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Article

In the era following the decolonization of Africa, the economic performance of countries on the continent can be traced across three periods. The early postindependence years reflected moderate growth and policy variation, with occasional distress in some countries. From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the region was gripped by a sweeping crisis of growth and solvency shaped by a steep economic downturn and a slow, stuttering recovery. This was also a period of convergence and restrictions on policy space. By the early 2000s, accelerated growth buoyed most economies in Africa, although commodity price shocks and the global economic slump of 2008–2009 created episodic problems. Different approaches to policy and strategy once again marked the landscape. A number of influences help to explain variations in the occurrence of economic crisis across Africa, and the different responses to economic distress. In addition to structural factors, such as geography, resource wealth, and colonial legacies, middle-range political conditions contributed to these downturns. Key institutions, core constituencies, and fiscal pressures were domestic causes and external factors include donor convergence, access to finance, and policy learning. One framework of analysis centers on three factors: ruling coalitions, the fiscal imperative, and policy space. The ruling coalition refers to the nature of the political regime and core support groups. The fiscal imperative refers to the nature of state finance and access to external resources. And the policy space comprises the range of strategic alternatives and the latitude for governments to make choices among broad policy options. Applying the framework to Africa’s economic performance, the first period was marked by distributional imperatives, a flexible fiscal regime, and considerable space for policy experimentation. During the long crisis, regimes came under pressure from external and domestic influences, and shifted toward a focus on macroeconomic stabilization. This occurred under a tight fiscal imperative and a contraction of policy space under the supervision of multilateral financial institutions. In the 2000s, governments reflected a greater balance between distributional and developmental goals, fiscal constraints were somewhat relaxed, and policy variation reappeared across the region. While the early 21st century has displayed signs of intermittent distress, Africa is not mired in a crisis comparable to those of earlier periods. Developmental imperatives and electoral accountability are increasingly influential in shaping economic strategy across the continent.

Article

Spyros Blavoukos

Based on negative publicity related to the financial turmoil and the migration crisis one could perhaps classify Greece as a problematic EU partner. This contribution argues that this static approach does not fully describe the complexity of EU-Greece relations. Looking at the historical evolution of this relationship from a more macroscopic point of view it identifies periods of convergence and divergence. It reinstates the limits of the European adjustment pressures in inducing modernization and accounts for the crises episodes by reference to some idiosyncratic features of the domestic sociopolitical contestation. The contribution discusses the valuable lessons learned by the handling of the crises both for Greece and the EU. It stresses that the Greek public disenchantment with the EU that is inexorably linked with the extreme societal burden of the adjustment process is not an isolated phenomenon. Like in many other EU countries, much of the criticism is directed toward the current scope and direction of European integration rather than on the merits and value of the integration venture per se. What is urgently required for the whole European demos is a new “grand bargain” that will provide the necessary vision for the years to come. This will condition the future evolution of the EU-Greece relationship.

Article

Kurt Hübner

Even the most critical observers of the creation of the euro found some nice words on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. And yet it needed only a marginal event like the announcement of the newly elected Greek government that the previously stated public debt ratio was gravely miscalculated to move the euro into a critical crisis zone. Swiftly the attention of private credit markets turned to more member states of the eurozone, only to eventually detect that financial stability of banks did not meet sustainability indicators. What is often labeled as “eurozone crisis” is better understood by a political-economic forensic analysis that rather speaks of eurozone crises. First, the causes for financial and then sovereign debt crises of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland (to name only the most prominent) differ fundamentally. They were triggered by the same events but caused by differing factors. Second, it is a crisis of economic governance, and thus an institutional crisis that needs fundamental institutional changes. Third, it is a crisis of political leadership. The overlapping character as well as the interplay of those three dimensions hampers a proper understanding of the dynamics of the processes that started in 2010. By differentiating between national crisis causes, triggering mechanisms, policy responses, and multi-level crises management, we suggest a comprehensive analytical framework that may guide current as well as future research in the operating of an incomplete currency union.

Article

Edgars Eihmanis

How did the European Union (EU) shape Latvia’s formal institutions and policy? How has this influence varied across policy domains and over time? Furthermore, how has it shaped domestic politics? The state-of-the-art literature offers only partial answers to these questions, falling short of providing a broader perspective on the effects of Europeanization. EU influence on Latvian institutions and policy has been profound, going beyond the rather technical adoption of acquis and concerning highly contentious issues of domestic politics. The influence has varied in substance and extent over different integration phases, depending on policy agendas and conditionality mechanisms at hand. Assuming a two-dimensional political space, the EU notably pushed Latvia’s policy to the left—both on economic and cultural issue areas. If during the 1990s the EU forced Latvia to liberalize its language and citizenship laws, in the early 2000s it played a major role in building state institutions. During the crisis, the EU not only imposed austere fiscal targets but also found itself playing the role of a social advocate, as domestic authorities pushed fiscal stringency to the extreme. EU’s criticisms regarding Latvia’s social policy eventually contributed to a marked policy change. Furthermore, by shaping Latvia’s institutions and policy, the EU shaped Latvia’s politics as well, as local actors strategically used various EU issue agendas—notably, (anti)corruption—for their own political purposes. Put on the domestic political agenda by the EU (and other international actors) in the early 2000s, (anti)corruption became the second most polarizing issue/area after ethnicity for the decades to come.

Article

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.

Article

The successful negotiation of the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaty inaugurated a new historical era in the Republic of Panama. Politically, the implementation of the Treaty from 1979 to 1999 transformed what, since 1903, had been a protectorate of the United States into a fully sovereign republic. Economically, the integration of the canal into Panama´s internal economy, and that of the country in the global market, created new opportunities for the development of the country. The treaty also put an end to the dispute between Panama and the United States over the control of the rent and revenues produced by the canal, transferring it to the government of the Republic of Panama, and so creating an unprecedented source of resources for investment. More than forty years on, however, Panama faced a combination of sustained (but uncertain) economic growth, persistent social inequity, constant environmental degradation, obsolescence of its institutional system, and increasing internal political tensions, all expressions of the contradiction between the natural organization of the territory of Panama, and the spatial organization of its economy, society and government imposed and maintained since the European conquest of the 16th century. This contradiction is also aggravated by the dispute over control of the canal rent between different sectors of Panamanian society. In short, the country is in a transition stage in its development, which may lead it to overcome the contradiction in developing into a prosperous and equitable republic, or into increasing conflicts that may worsen the contradictions inherent to a centralist and authoritarian tradition of governance.

Article

The observer´s first impression of the European Council is one of tired European Union (EU) leaders who, after dramatic late-night sessions, try to explain ambiguous compromises on key issues of European policies to their media audiences. From a researcher’s perspective, however, there are still many blank areas—a matter resulting from the various obstacles of analyzing this EU institution. The relevance of the European Council’s decisions has driven research on its agenda formation, decision-making and internal dynamics, its legal status and democratic legitimacy. Yet research on the European Council can be cumbersome and methodologically demanding due to the lack of confirmed empirical evidence: meetings of the European Council are consultations behind closed doors and the dense network of mutual information difficult to access. The conclusions are only a concentrate of the discussions held within. It is furthermore a challenge to explain the causal links between the diplomatic language of the conclusions and the real impact these measures have on EU politics. Nevertheless, the European Council is a vivid object of investigation. Since its creation in 1974, the European Council has undergone structural and formal changes: from the increase to up to 28 heads of state or government, to the establishment of a permanent president and the formal inclusion in the institutional setup of the EU in the Lisbon Treaty. From the first “summits” onwards, the Lisbon Treaty had a crucial role in the development of the EU system and the formulation of the underlying treaties. In crisis, it was often the only constellation able to provide consensual and thus effective proposals. Meanwhile, the scope of its activities has been enlarged toward a state-like agenda. It now covers topics at the very heart of national sovereignty. To these issues dealing with core state powers belong economic governance, migration policy, justice and home affairs, and external action, including security policy. Academic controversies about this cornerstone of the Union derive from intergovernmental or quasi-federalist assessments of the institution or from the powers and limitations of “summits” in general and in relation to other EU institutions. Some argue that the European Council shifts the institutional balance toward intergovernmentalist structures. Others stress the European Council’s role in transferring competences to supranationalist institutions. Further debates focus on whether the European Council has (successfully) overtaken the role of a “crisis manager,” or how its embeddedness in the EU institutional architecture could be enhanced, especially vis-à-vis the Council and toward a constructive and balanced relationship with the EP, in future treaty revisions. Analyses of power and of the role of institutions—especially of a key institution as the European Council—are crucial issues of social sciences. Research projects on this highly interesting EU institution will have to assess which methods are adequate: from studying the treaty provisions, formalized agreements and conclusions, to observing its activities as well as tracing external contexts and the internal constellations of the European Council, to evaluating information considered as “anecdotal evidence” from interviews, biographies, and speeches from the few members of this institution.