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Democracy Notes
Published: 10/05/2022
Building Global Support for Ukraine: the Question of Development Aid
The arrival of more than five million Ukrainian refugees in the European Union over the last several months marks by far the largest dislocation of people in Europe since World War II. Despite being over three times the size of the 2015 European migrant crisis, the influx of refugees has yet to provoke a political crisis. There are multiple persuasive arguments for why this is the case, but this piece will focus on just one: the increasingly common practice among European Union member states of shifting the financial burden of hosting asylum seekers and refugees onto less-developed foreign countries. While this practice might help shore up short term support for Ukraine on the continent, it also plays a part in undermining that support further afield. Europe has been increasingly comfortable literally shifting asylum seekers to countries outside the bloc in recent years – first in 2015 via an EU agreement with Turkey, then one with Libya for those caught at sea (under conditions Amnesty International calls “hellish”), and most recently in the British plan to send asylum seekers all the way to Rwanda. A lesser known practice, used in 2015 and revived today, has been for countries to redirect their existing humanitarian and overseas development assistance (ODA) budgets towards domestic refugee resettlement and processing – in many cases doing so by cutting already promised programs and funding. Development experts have pointed out the immediate material consequences in terms of greater hunger and poverty and decreases in public health because of the cuts. While internationally accepted guidelines do allow donors to categorize support for domestic refugees as ODA under certain conditions, this is simply an accounting guideline. Those on the receiving end of the cuts are also disproportionately affected by the global spike in food and energy prices that have been a fallout of Russia’s invasion and whose fight against the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic is hampered by the continued resistance by rich countries to waive intellectual property rights for life-saving vaccines and treatments. These cuts will be felt most acutely with regards to already agreed-upon programs and funding, which recipient states will find nearly impossible to finance in today’s volatile macrofinancial climate. In a statement, Oxfam acknowledged that country’s aid budgets are limited, and that “tough choices” need to be made to ensure that funding obligations for both domestically-housed refugees and promised ODA can be met. This is a generous interpretation, as the cuts to development aid are not taking place in a financial vacuum. Germany recently announced a €100 billion increase in defense spending for 2022, and many other European countries quickly followed suit without expressing any corresponding financial concerns. A coalition of Swedish NGOs pointed out that their government’s projected budget surplus for 2022 is roughly fourteen times the size of its cuts to ODA. Denmark has singled out individual states for its budget cuts,  repatriating promised funds to Bangladesh, Syria, Mali, and Burkina Faso, and warning of further cuts on the horizon. Part of the German package entails halving its contribution to the World Food Programme, and Sweden will cut its support for democracy and governance programming worldwide by 43 percent. The cost of rebuilding Ukraine is likely to be massive, the negotiations arduous, and the risks of poor coordination and misallocation high, so European policymakers can perhaps be forgiven for an abundance of caution with current financial outlays. As we have seen, the fallout of the war and its costs spread far beyond Europe, and the failure to handle these in a democratic and equitable manner risks breaking the international isolation that will be key to stopping the Russian war machine. This last cost is not one that European policymakers, not to mention Ukrainians, can afford to pay. This blog is the first in a three-part series.
Democracy Notes
Published: 09/05/2022
Orbán’s Election Victory Sheds New Light on the ‘Copenhagen Dilemma’
The parliamentary election in Hungary on April 3 – which, according to international observers, favoured the ruling party  – resulted in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party securing another four years of power. In his victory speech, Orbán declared: “Our win is so huge you can see it from the Moon, never mind from Brussels”. His sneer at Brussels is nothing new; Orbán has long criticized the European Union and has openly expressed his desire to build an ‘illiberal state’. During Orbán’s current 12-year spell as Prime Minister, Hungary has experienced severe democratic backsliding, as shown by IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices. Several attributes have seen significant declines since he returned to power in 2010. This backsliding has serious implications for the democratic legitimacy of the EU. Since all member states have a say in decisions of the European Council and the Council of the European Union as well as in the make-up of the European Commission, the democratic legitimacy of these decisions are largely dependent on national governments being democratic. The infringements on Media Integrity and Civil Liberties by Orbán also limit the ability of the people of Hungary to cast informed votes in European Parliament elections, which undermines the legitimacy of Hungarian MEPs. The reality is that politicians with dubious democratic credentials currently have the power to influence the lives of all European citizens. The fact that some countries, such as Hungary and Poland, have been backsliding without much actual resistance from the EU has become known as the ‘Copenhagen Dilemma’. The dilemma is named after the Copenhagen Criteria (Treaty of the European Union - TEU article 2), and refers to the EU’s inability to address states’ actions that undermine  democracy, rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities. The EU could choose to  suspend voting rights of a member state, but this relies on a unanimous vote by all member states. While this has not been put to the test, we would expect Hungary’s ally Poland to veto such a vote, as it has also been at odds with the EU. While many welcome the possibility of an inervention by the European Court of Justice, concerns have been raised that this risks politicizing the judiciary and undermining its role as a neutral arbiter. Although it seems like Hungary will be stripped of EU funds due to rule of law breaches, it remains to be seen if this pressures Orbán to improve judicial independence or if it just further fuels anti-EU opinion. Orbán’s rule is not only an internal legitimacy problem for the EU. His illiberal agenda and support for President Putin undermines the EU’s credibility to act as a normative power on the global scene. Orbán has called Ukrainian President Zelensky an ‘opponent’, and he is the only leader within the EU to publicly accept Putin’s demand of paying for Russian gas in rubles. Time will tell if sanctions are the solution to the Copenhagen Dilemma, or if Brussels will continue to watch as Hungary sinks deeper into autocratization.
Democracy Notes
Published: 03/05/2022
A Supreme Court ruling that would undermine Women’s Rights and Democracy in backsliding US
The US Supreme Court leaked a draft majority judgment on 3 May 2022, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, describing the Roe v Wade decision of 1973 as ‘egregiously wrong’.   If the draft is real and is finalized in this form, it will end almost half a century of the constitutional protection of the right to abortion in the US.   The judgment sets US democracy back in several ways.  First, it reveals just how politicized the US justice system is. The Mississippi case that is at the heart of this ruling was taken to the Supreme Court specifically because of its new conservative majority. In fact, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if the Court would even survive the ‘stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts’. Indeed, there were ardent calls for much-admired Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to strategically retire just so that a Democratic president could fill those vacancies. Former President Trump was explicit in his plan to appoint judges specifically to overturn Roe.  Second, the decision entrenches political polarization at a time when the country is arguably more divided than it has ever been. Already, analysts predict that the ruling would prompt around 20 states to immediately further restrict or ban abortion entirely. On the other side of the spectrum, states like Connecticut, Colorado and New Jersey are urgently passing legislation to protect abortion access. As of mid-April, 33 abortion restrictions had been enacted in 9 states.  Third, it casts serious aspersions on the US commitment to gender equality and democratic rights. Already, the US fell below the North American average in terms of gender equality (Figure 1), and is the only industrialized democracy not to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Now, Mexican activists are planning to offer help and services to their neighbours in the north, setting up ways to shuttle Americans across the border to receive treatment and to send pills to those in need. Mexico decriminalized abortion in 2021. In Canada, the Trudeau Government pledged to substantially increase funding to fight attacks on women’s health, dedicating half of CAD 1.4 billion to sexual and reproductive needs.  Figure 1. Gender Equality in North America  Fourth and most importantly, the judgment could eviscerate women’s agency in the most intimate way. And it would do so at a time when the impact of a decline in women’s participation in society is crystal clear. The ruling, made by a Bench on which there are twice as many men as women, would take away rights from those who were at the frontlines of the pandemic and would significantly threaten their safety. As a significant amount of research shows, such restrictions have disproportionate impacts on women from minority communities and economically disadvantaged groups. These findings stand in stark contrast to Alito’s attempt to justify the decision by claiming that abortion rights support racist goals.   Of course, the leak could be strategic, paving the way for a judgment that does not completely overturn Roe but imposes lesser restrictions. Either way, it’s a step backwards for an already backsliding US democracy. The Gilded Age may indeed be making a return, in more ways than one.