Category Archives: Political Science
On 1st July 2013, the European Union will gain a twenty-eighth member: Croatia. This broadly banana-shaped republic with one of the most stunning coastlines anywhere in the continent will become only the second constituent member of the former Yugoslavia to sign up to what is still in nominal terms the most affluent economic bloc in the world.
However, Croatia – a nation of just 4.28 million people – will be acceding to the EU under very different circumstances to those countries which rode the credit bubble wave of the 2000s and enjoyed massive but ultimately fatal injections of credit into their economies. With the European Union struggling to expand its institutional balance sheet fast enough to prop up the collapsing eurozone periphery, Croatia is unlikely to enjoy any obvious short- or even medium-term financial benefits of membership.
This matters because Croatia is currently undergoing a severe economic crisis despite not being part of the EU or eurozone: an estimated 30% of Croatians now live in poverty, with the Akcija Čista hrana or Clean Food Movement operating as an alternative food bank: specially-labelled grocery bags of food are left adjacent to municipal bins for usage by the country’s poorer citizens. Things are so bad that Croatia has spawned a not insignificant Occupy movement of the kind more usually associated with large cities in the neoliberal United States or United Kingdom.
Given that many of Croatia’s strategic assets are likely to be acquired by its European partners following accession, we at Mediolana are left wondering: has the country really embarked on the right course? Could Croatia have charted a different path by following the old Yugoslav model of being close to several power blocs whilst retaining that vital element of political (and ultimately, economic) independence? Would partnership agreements with the EU, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina is an observer member), ASEAN and Mercosur have constituted a new, more viable future?
Back in 2007, our Creative Director & CSO Asad Yawar foresaw the rise of Turkey – something not even on the global international relations agenda at the peak of the Euro-American credit bubble – as having ‘far-reaching implications…for Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East’.
Since that time, Turkey has been the only major European economy aside from Germany and oil-rich Russia to come close to transcending the global economic crisis. But its longstanding trajectory of joining the European Union – a goal which was confirmed with Turkey’s official bid to join the European Economic Community almost exactly twenty-six years ago – does not look nearly as attractive as it might have done even five years ago. A condition of Turkey’s EU accession is the eventual replacement of the Turkish lira with the much-maligned euro; given the experiences of present eurozone periphery countries, where even sacrosanct pillars of private property such as bank deposits and gold have become collateral damage in a financial armageddon, it is doubtful whether a country which could in theory gain many of the benefits of European Union membership without actually joining would choose to take the obvious risk constituted by signing up to the EU.
With an ever-growing international reach – Turkey’s foreign aid budget nearly doubled from 2011 (US$1.3bn) to 2012 (US$2.5bn) – the state that contains the former imperial capital of the Ottoman Empire clearly has options regarding its future alliances. But what, if any are the alternatives to the EU? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana came up with the following:
1. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This international bloc – ironically headquartered in Beijing – is fundamentally a Eurasian security alliance. While the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly stated his keenness on joining the SCO, these sentiments do not appear to be shared even by other senior figures in his own AK Party, and it is easy to see why. Totally dominated by Russia and China and offering little in terms of environmental or human rights standards, Turkey would have little leverage within this grouping and would have no additional incentives at all to improve two of its (presently) weaker areas.
2. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Historically one of the great sleeping giants of international relations, the OIC should in theory be an arena where Turkey, which is already a member state, can further its goals. And from 2005 to date, a period when Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has been Secretary-General of the OIC, Turkish influence within the organisation has been palpable. However, Turkey has not traditionally enjoyed a prominent position within a largely ineffectual organisation that has been characterised by the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The forthcoming supplanting of the present Secretary-General by Saudi former journalist Iyad bin Amin Madani means that the OIC is unlikely to adopt a Turkish agenda in the medium term.
3. Turkish-Islamic Union. This is an international bloc which presently does not formally exist but which is being heavily promoted on A9, a Turkish television station established in 2011. This fact alone would not normally qualify it for serious consideration, but judging from the calibre of people from the worlds of academia, journalism, business and politics that have already been interviewed by this channel and who have expressed a desire to see Turkey take on this type of leadership role within the Islamic world, A9 seems to have an influence disproportionately large compared to its modest audience share. The main advantage of this grouping for Turkey is that it would get to design the institutional architecture from the TIU’s inception, which in theory could make it much more functional than, say, the OIC or EU; while the provisional name of the organisation is unlikely to inspire Arabs or Persians, the essential concept deserves consideration.
Contemporary audiences with no memory of the 1980s might associate the nickname ‘Iron Lady’ with a world volleyball icon rather than a Cold War politician, but for anyone with recollections of that decade – particularly those raised in the United Kingdom – one association for that epithet towers above all others: Margaret Thatcher, the nation’s prime minister for no less than an historic eleven years (1979-1990).
Thatcher is characterised by many – and not merely her ideological enemies – as having smashed the post-war consensus that defined the UK in the post-1945 period. Through her championing of monetarism and her emphasis on the individual and the family (as opposed to a purportedly ‘extinct’ society), the iconic Conservative leader bulldozed the existing social contract and created a harsher and more anomic Britain defined by relentless competition bordering on social Darwinism.
This thesis is a seductive one; when reading of free school milk programmes now enjoyed by children in emerging markets, or of privatisation programmes with results other than merely making the already-wealthy into neo-feudal lords in helicopters, it is tempting to conclude that Mrs. Thatcher really did change Britain beyond recognition – and not always for the better.
But taking the Really Long View, we at Mediolana wonder whether a decade plus of handbag-themed politics at 10 Downing Street was actually as radical as the political science textbooks (and not a few commentators) would have us believe:
1. Thatcherism = Reaganomics? When Thatcher’s reign came to an end on that memorable late November evening in 1990, Britain was a country where university education was not merely free, but where students’ cost of living was significantly subsidised by annual free gifts of money in the thousands of pounds. The idea that the United Kingdom would somehow wish to emulate the USA’s higher education model – now transmogrifying into a seriously ominous economic bubble – was not even a glint in a policymaker’s eye.
2. Relentless Monetarism? Mrs. Thatcher famously averred that she was not for changing course, but this is actually precisely what her administration did in the mid-1980s when faced with the stark reality that velocity theories of money, like Keynesianism before them, were not quite the panacea that was initially anticipated.
3. The State Will Wither Away? As Mark Mazower (presently Professor of History at Columbia University) drily notes in Dark Continent - his epic history of twentieth century Europe – the proportion of the UK’s economy under state auspices was almost identical at either end of the Thatcher era. It could have been even higher had Britain’s North Sea oil boom been invested in a Norway- or Qatar-style sovereign wealth fund instead of being frittered away on higher social security costs which were (with no little irony) due to the structural unemployment created by the monetarist fad.
Regular readers of this blog will by now be well aware that if Mediolana CSO Asad Yawar is reading anything, there’s a decent chance that it’s a copy of the Financial Times; a recent piece by political columnist Janan Ganesh demonstrated once again the power of the beige-papered publication of record to inspire. In Strange death of a more liberal Britain (25th March 2013), Ganesh notes that as well as economic growth, ‘the looseness and openness that has historically accounted for much of the UK’s success – and appeal to outsiders – is also in danger of being misplaced’. Citing (i) the recent mooting of a restrictive press law; (ii) the ever-tougher and now cross-party rhetoric on immigration; and (iii) the repeated ‘wounds’ received by the City of London from Westminster and Brussels, Ganesh laments the loss of tolerance for ‘tolerating real messiness in economic and public life’.
There is little doubt that in many basic ways the United Kingdom (as at least partially opposed to London) has become (and will probably continue to become) a much less ‘liberal’ place than it previously has been. But why is this? After some contemplation, we feel that this trend can be largely explained by the loss of the ‘three cogencies’ of liberalism in the local (and to some degree, global) context:
1. Economic Cogency. With the ongoing and epoch-defining financial collapse which began to make itself felt in 2007, (extreme) economic liberalism has begun to resemble communism: a nice theory that doesn’t necessarily work very well. Rapid-fire financialisation, self-regulation and endless credit were once synonymous with Progress. Now it has become abundantly clear that implementation of these previously unquestionable tenets of (post-)modern growth can in fact destroy economic value far faster than they create it, it is scarcely surprising that to many observers, economic liberalism has lost its appeal.
2. Social Cogency. The cold, hard statistics consistently show that non-UK nationals are a much lighter burden on the state than UK nationals; that they are more entrepreneurial and very significant sources of inward investment; and that if your economy is not attractive to immigrants, you are probably in big, big trouble. But none of this matters if large sections of the media and public taken as a whole prefer to ignore these ‘dry facts’. In a country of increasing economic insecurity and an ever-diminishing global status, the truth is often simply unpalatable for much of the population.
3. Intellectual Cogency. With Francis Fukuyama’s End of History thesis broadly accepted at face value, liberal theoreticians and practitioners alike have been busy fulfilling his ‘prophecies’ with unerring accuracy. Ever-expanding albeit rather selective social freedoms – to marry someone regardless of their gender, to purchase alcohol in a bar 24-7, to never stop shopping – have not papered over the crisis of meaning (and since 2007, sustenance) that has become all-too-apparent since the end of the Cold War. If liberalism can no longer say anything profound about the world or remedy any of its most pressing problems, we should not be surprised at its atrophying – however regrettable this may be.
Multi-ethnic squad 'a world away' from 1992-1995 conflict which saw hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced + 'wild' nationalism—
Asad Yawar (@Mediolana) March 25, 2013