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Monday 30 May 2016

An end to ‘Merkelism’? German decision-making in the Greek crisis as ‘Stigma Management’

Adis Merdzanovic (Junior Research Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford)

At a SEESOX lunchtime seminar chaired by Kalypso Nikolaïdis on 24 May 2016, Lea Börgerding, a second-year MPhil International Relations candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford, presented part of her recently submitted and particularly thought-provoking MPhil thesis. Under the title ‘An end to “Merkelism”? German decision-making in the Greek crisis as stigma management’ she outlined a somewhat different reading on the events occurring between January 2015, i.e. the coming to power of Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA government, and August 2015, the finalisation of the third economic adjustment programme. It was indeed Tsipras who had coined the term ‘Merkelism’ in his election campaign to denote the severe austerity measures on which the creditors insisted; and even though he did not repeat the term after becoming Prime Minister, an end to austerity and a restructuring of debt were the primary goals of his government––putting him directly at odds with the German position.

In the literature, as Börgerding outlined, the German position in the negotiations with Greece is usually explained by one of two paradigms. Applying mostly to the beginning of the crisis, hegemonic stability theories see Germany as a benevolent hegemon that provides public goods in the form of financial assistance. Domestic economic interest theories, on the other hand, question this approach by pointing to more interest-driven explanations relating to Germany’s exposure to the Greek debt and the severe consequences it had on its economic and trade sector competitiveness. These theories focus on systemic explanations and lead to an interesting puzzle when looking at the third financial assistance programme. By that time, German exposure to the debt had declined and the risks posed by Greece leaving the Eurozone were assessed as far less dramatic than before. Moreover, this third package had become rather costly and public support for it had been steadily declining in Germany. So, why did the German government nevertheless agree to it? 

Monday 23 May 2016

Social policy in a Romanian technocratic government: What can change in a year?

Mariela Neagu (DPhil, REES Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, University of Oxford)

In week 4, SEESOX and the Oxford University Romanian Society hosted Valeriu Nicolae, Secretary of State for Social Affairs in Romania’s technocratic government. He gave a frank account of the challenges faced by the government appointed after the ‘Collectiv’ street protest against political establishment. Given the very limited margin for manoeuvre, in the absence of parliamentary support and with a very short mandate, it did not hesitate to do a lot more than simply organising local and general elections. With a Prime Minister and a few cabinet members who came into the government straight from the European Commission’s offices in Brussels, it is little surprise that they began to tackle corruption by changing guidelines for European Union funds to prevent future schemes become incentives for corruption. It is noteworthy that some past EU programmes allowed for 60% of the budget to be spent on hotels and catering costs!

At the same time, it is quite something for people such as Nicolae, with a strong civil society background to cross the line and obtain insider access to the structure and practices of a public administration that has traditionally been riddled by nepotism and unorthodox practices. As Discussant, Jonathan Scheele wondered how far a technocratic government can ever entrench change so that whatever can be achieved during a short and limited mandate is in any way sustainable. 

The message delivered by the speaker was not one of impotence, but rather of a pragmatic approach within the given constraints. Asked why Romania was slower in its progress than the rest of the Eastern bloc, he disagreed that was the case. Perhaps the improvements in the functioning of the justice system, which only took gained traction post 2007, as we heard in a previous seminar, did not make sufficient impact in the Western media? Or the fact that someone with no political back-up could become the Prime Minister? But, with or without headlines, Romania maintains its exceptional character, a country with laws not applied and where the culture leading to effective law enforcement has still to take root. On the positive side, the fact that the new anti-poverty strategy mentions human dignity as the nexus between social benefits and the human rights is in itself a novelty for document produced by the Government of Romania.

An outspoken human and Roma rights activist, as well as a columnist in the Romanian weekly ‘Dilema Veche’, Valeriu Nicolae attracted a large audience of Romanian students in Oxford. They left with a better understanding of what goes on in government, after an honest lecture on governance, which they much appreciated. The broad picture of obstacles and challenges did not spare civil society: ‘we do not have a clean civil society’, said Nicolae, a statement that few politicians would be likely to make. 

Romania will have elections in November. Whether the country will continue to be led by meritocracy or will return to old party habits is remains to be seen.

Model Transitions? Rethinking the “success story” of Southern European democratization

Kostis Kornetis (Fellow, Carlos III University, Madrid)

“Model Transitions? Rethinking the “success story” of Southern European democratization” is the
title of this year’s Santander Fellow Workshop that was held on May 18 and which was sponsored by St. Antony’s ESC and SEESOX, Oxford University, and Carlos III University - CONEX, Madrid. Historians, political scientists and political sociologists debated in a comparative and transnational manner the relation between the economic crisis that broke out in 2008 and the current political attempt to question the memory of the transitions to democracy in Portugal, Greece and Spain - one of the most dramatic turning points in 20th century southern European history.

Almost from the very outset, these processes were celebrated as the Southern European vanguard of Samuel Huntington’s famous “third wave” of democracies. Until the 1990s the democratization of Southern Europe was described as a fundamental historical change, which allowed the building of a stable party-system, putting an end to the international isolation that was linked to the authoritarian regimes, and initiating a modernization process, which enabled the three countries to reduce the economic gap with respect to their European neighbours. At the same time, the “transitology” sub-field that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s to explain this “third wave” identified these transitions not only as model exemplars but also as yardsticks that could potentially be exported to other contexts, especially Latin America in the mid-1980s or Eastern Europe after 1989.

Monday 16 May 2016

Who’s afraid of free speech in Turkey?

Sila Ulucay (D.Phil. Candidate, St Antony's College, Oxford)

South East European Studies at Oxford hosted an engaging panel discussion on the pressing issue of the current state of free speech in Turkey on May 11, 2016. The event was organised in association with Free Speech Debate, Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom, and Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The panel has discussed the different dimensions of the issue of free speech in Turkey today. Ezgi Başaran, as a prominent journalist and the last editor in chief of the now shut down online newspaper Radikal, gave the audience a detailed account of the dynamics of journalism.

Professor Deniz Ülke Arıboğan, who served as the rector of the Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul between 2007 and 2010 gave the audience an insight on the status of affairs in the academic world. Lastly, Dr Mehmet Karlı, who is a Lecturer at the Galatasaray University Law School in Istanbul, explained the legal framework and the legal instruments the government employs in effecting pressure on the exercise of the freedom of speech.

Ezgi Başaran’s presentation featured important facts and figures from the field of journalism that resonated strongly among the audience. She has pointed out how journalists in Turkey routinely face accusations of terrorism in the process of doing their jobs. She has also spoke of the numerous broadcast bans the government had issued on matters of great importance to the public, including among others, the ban on Roboski airstrike, on the story of trucks owned by the National Intelligence Agency, on the SOMA mine explosion and on Ankara bombings. On another note, she has touched upon the Gülen movement’s earlier cooperation with the government in detaining and prosecuting journalists such as Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener in 2011. The audience was informed, however, that the journalists and newspapers affiliated with the Gülen movement are now suffering themselves from the methods they were instrumental in applying on other journalists previously. Başaran also shared some significant figures with the audience, such as the 348 journalists who have lost their jobs in Turkey in 2015 and Turkey’s ranking in 151th place in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders.

Monday 9 May 2016

“The Boat is Broken" – what really went wrong with the Kurdish peace process

Jonathan Scheele (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Ezgi Başaran, award-winning Turkish journalist and former editor of Radikal, the liberal daily closed down in March 2016, has now moved to St Antony’s College. While at Oxford she is preparing a book on what really lay behind the failure of the Kurdish peace process. On 4 May she gave us a comprehensive presentation.

Ezgi explained that the peace process became public in March 2013, when the letter from Abdullah Ocalan was read at Newroz. In it, he announced that the armed struggle was over and that a new era was beginning “where politics gain prominence over weapons”. In fact, this represented a new stage in a process that had begun in 2005, through internationally mediated talks in Oslo, becoming face to face talks in 2008, and which continued despite the Habur incident in October 2009. But talks had been halted when AKP won a landslide victory in the 2011 general election. 

So why did the Turkish government decide to return to the table in 2013? Its decision reflected three factors:
  • Both sides recognised the military stalemate in fighting between the army and PKK,  
  • Internal disputes between Turkish Intelligence circles (who conducted the Oslo talks) and the Gülenists (who opposed any agreement), 
  • The impact of the Syrian situation on both sides - for the government this included the dispute with Gülen, while PKK was increasingly being seen outside Turkey in positive terms. 
The 2013 peace process included multiple actors – from HDP, Ocalan himself (in Imrali prison), the European diaspora, MIT (Turkish intelligence), AKP and PKK (in Qandil). If government was unhappy with positions taken, meetings at Imrali (on an island) were cancelled without notice – “the boat is broken”. And criticism of AKP by any individuals would lead to exclusion from the talks. The process was “alla Turca”, with no clear shared vision, no agreed agenda and no international monitoring. 

Sunday 8 May 2016

Financial reform in South East Europe: Turkey’s response to the past and current crises

Alexandra Zeitz (St Antony’s College, University of Oxford)

Speaker: Gazi Ercel, Former Governor of the Central Bank of Turkey
Chair: Nicholas Morris, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford

How to prevent cycles of financial crises in emerging market economies? What interventions and reforms can stabilize and strengthen these economies in the aftermath of a financial crisis? Drawing on his extensive experience in Turkey, Gazi Ercel, former Governor of the Central Bank of Turkey, shared his insights on financial crises and reform in a PEFM seminar in late April, stressing the importance of reducing political uncertainties and ensuring post-crisis reforms are carried through once economic conditions improve.

Examining the record of financial crises in Turkey in the last four decades, Ercel identified common causes. In almost all crises the country has faced in recent history, public sector deficits had expanded, which provoked investors to withdraw short-term capital and in turn plunged the economy into crisis. For instance, Ercel attributed the inflows of large volumes of short-term capital in the lead up to the 1978-1979 crisis to a positive World Bank report. When these investors abruptly and rapidly withdrew in light of worsening public sector imbalances, the country experienced its worst foreign exchange crisis in three decades.

Domestic political economy, especially the pressure for a rising public sector wage bill, is at the root of the persistent public deficits that prompt financial crises, argued Ercel. The instability of Turkish politics exacerbates this problem, disincentivizing fiscal discipline as governments seek to maintain their hold on power.

In addition to identifying these Turkish political dynamics, Ercel argued that the particular causes of financial crises in emerging economies are distinct from those in developed economies. While industrialized economies are more likely to experience crises in their capital markets, emerging economies are frequently hit by debt crises. Emerging markets are likely to have weak and unsophisticated banking sectors, which may cause fragility, while instability in developed economies stems from the complexity and lack of transparency in banking sectors.

Monday 2 May 2016

Unpopular Voices: Greek public intellectuals of the political centre during the crisis

Kostis Karpozilos (SEESOX-A.G. Leventis Visiting Fellow 2015-16)

On 25 April Apostolos Doxiadis presented his view on the rise of Greek public intellectuals during the multifaceted crisis. A prolific writer and well-known author himself Doxiadis spoke to a full room and provided an intriguing periodization of the contesting narratives generated by the Greek crisis.

This periodization was intertwined with the rise of the Centrist Public Intellectuals (CPIs) in the public debate and their gradual transformation over time. The Centrist Public Intellectuals appeared in the Greek scene after the 2008 riots in Athens sharing a common belief that the events exemplified the rise of extremism and a prevailing atmosphere of anomie. Coming mainly from the Left, but being distant from politics for years the CPIs expressed at the same time dissatisfaction with ruling political parties and disagreement with anti-establishment rhetoric. The onset of the financial crisis was the formative period for these voices. The transformative power of the crisis and collapse of established political order necessitated new narratives providing explanations for the past and ways out for the future. At that point Doxiadis identified the common platform of the CPIs: opposition to populism, extremism and established politics on the one hand and support for structural reforms, institutional changes and the common European project. Tracing the development of this platform over 2012-2015 (from the rise of the extremes to the final episode of the Referendum) the speaker identified the five great legends of the crisis. Using metaphors and literary parallels Doxiadis narrated the story of the Money-Tree (in which the government is a source of unlimited money), the Pill of Bla-Whi (in which nostalgia for the past is linked with clear-cut dichotomies), the Great Myth (in which the nation is under attack until a young leader takes command), the David and Goliath story (in which Greece is fighting against superior enemies), and finally the mantra of a Magic Solution (in which there is an easy fix to the crisis). The negation of these five great legends was the rallying point of the CPIs and a springboard for their agenda that entailed a rational discourse focusing on the accumulated structural problems of the Greek economic and social model. Doxiadis talk was not only of interest for those involved or following the Greek crisis. His ability to position the rise of the CPIs within the Greek social context offered an excellent methodological example of how to discuss the role and limits of public intellectuals. In this context a paradox he illustrated -the central position of CPIs in the public debate but the unpopularity of many of their ideas- provides food for thought in light of recent developments in the United Kingdom and across Europe.