Hylke Dijkstra, a Marie Curie fellow here in Oxford, has brought out a book that is of considerable contemporary interest as the EU struggles to relocate itself more firmly in the world not only of economics and finance, but of international relations. Congratulations to him! Security has been a catch-phrase for our times. Military, civilian, human, legal, economic, environmental? Delivered by states, institutions, by NGOs, by citizens, by armies or judges? The term has been defined almost to ‘meaningless-ness’. Classical defence debates have virtually disappeared from our vocabularies. And no roomful of political scientists could ever agree on an exhaustive list of what the most important security and defence threats actually are. So Dijkstra’s book is an ambitious one.
The war in Syria dominated media and diplomatic attention at the G20 in early September in St. Petersburg. At the actual summit, however, the agenda covered mainly macroeconomic and financial issues. Inaugurated in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers from developed countries and emerging economies, the G20 has turned into a top-level summit coordinating the global response to the financial crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The G20 summits in Washington (2008), London and Pittsburgh (2009) re-financed the IMF ($500 billion), and established the Financial Stability Board to stabilise the banking system and derivatives markets. More difficult and less successful were the concerted efforts, from 2010 onwards, to couple fiscal austerity with structural adjustments between trade surplus countries (exporters such as China and Germany) and trade deficit countries (importers such as the US and Italy).
I’ve published a new policy brief with the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society, exploring the vexed issue of women’s rights on the Indian subcontinent, through the prism of the shifting emphasis of secularism and Islam in the Bangladeshi Constitution, and the impact this has on gender equality and family law. As the world reacts to the conviction of the four men whose gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi sparked riots and international condemnation, the policy brief, entitled Islam and Women in the Constitution of Bangladesh, provides a timely insight into the complex interrelation of law, religion and gender politics on the subcontinent. My report finds that whilst the Constitution has been referred to in only a limited fashion in cases involving the protection and enhancement of women’s rights, notable exceptions include violence against women resulting from religious edicts: “In response to a spate of violence directed at young rural women as part of their sentencing by fatwa … the Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional in 2001.”
Fiscal austerity, fiscal consolidation and spending cutbacks currently dominate the politics of many of the world’s democracies. Old political arguments are being tested with new battles emerging over whose expectations are to be disappointed and who should be blamed for fiscal squeeze. Can the fiscal travails of the early United States in the 1840s, when half of the states then in the Union had to default over their debts and new unpopular taxes had to be imposed in the middle of an international trade slump, help us draw lessons for the Eurozone debt crisis of the early 2010s? Could cases often presented as ‘poster children’ of successful fiscal consolidation (and at those often portrayed as failures or ‘basket cases’) inform us about the politics of those fiscal squeezes? Can governments that copy ‘good’ examples of fiscal squeeze escape punishment at the polls? A recent conference on the politics of fiscal squeeze explored some these issues and looked at how it has played out in different times and places. It considered in depth nine cases of fiscal squeeze (defined as the political effort that goes into reining in expenditure or raising taxes) and explored what conclusions we can draw for current debates about fiscal squeeze from earlier cases in other democracies.
The recently concluded G8 meeting at Lough Erne took an unprecedented leap by turning the focus on corporate governance. Among the greatest institutional challenges of our times, is the regulation of multinational corporations which operate across national borders and have the ability to shift labour and capital more than ever before. The G8 agenda focussed on open trade, fair taxes and increased transparency (the 3Ts agenda). Open trade- a part of all multilateral meetings saw the usual narrative of commitment to more trade with lesser transaction costs. However, the need for fair taxes and transparency of corporations took centre-stage for the first time. The G8 expressed their commitment to establish automatic exchange of information between different national tax authorities and their support to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to develop a multilateral system to implement it. The G8 also proposed a common template that will require MNCs to report profits made and taxes paid across the world. The rationale behind these initiatives is to prevent corporations to actively avoid tax through tax havens and shifting profits. There was also a mention of making relevant price information available across jurisdictions to implement international transfer pricing rules. OECD in the recent years has been working on multiple initiatives to counter the problem of base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS). The G20 also expressed support for OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information which has been tasked to create international standards of tax reporting in 2008 and 2012.
Since the collapse of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, much of what has gone on at the negotiating sessions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has slipped off the radar of both public and political attention. But a new chapter in the international climate change negotiations begins this year – and could be a unique moment in efforts to craft international agreement on how the world will collectively attempt to slow global climate change.
Last Friday, after 24 hours of negotiations, European leaders agreed on a new EU budget deal for 2014-2020. Two summits were needed: one was held in November 2012, and another last week that ended in agreement. For the coming seven years, the member states will contribute 960 billion Euros towards the EU project—85 billion less than the European Commission’s original proposal. It is a flimsy budget, one by no means fit to deal with the economic challenges that Europe is currently facing. It is quite understandable that countries such as the Netherland, Denmark and the United Kingdom aimed for a slashed budget: in times of crisis, it is hard to sell the message of pouring even more money into Brussels’ accounts. Indeed, the slash-the-budget-camp has proved to be quite effective in furthering its agenda.
With the Lisbon Treaty, the member states of the European Union (EU) established a European External Action Service (EEAS), otherwise known as the ‘European foreign service’, consisting of several thousand officials drawn from the EU institutions and national diplomatic offices. The EEAS has existed since January 2011 and falls under the authority of the EU High Representative Lady Ashton. In addition to the Brussels headquarters, there are some 140 EU delegations (‘embassies’) in other countries. This spring, there will be a formal review. The mid-2013 review of the EEAS, as it is called, presents an opportunity to improve the current structure. Catherine Ashton should use the momentum of this review to make the EEAS a more effective international actor. The EEAS will be an important part of her legacy after she resigns as High Representative next year. I have five recommendations.