Tanja A. Börzel and Soo Yeon Kim
Economic regionalism has been dominated by preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Not only have their numbers surged since the end of the Cold War, we also see different varieties of PTAs emerging. First, long-standing PTAs have evolved into deeper forms of economic regionalism, such as custom unions, common markets, or currency unions. Second, PTAs increasingly involve “behind-the-border” trade liberalization, such as the coordination of domestic trade–related regulatory standards. Third, many of the PTAs that were established over the past 25 years no longer only involve countries of the “Global North” but are formed by developing and developed countries (“North-South” PTAs) and between developing countries (“South-South” PTAs). Finally, a most recent development in economic regionalism concerns the building of so called “mega-PTAs,” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), combining several PTAs.
In order to explain the formation, proliferation, and evolution of these varieties of PTA, existing international political economy (IPE) approaches have to give more credit to political factors, such as the locking-in of domestic reforms or the preservation of regional stability. Moreover, IPE scholarship should engage more systematically with diffusion research, particularly to account for the spate of deeper regionalism. Finally, “rising powers” and “emerging markets” constitute an exciting new research area for IPE. These new players differ with regard to the importance they attribute to regionalism and the ways in which they have sought to use and shape it. Identifying and explaining variations in the link between rising powers and regionalism is a key challenge for future research
Ireland joined the European Communities—as they were known then—in 1973, alongside the United Kingdom and Denmark. In many ways, that membership was defined by the bilateral British-Irish relationship. Ireland was, to all intents and purposes, an underdeveloped appendage of the British economy, and membership alongside the United Kingdom was deemed by most of the Irish political and economic establishment as virtually axiomatic. Irish policy makers, however, took full advantage of the opportunities offered by membership; in particular the Common Agricultural Policy, the direct transfers that derived from cohesion, regional and structural funding, and the opportunity to present the country as a successful location for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with access to the entire European market. Irish policy makers also positioned themselves rhetorically close to the heart of European construction, which had the added value of creating an Irish antithesis to Britain’s ongoing European discontents.
There are perhaps four key themes to be analyzed with respect to Ireland and its membership of the European Union. The first is the question of a small state and its sovereignty. As a former colony, with a bitter experience of imperialism and a strong sense of independence, Ireland’s pooling of sovereignty with its European partners has most often been presented as a desirable trade-off between legal, formal sovereignty and effective sovereignty. Having a seat at the main table—alongside the former imperial hegemon—was deemed to be a major advance, one that allowed the state more effectively to pursue its interests—including the resolution of conflict on the island of Ireland. The 2008 financial collapse, and Ireland’s experience of the EU-led “troika” has profoundly challenged that narrative, with concerns often now expressed at the loss of political and economic autonomy to technocratic multilateral institutions rather than a democratic, transnational European polity. The prospect of Brexit and its consequences for peace and security on the island is also a contemporary challenge in that regard.
A second theme of inquiry is that of Irish economic development within the European Union. In contrast to other similarly under-developed states and regions in the EU, Ireland is seen by many as something of a poster child for making a success of EU membership. In the run-up to the 2004 enlargement and shortly thereafter, Dublin was a magnet for central European and Mediterranean states looking to replicate the success of the so-called “Celtic Tiger.” Debate however persists on the precise balance of costs and benefits deriving from the model of economic development pursued by the Irish state, the role of Irish government policy therein, and the precise added value of EU membership.
A third theme of inquiry is the intersection of local, national, and European democracy. Once membership was secured, the European Union became a central and largely uncontested fact of Irish political life. Early constitutional referenda authorizing ratification of EC and then EU treaty changes, while vigorously contested, were overwhelmingly won by coalitions of the mainstream political parties and sectoral interest groups. With both the Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2007) treaties, however, ambivalence, antagonism, and complacency combined initially to thwart ratification. The gap between popular opinion on EU treaty change, which ultimately divided roughly 60/40 in favor, and the near unanimity among political elites and sectoral interests, opened a conversation on the relationship between local, national, and European democracy, which is as yet unresolved, but which many see as having further centralized policy making and distanced it from effective democratic control.
A fourth theme is that of Ireland and Europe in the world. Ireland joined the European Communities with no expressed reservations on its further political integration, but as the only non-member of NATO. During those initial debates, economic arguments overwhelmingly predominated, but the political issues were aired and the implications for Ireland’s traditional neutrality were robustly discussed. The subsequent membership of other non-aligned states ought, on the face of things, to have made Ireland’s position all the more secure. Thus, with a long and popular history of UN peacekeeping and active international engagement, the development of European foreign, security, and defense policies should not have proven to be problematic. In fact, neutrality, security, and defense remain neuralgic issues for Ireland within the European Union and have contributed in a very modest way to the challenges faced by the Union in its attempts to craft a coherent and credible common security and defense policy. This speaks to debates surrounding Ireland’s proper place in the world, the lessons of its own history and the perceived capacity for smaller states to shape the international community.
These four themes underpin much research and analysis on Ireland as a member of the European Union. In an unstable contemporary climate, with many well-established expectations under threat, they also serve to identify the pathways available to navigate beyond political and economic instability both for Ireland and the wider European project.
What does current scholarship suggest about the relationship between the rights of workers in the developing world and the global economy? Contemporary multinational production includes both direct ownership of manufacturing facilities abroad and arm’s length subcontracting and supply chain relationships. Thus far, political economists have paid greater attention to the former; there are various reasons to expect that multinational firms may have positive, rather than negative, effects on workers’ rights. For instance, some multinationals are interested in hiring at the top end of local labor markets, and high standards serve as a tool for recruitment and retention. Multinationals also could bring “best practices” from their home countries to their local hosts, and some face pressure from shareholders and consumers—given their visibility in their home locations—to act in “socially responsible” ways. Hence, while directly owned production does not automatically lead to the upgrading of labor standards, it can do so under some conditions.
Supply chain production is likely more mixed in its consequences for workers. Such production involves arm’s length, subcontracted production, in which multiple potential suppliers typically compete to attract business from lead firms. Such production often includes more labor-intensive activities; minimizing costs (including labor costs) and lowering production times can be key to winning subcontracts. We may therefore expect that subcontracted production is associated with greater violations of labor rights. It is worth noting, however, that research regarding the consequences of supply chain production—and the conditions under which such production may lead to improvements for workers—is less advanced than scholarship related to foreign direct investment.
The governance of labor rights in a supply chain framework is marked by several challenges. It is often difficult for lead firms, even those that wish to protect worker rights, to effectively monitor compliance in their subcontractor facilities. This becomes more difficult as the length and breadth of supply chains grow; private governance and corporate social responsibility have therefore not always lived up to their promise. Rather, achieving labor protections in a supply chain framework often requires both private and public sector efforts—that is, governments that are willing to privilege the rights of workers over the rights of local factory owners and governments that are willing to enact and implement legal protections of core labor rights. Such government actions, when coupled with private sector–based capacity building, codes of conduct, and regular monitoring, offer the most promise for protecting labor rights within global supply chains. Finally, governments of developed countries also may play a role, if they are willing to credibly link working conditions abroad with market access at home.
Laase Aaskoven and David Dreyer Lassen
The political budget cycle—how elections affect government fiscal policy—is one of the most studied subjects in political economy and political science. The key theoretical question is whether incumbent governments can time or structure public finances in ways that improve their chances of reelection; the key empirical question is whether this in fact happens. The incentives of incumbents to engage in such electioneering are governed by political institutions, observability of political choices, and their consequences, as well as voter knowledge, and both theoretical and empirical studies on political budget cycles have recently focused on conditions under which such cycles are likely to obtain. Much recent research focuses on subnational settings, allowing comparisons of governments in similar institutional environments, and a consensus on the presences of cycles in public finances—and in the reporting of public finances—is beginning to emerge.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.
Melanie Richter-Montpetit and Cynthia Weber
Queer International Relations (IR) is not a new field. For more than 20 years, Queer IR scholarship has focused on how normativities and/or non-normativities associated with categories of sex, gender, and sexuality sustain and contest international formations of power in relation to institutions like heteronormativity, homonormativity, and cisnormativity as well as through queer logics of statecraft. Recently, Queer IR has gained unprecedented traction in IR, as IR scholars have come to recognize how Queer IR theory, methods, and research further IR’s core agenda of analyzing and informing the policies and politics around state and nation formation, war and peace, and international political economy. Specific Queer IR research contributions include work on sovereignty, intervention, security and securitization, torture, terrorism and counter-insurgency, militaries and militarism, human rights and LGBT activism, immigration, regional and international integration, global health, transphobia, homophobia, development and International Financial Institutions, financial crises, homocolonialism, settler colonialism and anti-Blackness, homocapitalism, political/cultural formations, norms diffusion, political protest, and time and temporalities
Ana Bojinović Fenko and Marjan Svetličič
Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing EU membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians currently stands a self-reflection of its development strategy, enhancing competitiveness, and the state’s role within the European family of nations. The main challenge is how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level; with that in mind, the central questions for Slovenians remain assurance of social security to citizens, upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges and inter-state solidarity, refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states and ensuring Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.
Since the 1970s, financial crises have been a consistent feature of the international economy, warranting study by economists and political scientists alike. Economists have made great strides in their understanding of the dynamics of crises, with two potentially overlapping stories rising to the fore. Global crises appear to occur highly amid global imbalances—when some countries run large current account deficits and others, large surpluses. A second story emphasizes credit booms—financial institutions greatly extend access to credit, potentially leading to bubbles and subsequent crashes.
Global imbalances are, in part, the product of politically contested processes. Imbalances would be impossible if states did not choose to liberalize (or not to liberalize) their capital accounts. Global political structures—whether international institutions seeking to govern financial flows, or hierarchies reflecting an economic power structure among states—also influence the ability of the global system to resolve global imbalances. Indeed, economists themselves are increasingly finding evidence that the international economy is not a flat system, but a network where some states play larger roles than others.
Credit booms, too, and the regulatory structures that produce them, result from active choices by states. The expansion of the financial sector since the 1970s, however, took place amid a crucible of fire. Financial deregulation was the product of interest group knife-fights, states’ vying for position or adapting to technological change, and policy entrepreneurs’ seeking to enact their ideas.
The IPE (international political economy) literature, too, must pay attention to post-2008 developments in economic thought. As financial integration pushes countries to adopt the monetary policies of the money center, the much-discussed monetary trilemma increasingly resembles a dilemma. Whereas economists once thought of expanded access to credit as “financial development,” they increasingly lament the preponderance of “financialized” economies. While the experimentalist turn in political science heralded a great search for cute natural experiments, economists are increasingly turning to the distant past to understand phenomena that have not been seen for some time. Political scientists might benefit from returning to the same grand theory questions, this time armed with more rigorous empirical techniques, and extensive data collected by economic historians.