The Globalization Paradox (p xviii), simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination and economic globalization. If we were to push further with globalization, he clarifies, we have to give up either the nation-state or democratic politics.

In his WRR lecture he argued that the European Union is a unique example where common institutions are being built to balance the removal of border controls at the national level. The EU, he argued, has been in the process of creating a counterbalance to hyperglobalization in the form of institutional rules. But, he added, the global financial crisis came too soon for this process of rule creation to make enough of a difference.

Apparently, before the lecture Rodrik met the Dutch Prime Minister for lunch, which, one hopes, was an occasion to share his views on the implications of the globalisation paradox for Europe. His interpretation of the EU’s role in the crisis was an optimistic and friendly one. In his lecture he made sure to stress his view of these implications was not an Euroskeptic one. However, it is clear that if one takes his arguments seriously, the euro zone version of his trilemma means that EU has either to move towards political union – institutionalizing more common rules at EU level – or decrease the level of globalisation, that is, abandon Economic and Monetary Union. He left it there, although it is clear from this piece published by the Project Syndicate what he thinks of the break up of the eurozone.

We will probably remain in ignorance as to what the Prime Minister made of Rodrik’s arguments, as he, or any other Dutch politicians do not seem to share their views on Europe with the citizens. Not on enlargement – as the previous post on this blog argued – and not on where the EU should go – beyond the usual rhetoric reinforcing the impression that the EU is a zero sum game and the Dutch government are ‘fighting’ against EU partners for our interests. The domestic rules of the political game of a government with support from the PVV can be blamed for this ‘pragmatic’ approach to the eurocrisis communications. But one cannot help wishing for a clear statement of the ideals this government wish to pursue with relation to Europe in the future. In my modest way, I am with the angry Jurgen Habermas: ‘The media “must” help citizens understand the enormous extent to which the EU influences their lives. The politicians “would” certainly understand the enormous pressure that would fall upon them if Europe failed. The EU “should” be democratized.’

Enlargement, Euroscepticism, the Netherlands

EU-uitbreiding en het Nederlandse debat: No lessons learned?

[This is a guest post from our colleagues at Leiden University Hans Vollaard  and Caspar van den Berg]

Europa is ineens hot in parlement en media door de Euro-crisis. Wat tijden onmogelijk leek, is nu aan de orde van de dag: uitgebreide berichtgeving over de EU. De redding van de Euro is het gesprek van de dag. Ook het kabinet-Rutte laat zich er duidelijk over horen. Gek genoeg staat deze aandacht voor Europa in schril contrast met een ander actueel EU-dossier van zwaar gewicht: uitbreiding. Het toetredingsproces van nieuwe lidstaten onttrekt zich bijna volledig aan het oog van journalist en burger, maar gaat gestaag door. Opvallend genoeg lijkt de Nederlandse regering geen moeite te doen om steun voor uitbreiding te verwerven. Dat is een gevaarlijke koers, want nog maar 11% van de Nederlanders wil namelijk meer EU-lidstaten erbij, meldde Synovate onlangs.

In december ondertekent de EU het toetredingsverdrag met Kroatië, waarna het Europees Parlement en alle nationale parlementen (dus ook dat van Nederland) zich over Kroatische toetreding moeten uitspreken. Tegelijkertijd lopen onderhandelingen met IJsland, en officieel ook nog met Turkije. In december beslist de Nederlandse regering samen met de andere EU-lidstaten over de start van onderhandelingen met Macedonië en Montenegro. Albanië, Bosnië-Hercegovina, Kosovo en waarschijnlijk ook Servië zullen nog moeten wachten op de status van kandidaat-lidstaat.

De Nederlandse regering vindt dat uitbreiding van de EU de stabiliteit, de veiligheid en het investeringsklimaat in Europa kan bevorderen. Wel stelt ze zich strikt op bij de toetreding van nieuwe landen. Een land mag pas kandidaat-lidstaat zijn als die volledig heeft voldaan aan de zogeheten Kopenhagen-criteria. Die criteria toetsen onder meer of een land democratisch genoeg is en aan de Europese markt kan deelnemen. Over toetreding van een kandidaat mag van de regering pas definitief besloten worden als over alle Europese regelgeving harde afspraken zijn gemaakt, inclusief extra toezicht als het land nog niet op alle punten klaar is.

Regeringen van andere landen zijn soepeler, en verwijten Nederland onvoldoende rekening te houden met het effect van zo’n strikte opstelling. Het kan afkeer tegen Europese integratie in een kandidaat-lidstaat opwekken, zeker als het zicht op een EU-lidmaatschap verdwijnt. Maar de Nederlandse regering wijst erop dat als de EU zich op het vlak van uitbreiding niet strikt aan de regels houdt, het draagvlak onder het grote publiek slinkt. Ze vindt die steun zelfs “essentieel”.

In het parlement zal steun niet het grootste probleem zijn. De PVV is tegen alle uitbreidingen, en zou het liefst ook nog Roemenië en Bulgarije weer eruit sturen. Maar er is geen parlementaire meerderheid tegen uitbreiding. De vraag is vooral wat de Nederlandse regering doet om onder het grote publiek draagvlak te bevorderen. De SP en SGP vroegen er afgelopen februari in de Tweede Kamer de regering al naar.

De regering heeft onder het grote publiek twee grote hobbels te nemen. Grofweg de helft van de Nederlanders is bezorgd over het politieke machtsverlies van Nederland in Europees verband. De regering zal hen moeten overtuigen dat toetredingen van Kroatië, IJsland, Macedonië, Montenegro, en later wellicht ook Servië en Turkije de Nederlandse invloed niet benadelen. Daarnaast moet de regering een grote groep Nederlanders aanspreken die voor Europese integratie zijn zolang een effectief functionerende EU wat oplevert. Tweederde van de Nederlanders vond al dat de uitbreidingen van 2004 en 2007 de EU minder bestuurbaar heeft gemaakt. Juist nu de EU al moeite heeft de euro-crisis aan te pakken, en gezien het feit dat de meeste toetredingskandidaten relatief arm zijn, heeft de Nederlandse regering bij deze groep heel wat twijfels te overwinnen.

Deze hobbels zijn allebei hoog. En er is nog niks te merken van een actieve campagne voor steun aan uitbreiding. De regering kan ervoor kiezen geen steun te werven voor EU-uitbreiding. Ze kan er op gokken dat kiezers net als bij eerdere verkiezingen hun stem niet of nauwelijks laten bepalen door hun standpunt over Europa-kwesties. Dat is echter een gevaarlijke gok, want door de Euro-crisis blijven die kwesties nadrukkelijk op de agenda van de kiezers staan. En zeker als de regering zelf stelt dat publieke acceptatie “essentieel” is voor EU-uitbreiding, mag ze daarvan wel werk beginnen te maken.

Een eerdere versie van dit artikel is verschenen in het Nederlands Dagblad.