FIIA Briefing Papers
Timo Behr, Tuomas Iso-Markku, The German Election: No vote for Europe?.
The outcome of the German federal elections on September 22nd will have a significant impact on the management of the on-going eurozone crisis and set the tone for the future course of European integration. Although the EU and the euro are largely absent from current electoral debates, significant differences on these issues exist both inside and between German political parties in the run-up to the September polls. However, in the absence of significant debate, fundamental decisions over the future of EU integration will be postponed until after the election, when a cross-party compromise appears more feasible. Regardless of the election outcome, the next German government is likely to prove more conciliatory on austerity policies in Europe and will boost domestic spending, but will retain some red lines on further EU integration. While the rhetoric and the pace of change might differ significantly depending on the shape that the next coalition government takes, German eurozone policies will continue to trade fiscal solidarity for structural reforms.
Debates on nationalism acquired a great deal of significance in Russia in the summer of 2013, with the activities of right-wing nationalists increasing during this period too. Modern Russian nationalism has its roots in anti-immigrant sentiments, mainly as a consequence of failed nation-state building in the post-Soviet period. Most right-wing organisations are marginalised, with membership and support relatively low. But the anti-immigrant ideas which these organisations propagate currently enjoy high levels of support in Russian society. Over the past eight years, the activities of right-wing nationalists have been largely limited to ‘the streets’, due to the lack of opportunities open to nationalist parties to participate in electoral processes. The prospects for Russia’s right-wing nationalist organisations will depend on the regime’s approach to ‘illegal’ immigration, but also on the state’s overall policy towards right-wing nationalism. Three scenarios are seen to be possible at this juncture: ‘marginalised nationalists’, ‘underground nationalists’, and ‘incorporated nationalists’.
Safeguarding the EU’s unity in the long-term development of the EMU is currently one of the major challenges for the Union. The de facto adjustments made to the EU’s economic and fiscal powers due to the economic and financial crisis, including the completion of the Banking Union, create pressures to address the treaty-based division of powers and to strengthen the democratic control of the powers executed by the Union. The need to back the EU’s macroeconomic goals with fiscal instruments has been made evident by the economic crisis; the position of these instruments outside the common budget might become increasingly controversial. A further increase in economic solidarity (jointly guaranteed debt, taxation power) might jeopardize the EU’s stability and democratic legitimacy if carried out in the current political and institutional framework. A system of constitutional and fiscal federalism would produce a more stable outcome, but would require major changes in the EU’s democratic system and system of policy implementation, in its external policies and the way its constitutional powers are arranged.
President Barack Obama’s recent action to address climate change indicates that it will be one of the second term’s topical questions. The new climate change action plan introduced by Obama in June 2013 is composed of various executive actions and based on three pillars: reducing carbon pollution; leading international attempts to approach climate change; and preparing the US for the effects of climate change. The measures already adopted on climate change provide an opportunity to examine the possibilities that the president has to implement his climate action plan through executive powers without Congress. The decision to advance the political agenda through executive decisions is at least partly attributable to the partisan gridlock currently gripping US politics. The reach and effect of the executive decisions to address climate change outlined in the climate action plan are yet to be determined. The topical question seems to be whether the actions already taken offer hope that the US will reach its target to reduce carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change, or whether legislative action from Congress will be called for. Although climate change is now being addressed through executive actions that do not require new legislation from Congress, this does not rule out the possibility that legislation will be passed in the future.
According to a popular notion, huge natural resource reserves located in the Arctic region will lead to a conflictual “gold rush” when Arctic states compete to claim these reserves for themselves. More precisely, there is the potential for interstate conflict in the Arctic area related to unresolved border issues, control of the Arctic maritime routes, and demarcation of the resource-rich continental shelves under the Arctic Ocean. However, Arctic states have little to gain by letting the Arctic dynamics slip into a conflict state that would create an unfruitful investment environment in the region. Relatively well-functioning regional and international governance mechanisms further defuse the interstate conflict potential in the region. Despite the divergent political interests of various players, the intra-Arctic conflict potential remains low. Should interstate conflict surface in the Arctic, the source is most likely to be related to complex global dynamics that may spill over to the region and which cannot be addressed with existing Arctic governance mechanisms. This extra-Arctic perspective should be increasingly taken into consideration by scholars and policy-makers.
Iceland applied for EU membership in 2009 at the height of the economic crisis. Four years later, a new government has put the application on hold: the majority of Icelanders are opposed to entry, but want to continue the accession process and put the results to a vote. Iceland’s longer-standing problems with European integration stem from the issue of sovereignty in general, and maintaining control over fisheries and agriculture in particular. Since 2009, anti-European feelings have been stoked by the ‘Icesave’ dispute, while the prospective benefits of entry (including use of the euro) have been tarnished by witnessing the fate of other small states during the euro crisis. The new government proposes remaining a member of the EEA and developing relations with other world powers. But the US commitment to Iceland has weakened over the years, and ‘rising’ powers like China are unable, as yet, to solve the country’s core problems. In terms of both its security and its standing within the global economy, Iceland is becoming more rather than less dependent on Europe over time. The question raised by the latest political turn is whether it will have to maintain that relationship from a distance, with limited control and with no guaranteed goodwill.
The extraordinary political decisions taken to tackle the financial and economic crisis, and to reform and reinforce the EMU have opened up some old wounds and created new political dividing lines in the EU. The EU has witnessed the re-emergence of the north-south divide as a key marker of distinct political and economic visions and imperatives within the EU. At the same time, the division between the east and west is diminishing. The importance of the political dividing line between euro and non-euro EU members has also increased, yet it is not clearly defined. The uneven burden-sharing between euro and non-euro countries in providing financial means to tackle the crisis is, however, shaping the contours of EU politics. Despite the British reluctance to join the current political processes propelling a deeper economic integration, no other profound preconditions for the EU’s future development have been established by the member states. Yet the depth of the reinforced EMU is currently under consideration in many member states. The strengthening of the populist and Eurosceptic political movements has led to the resurrection of the anti-EU and pro-EU political dividing line in many member states. This is increasingly reflected at the EU level, and might constrain the EU’s future development.
Efforts to boost the legitimacy of September’s ‘showcase’ Moscow mayoral election reveal growing indecision on the part of Russia’s leadership.
The global polito-economic situation necessitates reforms and greater openness from China’s new leadership both domestically and internationally. However, the Communist Party’s decision-making ability seems constrained by its fixation on the preservation of unity and stability.