To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.
But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003, France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.
The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
In ancient Greece, when the Olympic Games were running, weapons were silenced. Wars were put on hold. This is not something that we can observe anymore. The political implications of the Olympics are becoming ever more complex, but they do not appear to approximate the world in a more peaceful condition. In Rio, we encounter a ‘refugee team’ for the first time. A significant number of Russian athletes have been excluded due to notorious and state-induced doping. All Russian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympics. But Russia, though probably among the worst, are not the only dopers.
In previous years, some countries abstained from participating in Olympics organized by other states, due to political misbehavior or just inconvenience (Taiwan was excluded from the Montreal Games in 1976; the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984). The Berlin Games in 1936 were not boycotted. There were protests against the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games, due to human rights issues, but no boycotts. The Olympics have also attracted terrorist attacks (a Palestinian commando killed Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich) and during the Games in Mexico (1968), black power symbols were put on display.
So what is the role of the Olympics now? Should we stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone? Or should we accept the unavoidable, and let politics impact the Games?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Authoritarian regimes with populist inclinations are becoming more viable. The dominant debate about a spreading democratization, so popular after the ‘Charter of Paris for a New Europe’ was adopted in 1990, is at least partly being replaced by the discussion of re-autocratization. Everyone following the news knows something about the current usual suspects: Russia, China, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and, maybe, even the U.S. after the November elections.
Previously, there was a clear policy in many Western countries to go into ‘difficult’ societies and find partners in fields like education, law, finances, institution building, and civil society in general. Once the economies would take off, middle classes would emerge, and, so went the assumption, participation would spread, and democracy surely would blossom.
Now, we have more doubts than certainties regarding this classical ‘modernization’ thesis. Does it really make sense to keep trying and engage those countries in joint activities, projects and programs, summer schools, FDI with dubious property rights, support for Rule of Law training programs that officially are not welcome or even weakened, etc., including putting partners potentially at risk? Or should we be more realistic (if that’s what it is), pack up and leave for good?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Last Sunday, a stretched-out four weeks of the Euro 2016 soccer championship came to an end. Most of the games were not particularly exciting, the level of playing was moderate, and mostly dominated by tactical considerations. As always, there was the odd and vastly popular outliner: Iceland.
The relationship between popular sports events and politics was always enigmatic, and it remains so. There were wars triggered or even caused by soccer like in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. There were boycotts. There are even theories and books trying to correlate a certain style of playing soccer with political backgrounds (like in the case of Germany: the victory in the world championship in Switzerland in 1954 symbolizing a successful reintegration of Germany, the success in 1974 representing the lightness of the social-democratic-liberal turn-around (Willy Brandt’s ‘we want to take a chance with more democracy’), the victory in 1990 as a sign of the newly united Germany, and the one in 2014 – signifying Germany’s new weight and role in Europe and beyond, as a successful civilian power).
So is all of this pure speculation? Or are there links between a team’s success in sports, and politics?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Educating your people was one of the main prerogatives of governments. States preferred to teach students useful things – for the youngsters, and for themselves. This included certain perspectives on a state’s history, and politics. Today, these national perspectives are still around, but they are increasingly embedded into broader horizons. There is the Internet which is not particularly national, there are social networks, and there are media, transmitting
This is not necessarily to the liking of more or less authoritarian governments. Both the Chinese and Russian ministers for education have published statements according to which the activities and effects of foreign teachers, readings, and programs are viewed with quite some degree of skepticism.
What’s your take on this? Should governments continue to define the content (and its limits) of curricula for schools and universities – especially in the sphere of global politics and their own history – or should they give up and accept the role of global influences.
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The prospective of an exit of the UK from the EU has turned from a distant opportunity and a bargain chip into something quite real. It very well may happen that early this summer the EU will lose, for the first time, a member state.
For the EU, this could mark a potential watershed beyond which a much loser agglomeration of states would constitute a weaker union. Also, a less liberal one. There would be a whole range of agreements that have to be annulled, or re-negotiated. The EU also would have to secure its fabric and avoid that other member states also claim special rights for themselves.
For the UK a phase of deep uncertainties would begin. There are no bilateral trade agreements with individual member states of the EU. The future of the City of London would be even more uncertain. And Scotland may finally opt to leave the rest UK.
So would the EU become more consistent without a UK notoriously asking for a special relationship? Or would this indicate the beginning of the end?
The EU is in a difficult situation. One could also say: in a deep crisis.
There is an ongoing and unresolved Eurocrisis. There is the permanent threat of terrorist attacks. There is an ongoing wave of immigration hardly controlled by anybody, and putting in danger the Schengen rules. There is a Russian regime that keeps behaving assertively. There is a wave of populism especially in the Visegrad group in Central Europe, but not limited to it. At the same time, in the U.S. two populist candidates are gaining traction with voters, and China is escalating a crisis in the South China Sea. Germany’s chancellor, recently lauded as ‘Person of the Year’, is experiencing her most serious crisis so far.
The question is: Do you think that the dissolution, or collapse of the EU is a realistic possibility?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers