Europe Needs to Address Its Deficit in Voter Trust

Regan_Aidan HDThe financial-cum-sovereign-debt crisis in the euro zone and the emergence of the troika have led to the perception that Europe is failing to deliver. There is no narrative beyond cuts, bailouts and fiscal austerity. Unemployment in the euro zone is at an all-time high. Growth is stagnant. In some countries such as Spain and Italy, youth unemployment has reached a staggering 50 per cent….

The recent turbulence is reflected in Eurobarometer data. The percentage of citizens dissatisfied with how the EU works has grown substantially. Distrust in European institutions is at an all-time historic high. Citizens are losing trust in both the function and democratic nature of institutions. If history teaches us anything, this does not bode well for social cohesion or economic stability. It is not unreasonable to suggest therefore that European democracy is in crisis. It is increasingly perceived as being neither effective nor democratic.

SPIRes Dr. Aidan Regan writes in the Irish Times on the impact of the Eurozone crisis on democratic trust in the European Union: here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New paper on the state of our system of representative democracy

Professor David Farrell, UCD School of Politics and International RelationsThe latest issue of West European Politics is dedicated to the late Peter Mair, including a paper by SPIRe’s David Farrell. This paper addresses Mair’s lament about the state of party politics and the future of representative politics itself. Farrell’s paper uses Mair’s thesis to frame a discussion about the state of our representative system of democracy. It starts by setting out his arguments on party and democratic failure. It then considers the question of whether the evidence supports such a perspective, or whether in fact there are signs of adaptability and change. This in turn leads to a discussion about the reform agenda in established representative democracies, with particular attention to the potential of ‘mini-publics’ in enabling a role for ordinary citizens in debates over constitutional reform. The paper concludes by arguing that this reform agenda provides evidence of democracies being reconfigured rather than stripped down.

Posted in New SPIRe Research | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Report: Community Relations in Northern Ireland after the Flags Protests (27/2/14)

The Institute for British-Irish Studies (IBIS) hosted a discussion at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin on Thursday, Feb 27th titled Community Relations in Northern Ireland after the Flags Protests. The discussion was focused around the findings of a report commissioned by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, ‘The Long View of Community Relations in Northern Ireland: 1989-2012’, written by Duncan Morrow, Gillian Robinson and Lizanne Dowds.

For details on the seminar, a summary of the Community Relations report and a response to that report by Prof Jennifer Todd (IBIS) follow the link below

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The West Awaits – Why the EU cannot Respond to Russian Aggression

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea has been identified by several European foreign ministers in the last 36 hours as the gravest threat to European security in 20 years, certainly since the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union. That was a collapse, it should be noted, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously called a ‘tragedy’. The question now facing those self-same European ministers is precisely how to deal with this threat.

Overall, European policy towards Russia has been one of accommodation, dialogue and partnership. While Russian’s have fretted about being treated as if they were just another country – instead of the global superpower they once were and aspire to become again – the process was well bedded down. Europeans tempered their delicate feelings on the quality of Russia’s ‘sovereign’ democracy, on human rights abuses and on obnoxious anti-gay legislation while at the same time ridiculing the behaviour of Russian oligarchs and Putin’s hyper-macho posturing. For their part, Russians demanded special treatment (and sometimes got it), criticised European decadence and parlayed resource wealth into an effective, if blunt, foreign policy tool. On the face of it, the bones of an evolving relationship could be identified – even echoing Mikhail Gorbachev’s late 20th century call for a common European home. That ambition is now dead in the water.

What European governments now have to face is a powerful military actor with the capacity and the will to disregard any and every norm of 21st century diplomacy in pursuit of its own geostrategic interest. The government of Vladimir Putin sees the world only in a binary context: there is ‘us and those we control’ against ‘them and those that we seek to control’. ‘Partnership’ is clearly not within this lexicon. European governments are poorly equipped to deal with such an actor. Immersed in a culture of rules, norms and law they have created for themselves a neo-Kantian island of perpetual peace. Moreover, while the European Union and its member states excel at the use of soft power – with the Euromaidan in Kiev’s independence square a pre-eminent case study – they largely fumble (collectively) when deploying hard power, either economic or military.

The EU ministerial meeting of 3 March 2014 exemplifies the point. Meeting 36 hours (!) after the event (the UN, OSCE and NATO had all managed to meet in the interim), EU ministers offered stout condemnations, time for Putin to reconsider and demands for ‘de-escalation’ and a return to the status quo ante. In the absence of de-escalation, ministers insisted that consideration would then be given to considering implications for bilateral relations, mentioning,en passant, the long-demanded visa-free travel regime sought by Moscow.

Simultaneously, the President of the European Council scheduled an emergency meeting of EU Heads of State and Government for three days later, March 6. The battle-plan, such as it was, assumed either that Putin responded in the face of (vague) European resolve or that the situation was stalemated or deteriorated, thus demanding political decisions at the highest level of the Union.

On the positive side, the Union’s policy quiver has plenty of arrows; from cancelling defence contracts (painful to France), hitting Russia’s access to financial services/banking (painful to UK) and hitting Russia’s energy deals with Europe (painful to Germany). Doubtless, a menu can be constructed in archetypal EU style which spreads the pain as widely and as precisely as possible.

What is not at all clear is whether the Union will have the stomach to follow through. Member states span a spectrum between those that advocate a strong and resolved opposition to Russian adventurism and those that insist that a more accommodating diplomatic approach will deliver results. Doubtless the arguments of the former are ringing more loudly that those of the latter but consensus is the name of the European game and consensus tends to deliver lowest common denominator politics. Meanwhile the OSCE, NATO and UN are centre-stage – even as the US marshals its own ambivalence towards Russia. The EU has a critical role to play, but the fear has to be that with a weak script and a poor performance the Union’s failure will contribute to a tragedy – again.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Europe’s kaleidoscope of electoral systems for electing MEPs

This post is based on a press briefing I made in the European Parliament in Brussels last week. For video footage, see here. The contents of this post will be updated as further details emerge on the member state electoral systems.

Simon and me in the EP

The European Parliament (EP) elections occur between May 22 and 25 this year.  Hundreds of millions of voters are eligible to vote (though far less actually will) for the 751 MEPs from 28 member states, making this the one of the largest exercises in representative democracy in the world, and certainly the most ambitious in terms of the range of countries involved.

A detail not often appreciated is that – despite the passing of legislation on ‘uniform electoral procedures’ in 2002 – there continues to be a very wide range of variation on the different electoral systems used across the various member states.  This can have important implications for who gets elected, for how they get elected, and for what they do once elected. Continue reading

Posted in New SPIRe Research, Opinion/Debate | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ukraine, Is This Civil War?

Ukraine: Is This Civil War?

Erin BaumannDr. Erin Baumann: School of Politics & International Relations, UCD

To say the situation in Ukraine is developing rapidly is a vast understatement.  Since Monday the country has gone from promising calm to rapidly descending chaos.  In the midst of this many observers both inside and outside the country have been quick to suggest that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.  While the images we see from Maidan Square in central Kyiv are undeniably alarming and disturbing is this actually civil war?

There are myriad definitions of civil war.   Some, such as those as Singer and Small, focus almost entirely on the number of deaths resulting from a conflict, others, such as Fearon and Laitin, emphasize the duration of the conflict and the involvement of state sanctioned armed forces.  The one consistent factor between definitions of civil war is the domestic nature of the conflict.  Whether fighting occurs between segments of the population or the population and the government, the primary way in which we have come to ‘know civil war when we see it’ is by identifying violent conflict within one state.

As the situation in Ukraine unfolds the one thing becoming increasingly clear is the violent nature of the conflict between protestors and government forces in Kyiv and elsewhere.  Since Tuesday 18th February estimates place the death toll at anywhere between 50 and 100, and the number injured between 500 and 1000.  Police and protestors are both rumored to have used live ammunition against each other and claims that both sides are taking prisoners are now on the rise.  Despite this level of violence it is debatable if we can call what is happening in Ukraine a civil war.   Or for that matter if such assertions help or hurt the situation.

Media outlets have reduced the conflict down to a linguistic or ethnic division between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers.  They have even offered ‘helpful’ maps that show a clear dividing line across the country and between these two supposedly opposing populations.  Ukrainian speaking populations from the West, they suggest, universally align with the Opposition – represented by Arseniy Yatsenyuk (of the Batkivshchyna party) and Vitali Klitschko (of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) – while Russian speaking populations from the East are lined up behind President Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.  This overly simplistic notion, however, plays into the hands of those who see Ukraine as a divided state that has never truly been ‘fit for purpose’.

This narrative has long been popular amongst Russian elites who have never fully accepted Ukraine’s independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Putin and other supporters of the ‘Eastern Slavic’ national ideology view Russians and Ukrainians, as well as Belarusians, as constituent members of one overarching nation.  In the early years of Ukrainian independence such ideas continued to hold sway among large portions of Ukraine’s population – particularly in those Eastern and Southern regions that had been subject to Russian rule (in one form or another) for hundreds of years prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union.  Over the course of the last twenty years, however, citizens across the state have shown an increased propensity to identify with the independent Ukrainian nation, as well as the independent state of Ukraine.  Despite overly simplistic reports to the contrary, Ukrainians on the whole have also shown an increased affinity with the state’s titular language.  According to the 2001 census more than two-thirds of Ukraine’s population identified Ukrainian as their native language.  In only 3 of Ukraine’s 27 administrative regions, in fact, did more than 50% of the population list Russian as their mother tongue.  Today, the vast majority of Ukrainians identify as bilingual and feel at ease operating in both the Ukrainian and the Russian languages.  They also overwhelmingly support the sovereignty of Ukraine.

This is not a conflict between national groups seeking dominance of the political system nor is it a conflict between regional factions seeking political partition (although some commentators continue to suggest that this is the best solution to the current crisis).  This is a conflict between citizens and politicians from across Ukraine over the future of the state and the leaders who should guide it there.

The Yanukovych administration’s decision on 21 November 2013 to turn away from the EU Association Agreement towards which they had worked for over a year may have been the spark for the Euromaidan protests, but the tinder of corruption and political distrust had been laid long before.  Viktor Yanukovych has long been one of the most divisive figures in Ukrainian politics.  His role in the 2004 presidential elections that eventually sparked the Orange Revolution, his wavering position on the question of genocide in the Holodmor famine, his involvement in the prosecution and detention of political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, his support for deepening relations with Russia, and his nepotistic promotion of the political and financial interests of his inner circle – now commonly known as ‘The Family’ – have sparked outrage among the Opposition.  They have also served to entrench public perceptions of the President as a corrupt, self-interested puppet of powerful oligarchs, outside interests, and perhaps even the Kremlin.  Among his staunchest supporters in the industrial eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhia, however, Yanukovych is seen as the strong, pragmatic, and decisive leader Ukraine needs.

This type of political tension is, sadly, more common in post-Soviet Eastern Europe than many in the West like to admit.  In the last five years alone protests similar to those seen in the early days of Euromaidan arose in both Moldova and Belarus.  What was missing then and there, however, was the level of out-and-out violence we now see on the streets of Kyiv.  When protestors stormed back into Maidan Square on the morning of Tuesday 18th February they were not looking for bloodshed.  Though, arguably, some may have been looking for conflict, the majority wanted one thing – an end to Viktor Yanukovych’s creeping authoritarian grip on power.  While the President’s desire to accede to such demands was obviously negligible, his interests did not then and do not now lie in civil war.  Yanukovych is, as his opponents suggest, self-interested.  He is also, as his supporters suggest, pragmatic.  As such, he is likely to recognize that his political career, and at this point perhaps his life, depends upon a retreat from violence and a peaceful resolution to the current crisis.  On the other hand, he may now be, as one protestor suggested, like a caged rat – desperately clawing and chewing his way out of this mess.

Is what we are now witnessing between protestors and government forces in Kyiv, Lviv, and elsewhere in Ukraine civil war – no.  The situation has turned undeniably violent within the state, but the newness of the conflict, as well as its disorganised, inconsistent, and generally amorphous nature leaves it beyond the scope of reasonable definitions of this concept.  Does this mean that such an outcome is outside the realm of future possibility – no.  But it means that calling what is happening in Ukraine right now a civil war is both incorrect and, potentially, irresponsible.


Posted in Opinion/Debate | Leave a comment

“Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics had such a dramatic impact on me that I tried to dump law and read politics”

Human rights lawyer Conor Gearty cites Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics taught in a UCD Politics course taught by Fr. Fergal O’Connor as the most inspiring books he read in university:
“Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics had such a dramatic impact on me that I tried to dump law and read politics”

Aristotle’s Politics is one of the texts in SPIRe’s Introduction to Political Theory: Models of Democracy module taught this semester.(POL 10020).

Posted in SPIRe Announcements | Leave a comment

Thresholds of State Change: Changing British State Institutions and Practices in Northern Ireland after Direct Rule

SPIRe’s Professor Jennifer Todd details of process of institutional change in Northern Ireland in the 2000s in a recent article in Political Studies.


A long process of state-institutional change underlay an eventual swift restructuring of Northern Ireland on a more equal basis in the 2000s. This article shows how change occurred and explains its phasing, arguing that it took a threshold form. It gives a distinctive characterisation of the ‘recognition’, ‘agenda’ and ‘implementation’ thresholds, and the different politics that followed each. This model of state change is of interest in three ways: in providing a distinctive characterisation and explanation of the process; in addressing the comparative literature on ‘exclusion’, conflict and settlement by sketching a threshold model of change from ‘exclusion’ to ‘inclusion’; and in speaking to a pressing moral concern – if settlement was possible at all, why was it not possible sooner? The article makes use of new evidence in the form of over 70 elite interviews with senior British and Irish politicians and officials who made, influenced and closely observed the process.

Posted in New SPIRe Research | Leave a comment