Tag Archives: Ireland

Gay Rights in Ireland

Ireland yesterday became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular referendum. Voters in the Roman Catholic nation turned out in droves, with more than 60 percent of voters turning out, and 61 percent of voters approving the referendum. Only one of the country’s 43 constituencies voted no on the measure. All of the country’s major political figures—on both the left and the right—offered their support to the measure.

What do you think? Does Ireland’s popular referendum make approval of same-sex marriage in other countries more likely? Will it have any impact on countries that continue to criminalize same-sex relationships? Why?

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Two-Level Games and the Greek Financial Crisis

Violence erupts on the streets of Athens in response to the Greek parliament's approval of harsh austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF.

The financial crises that have gripped debt-ridden countries in the eurozone in the last year offer some excellent examples of the challenges and complexities of “two-level games.” A two-level game, as defined by political scientist Robert Putnam, refers to a common situation faced by political leaders when negotiating agreements such as trade deals with foreign states. To reach an acceptable agreement a leader must take into account the demands of actors at two levels: the domestic level and the international level. For example, in negotiating a trade deal with China, President Obama would need to try to balance the demands of China’s government with the demands of domestic actors such as Congress and business or labor interest groups. These demands restrict the set of acceptable outcomes at each level, and the final agreement must therefore be located within that window of overlap where both domestic and international actors would find an agreement acceptable. The absence of an overlapping set of acceptable options would ordinarily produce a negotiating failure (examples might include the Kyoto and International Criminal Court Treaties, which President Clinton favored but could not get the U.S. Senate to ratify). The theory of two-level games also highlights the fact that leaders can use constraints at one level to gain leverage at the second level. So Obama might tell China’s leaders that he can’t budge any further on trade concessions due to American business demands, or he might tell Congress this is the best deal they’re going to get from an intransigent Chinese leadership.

What does all of this have to do with the eurozone financial crises? Debt-ridden countries such as Ireland, Portugal, and Greece have sought emergency loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in order to stay afloat financially, but the EU and IMF have attached strict conditions to these loans. Recipient countries have been required to enact harsh austerity measures designed to correct the problems that necessitated the emergency bailouts. These unpopular measures include raising taxes, slashing welfare spending, and cutting government jobs and pensions. Leaders such as the Prime Ministers of Ireland and Greece have faced strong opposition to these internationally imposed demands from a range of domestic actors (the general public, interest groups, and some members of parliament). George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, narrowly survived a no confidence vote in parliament on June 22, and violent protests have erupted in the streets of Athens in response to the proposed austerity measures. Papandreou succeeded in holding together enough domestic support to get these measures approved by parliament, although clashes between riot police and protesters escalated after the vote.

But this isn’t the end of the story. As Foreign Policy blogger David Rothkopf notes in a post entitled “15 Things the Greek Austerity Vote Won’t Accomplish,” the parliament’s decision to approve the controversial measures “won’t guarantee that Greece sticks with the plan that’s approved. Riots in the streets illustrate that the people of Greece are deeply unhappy with what they perceive as a foreign-imposed squeeze. They can force a political reversal that leads to a policy reversal.” In other words, round one of this two-level game may have been won by actors at the international level, but the game continues…and domestic actors in Greece, Portugal, and elsewhere may yet be able to exert sufficient pressure on their leaders to change the game decisively in their favor.

The Irish Crisis

Irish PM Brian Cowen

Irish PM Brian Cowen concedes Ireland requies assistance.

Once the “Celtic Tiger,” the envy of most other European (and indeed global) economies, the economoy of Ireland now lies in tatters. The economic crisis in Ireland reached boiling point over the weekend, as the government announced it would accept loans from the European Union. The Irish government had been resistant to the idea, believing that the conditions imposed on Ireland as part of the relief package were too strict.

According to a statement released Monday by European finance ministers, Ireland will now undertake dramatic “fiscal adjustment” and “structural reform” in order to receive EU and IMF assistance, amounting to some €80bn-€90bn. The proposed relief package covers just a small portion of the bailout needed to pay off foreign banks and keep the Irish economy afloat. Kan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister described the cuts as “fast and deep.” The cuts will likely have profoundly negative effects on the people of Ireland. Already, dramatic cuts in the country’s minimum wages and reductions to universal child benefits have been proposed. Apparently off the table, at least for now, are tax increases. Ireland currently has a corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent and is among the lowest in the world. In many ways, the conditionalities imposed as a part of receiving the relief package echo the era of structural adjustment in the global south.

The package has already provoked considerable discussion in the blogosphere. The FT’s Brussels Blog offered extensive analysis. Also blogging at the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman explores the possible effects on the Euro, while the bloggers at Baseline Scenario point to the moral hazard of socializing the risk associated with investment decisions onto the backs of Irish taxpayers. 

Politically there are costs as well. According to the New York Times, the government of Prime Minister Brian Cowen will likely collapse as a result of the bailout package, forcing new elections early next year. By that time, however, the rescue package will be done, and the new government will be bound by the conditions it imposes.

The Irish crisis certainly raises questions about the viability of the Euro and the strength of the Eurozone economies. While Germany appears to be humming along, many other Eurozone members, including Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland are in the doldrums. Greece has already accepted a EU/IMF rescue package, and investors widely believe that Spain and Portugal will also be forced into austerity. Can the Euro survive such a widespread crisis?

IgNobel Prize Winners

With the Nobel Prize season underway, the folks over at the Annals of Improbable Research have once again announced the winners of the IgNobel Prize. According to organizers, the award is given to researchers whose work “first makes people laugh; then makes people think.” While speculation about who may win the prizes in economics and the Peace Prize continues, the IgNobel Prizes have already been awarded. Among the highlights are…

Prize in Veternary Medicine to Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.

The IgNobel Peace Prize to Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

The Prize in Literature to Ireland’s police service, for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means “Driving License.”

And the Mathematics Prize to Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There have been several interesting developments in European politics over the past few days. Final results were released Saturday from the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish approved the treaty by a wide margin (with 67.1% of voters in favor) after defeating the treaty in June 2008 by a 53.4 percent majority. Ireland’s approval of the treaty represents an important step forward in approving a restructuring of the European Union; a restructuring that would expand the influence of the European Parliament, establish a full-time presidency for the EU (a position for which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be tapped), and limit the ability of national governments to veto EU legislation in certain areas. But despite the approval by Irish voters, Czech President Vaclav Klaus tempered expectations, stating that he may delay signing the treaty until a Czech appeals court can review the treaty and assess its implications for Czech sovereignty.

Two important elections also took place recently. In Germany, Angela Merkel won reelection as Germany’s Chancellor. The victory of her center-right coalition promises to continue her emphasis on greater openness for the German economy. Preliminary results from Greek elections on Sunday suggest that the Socialists will soundly defeat the ruling New Democracy party, possibly securing a legislative majority in the national parliament. The contradictory results suggest an interesting restructuring of European politics.

In news from outside of the European Union last week:

1. Government ministers at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Turkey this week rejected warnings by the banking sector that new financial regulations could undermine economic growth. Representatives from the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom all rejected claims by the global bankers association that regulatory overkill could undermine global economic growth and result in the creation of fewer jobs. But despite apparent agreement on the need for new financial regulations, considerable debate over the exact nature and structure of those regulations remains, and an agreement on the details appears to be a ways off.

2. The International Olympic Committee granted Rio de Janeiro the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games on Friday, making Rio the first South American city to host the Olympics. A last minute visit by President Barack Obama to Copenhagen was unable to convince the IOC to grant the games to Chicago, which was also bidding to host. Several observers have raised concerns that Obama’s unsuccessful campaign to win the games may undermine his ability to deliver on health care reform and foreign policy objectives.

3. A massive earthquake in Indonesia resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 people last week. The tragedy follows a tsunami in the South Pacific that killed more than 100 people. Concerns that another, larger quake could strike soon were also raised on Saturday. International aid campaigns have begun delivering supplies to the region, but the widespread devastation of government facilities in the region could hamper aid efforts.

4. The President of Burkina Faso has been dispatched to meet with the military rulers of Guinea to address the emerging crisis in the country. More than 100 people have been killed in Guinea in the past week, as the county’s military government has moved to quash opposition protests. On Thursday, Cellou Dalein Diallo, former prime minister and current opposition leader, was forced to flee the country, as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power as the country’s leader in a December coup, has attempted to solidify his hold on power.

5. On Sunday, the government of Iran agreed to permit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit a secret uranium enrichment facility made public by the United States last week. The discovery of the site led the Russian government to concede the possibility of United Nations sanctions on the Iranian government—a proposal which both Russia and China have long opposed. The Iranian decision comes ahead of scheduled six-party talks, involving the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, Germany, and Iran, at the end of the month.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President Barack Obama has been busy on the diplomatic front this week. On Thursday, Obama announced his administration would cancel President George Bush’s proposed deployment of a missile defense system to Eastern Europe.  The missile defense system would have involved deployment of radar systems to Poland and the Czech Republic, a move which the Russian government insisted undermined its own national security and necessitated the expansion of its missile systems into Eastern Europe. Although the Russian government denied there was a quid-pro-quo agreement for the U.S. move, the Obama administration is hoping that the change in U.S. policy will help improve relations with Russia and lead to greater cooperation in other areas, including addressing the situation in Iran. However, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded to the announcement with a demand for greater U.S. concessions, including support for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, leading some analysts to speculate that the United States had miscalculated if it believed that its policy change in missile defense would result in a dramatic shift in Russian policy.

On Saturday, the White House announced that President Obama would hold a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba on Tuesday. Obama hopes that the meeting will restart peace talks, which reached an impasse last year. U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy to address the stalled talks for more than a week, but Netanyahu remains under domestic political pressure not to make any concessions on the expansion of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, a key obstacle for the Palestinians.

In other news from the past week:

1. Last week’s meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party raised questions about who will succeed Hu Jintao as the country’s leader. Most analysts had believed that Vice President Xi Jinping was Hu’s heir apparent, poised to take control of the party (and the country) after Hu steps down in 2012. When Xi was named to the Politburo in 2009, it was assumed that his elevation would follow the same path as Hu’s. Hu’s political power rests in his control of three offices: Secretary General of the Communist Party, President of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi was expected to be nominated to succeed Hu as Chairman of the Central Military Commission on Friday, but no announcement from the Central Committee was forthcoming. Although some analysts believe that Xi’s appointment may be announced at a later date, others believe that Hu may be trying to retain control of key positions, including head of the military, after his 2012 retirement.

2. Efforts to resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan continued over the weekend, as closed-door meetings between foreign envoys, opposition leaders, and representatives of President Hamid Karzai discussed the future of the country. Although President Karzai was declared the winner of last month’s presidential elections by the Afghan elections commission, most observers believe that the vote was badly flawed, with the European Union suggesting that as many as 1 million of Karzai’s votes (which would represent more than ¼ of all votes cast in the election) should be viewed as suspect. Seeking to address the political standoff, the West is pushing for a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan that would see Karzai claim the presidency but would considerably weaken the office, transferring significant political authority to appointed technocrats.

3. On Thursday, Islamic insurgents launched a suicide bomb attack against African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia, in a move retaliating against a U.S. strike that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nebhan, a suspected al-Qaeda leader. The African Union force, comprised primarily of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, remains understaffed despite being responsible for addressing the threat posed by Islamic radicals intent on toppling the fragile government.

4. The government of Venezuela has been busy courting foreign assistance in developing its oil production facilities. The Venezulan government last week announced the discovery of a “very large” pocket of natural gas offshore, following a similar announcement by the government of Brazil. The Venezulean government announced that it had signed a $20 billion deal with the Russian government and a $16 billion with the Chinese government to expand oil production in the country by as much as 1.35 million barrels per day.

5. The campaign around the Irish ratification vote on the Treaty of Lisbon, scheduled for October 2, has entered full swing. Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s European Commissioner, delivered a strongly-worded speech to the business community in Dublin suggesting that “international investors would take flight” from the country if it rejected the Treaty. The Treaty, viewed as vital to the continued growth and expansion of the European Union, was rejected by Irish voters in 2008, sparking a furious round of diplomacy to get the Treaty passed. But many observers are forecasting another no vote by Ireland in October could lead to the defeat of the Treaty in other Euroskeptic countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It was a busy week for the Obama administration, as the president made the rounds. On Wednesday, President Obama met with King Abudllah of Saudi Arabia to discuss the “strategic relationship” between the two countries.  On Thursday, the President followed up on a campaign promise, delivering a major foreign policy speech in Cairo, Egypt, where he outlined his vision for Middle East peace. In typical Obama fashion, the speech was balanced and generally well-received. (The video footage of the speech is available on the White House blog). In the speech, he reiterated U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute, called on Israel to cease all settlement expansion in the West Bank, and called on Palestinians to renounce the use of violence. Demonstrating a cultural and technical sophistication, the White House ensured the speech was simultaneously available through Facebook and other social networking sites in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Turkish. On Friday, the President visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. And on Saturday, Obama participated in the 65th anniversary celebration of the D-Day landings before meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

A busy week for the president, but here are five stories you might have missed if you were only watching his travels:

1. A new audio tape was released by Osama bin Laden, denouncing Obama’s policies as a mere continuation of the previous administration and warning the United States to prepare for war. According to many analysts, the release of the audio tape signals a growing concern from al Qaeda about Obama’s policies. Al Qaeda fears that Obama may be successful in reaching out to moderate Arab states, weakening support for the brand of radical Islam preached by al Qaeda.

2. Elections for the European Parliament took place last week. Although results are still being tabulated, the low level of voter turnout is expected to benefit smaller fringe parties, particularly those on the far right. In the Netherlands, unofficial results indicate that the Party for Freedom will become the second-largest Dutch party in European Parliament, capturing 4 of the country’s 25 seats. The party campaigned on a platform opposing immigration and Turkish ascension to the E.U. In the United Kingdom, voters are expected to hand the ruling Labour party a stinging defeat, with a real possibility that the party may place third in European elections. Similarly, in Ireland, the ruling centrist Fianna Fáil is expected to place second behind its center-right rival Fine Gael

3. The results of Iranian presidential election scheduled for Friday could hinge on…wait for it…the results of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and North Korea. In order to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa, Iran must win its three remaining matches: the first against North Korea on Saturday, then against the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, and finally against South Korea on June 17. A loss either of the pre-election matches could produce a sharp backlash against President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, particularly among the 60 percent of Iran’s citizens under 30—a group already inclined to support his rival, Mir-Hossein Moussavi.

4. In a dramatic sign of just how bad the global economic downturn has become, the government of Botswana was forced to turn to the African Development Bank last week for a record $1.5 billion loan. Botswana has long been heralded as one of Africa’s strongest and best-managed economies. Its president, Ian Khama, has a reputation as a reformer and statesman. But even he has been humbled by the problems faced by the economy of Botswana, which depends on diamonds for 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and about 30 percent of its gross domestic product. And as the price of diamonds has collapsed, the country has found itself increasingly facing economic difficulties.

5. On Friday, clashes between police and indigenous Amazonian protestors in Peru claimed more than 30 lives. Peru’s President, Alan Garcia, urged calm, but both sides appear to be escalating a standoff which has been ongoing for two months. At issue are indigenous land right claims, which they feel the government has abrogated in order to attract more foreign investment.