Brexit and the cosmopolitan world order

Posted: June 27th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: european union, governance, human rights, philosophy, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

There are those who see the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union as a prelude to turning back to the times when the main sovereign actor in the world is the (nation) state. However, resorting to the intergovernmental model is not the only option to analyse Brexit, the other views (cosmopolitan pluralist, minimal world state and cosmopolitan democracy) should be analysed as well.

Intergovernmentalists probably see Brexit as a natural consequence of a political union that has stretched too far. There can be no (democratic) legitimate government above the nation state level and thus any attempts at political unions such as the EU are futile if not harmful, this thinking goes.

The negotiation of national parliamentary sovereignty and binding supranational rules have been unsuccessful in the EU-UK case and thus it is only normal that the state that has delegated powers to the EU can now take those back and leave. In this traditionalist thinking, the citizens of the UK had all the rights to vote for Brexit, because it is they who are ultimately in charge of the fate of their country and whatever they do (even if it harms themselves or others) is right.

The cosmopolitan pluralists believe that (nation) state is over or in decline and no longer the centre of sovereign power. Therefore power has been shifting to multiple other levels of government, global, regional, subnational, corporate multinational etc. The state is just one of the levels of a pluralist, complex, interdependent, networked world which does not have a centre of power.

From this perspective, Brexit as a decision by referendum of the UK citizens was unfair: in a cosmopolitan plural world order everyone who is affected should get a say and stakeholders consulted. In an interdependent world why are the citizens of one entity allowed to screw things up for everyone else? Scottish independence is a neat example of the subnational levels of governance exerting influence beyond the nation state. Even if the UK left, this does not mean that we should not continue to democratise the supranational levels of governance (i.e. the EU) and continue building a strong European polity.

The proponents of the minimal world state model are of the view that there are certain universal core principles that apply to all states and all people, which cannot be derogated from and the breach of which will limit state sovereignty. Universal human rights at their core are as such limiting state sovereignty: humanitarian interventions can be used to prevent mass grave human rights violations, such as genocide, in a sovereign state. Other violations might bring sanctions and trade restrictions. This minimal world state is institutionalised through the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly (and other UN bodies) and includes international NGOs as powerful actors. The deliberations at the global level in other matters than human rights as well (millennium development goals) exerts soft pressure to states to comply.

Brexit does not really have a consequence in terms of the minimal world state model, because both the EU and the UK remain a part of it and will need to comply with the core requirements. The influence of the EU and the UK in the world state level might be decreased because of the weakening of the position of the EU.

Cosmopolitan democracy model requires democratic decision-making in all levels, including global. This model sees the future creation of a world parliament and limits state sovereignty only to those issues that are internal to that state. In this case states are subordinated to a global democratic entity and transnational solidarity is the norm, because most problems are not confined to the borders of any one state.

Brexit is a setback to cosmopolitan democracy if one counts the EU as a precursor to eventual global democracy. In a fully developed cosmopolitan democracy Brexit would not matter because nation states would not matter either. The UK leaving the EU would be similar to a redrafting of the administrative borders of a county or district, which does not have global impact.

In conclusion: none of the models of international political theory offer a complete solution. The world is slowly turning away from the intergovernmental model, but neither the minimal world state and cosmopolitan pluralism models are fully existing yet. And even though cosmopolitan democracy is as an ideal an interesting one, it seems to be a long way to go before it can be realised. Brexit can be read as a countertrend towards intergovernmentalism, but it (and the reactions to it) also reflect the unsuitability of the current international political frameworks to deliver. The confusion and reactions in different countries (and the fact that we in Estonia also care deeply about Brexit) can be seen as supporting the emergence of cosmopolitan pluralism as the main framework, but as it also is vague and confusing it does not offer much help. Minimal world state does not seem to be affected much (even though prevalence of nativism might mean even less interest in responsiblity to protect doctrine and thus weakening of the applicability of the model).

Read more:

Zürn, Michael. “Survey Article: Four Models of a Global Order with Cosmopolitan Intent: An Empirical Assessment.” Journal of Political Philosophy 24.1 (2016): 88-119.


UK and EU: a horrible end

Posted: June 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: european union, governance, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

With the UK referendum result, it makes sense to look at the troubled relationship that the UK and the EU have had, which might put yesterday’s vote into a perspective.

The UK did not join the EEC in 1958 with the original six because it thought that the much looser European Free Trade Area worked better for them and because it wanted to preserve its existing US and Commonwealth (colonial) trade links and relationships. This was a mistake because that meant that they did not have any say on the initial design of the EU institutions, thus voluntarily sidelining themselves and never being able to call themselves a founding member (which apparently still is relevant) and thus paved the way for the Franco-German engine of European integration.

However, they realised their mistake quickly and already in 1961 applied to join the EEC for the first time. This could have still given them a lot of leverage, because the EEC just did not appear in 1958, but over a gradual 10-year transition period. The French president Charles de Gaulle (in agreement with West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer) vetoed UK’s accession. The UK tried again in 1967, but were again vetoed by France. So for the crucial formation period of the EU, the UK did not have any say on its development.

The UK accession negotiations only became possible after 1969 when Charles De Gaulle had been forced out. So it finally joined in 1973 with Denmark and Ireland (and almost Norway). In 1975 they got worried about the loss of sovereignty and organised a referendum whether to stay or not. They decided to stay with a large, 2 to 1 margin.

Then came Margaret Thatcher, who essentially created the reluctant, half-hearted and antagonistic membership status that the UK has had so far. She fought with the most influential Commission president Jacques Delors and in 1990 her opposition to Europe caused her government to fall and ended her rule of the UK.

For the revolutionary 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the EU as a political union, the next PM John Major fought to have the opt-out from the euro and EU’s social rights, continuing the strategy of being a reluctant partner.

Tony Blair came into power in 1997 and was initially much more pro-EU, preparing not for a Brexit, but instead a referendum on the UK’s membership of the eurozone, which, of course, never happened. He also signed up to the social rights aquis. As a reaction, the Conservatives turned more eurosceptic and UKIP started to make gains, winning seats in 1999 European Parliament elections.

Then came the Iraq invasion, which the UK supported, but France and Germany opposed. This caused a lot of mistrust and probably also re-awakened concern in France and Germany regarding where the true loyalties of the UK are. Blair never recovered after that in the eyes of many EU leaders and Gordon Brown did not do much to repair the relationship.

In 2010 David Cameron became the PM and made a series of disastrous decisions on the EU (in order to hold support of the growing eurosceptic faction within the Tory party).

Already in 2009 he had engineered the change of alliances for the Conservative Party in the European Parliament, from the dominant European People’s Party (currently 215 MEPs) to the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (currently 74 MEPs). This meant that the Tory party MEPs were no longer in the same EPP group as Merkel’s CDU or French UMP (now Republicans) and other mainstream right-wing parties, but instead now were in the same fringe group with right-populist parties like the True Finns of Finland and Law and Justice (PiS) of Poland.

In 2011 Cameron angered other EU leaders by vetoing the amendments to the EU treaties on fiscal responsibility forcing the other EU countries to create the European Fiscal Compact outside of EU law. In 2013 he pledged to hold a Brexit referendum, after sustaining long pressure from within his party.

After the 2014 European Parliament elections, he fought against the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the president of European Commission, calling him “the wrong man, from yesterday”. In the end he was only joined by Hungary’s Viktor Orban in voting against Juncker who was appointed to lead the EC.

In the run-up to the UK referendum and now following the result, he not only destroyed the UK’s membership in the EU totally and weakened the EU’s prospects at the worst possible time, he has also diverted the focus of the EU from issues like the migration crisis and other urgent reforms.

Taking the above into account, perhaps a horrible end is better than endless horror, when it comes to the UK-EU relationship.


Brexit

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

The UK referendum on withdrawing from the European Union is a significant matter. The UK, which itself almost split less than two year ago in the Scottish independence referendum is going through processes, which almost all states in the world are going through: the movement towards multilevel interdependent governance, a sort of cosmopolitan federalism.

In a way we already have a very loose state for the world, in the form of the UN, G7, IMF, WTO and other institutional frameworks that manage the governance of an increasingly interdependent world. These institutions are opaque, bureaucratic, in many ways unfairly composed, Western-centric and deeply undemocratic, but we cannot organise peaceful living together without them. In a world facing climate change, religious and national conflicts, a global economy that also creates inequality, and rapid technological changes, no country can be an island, and decide by themselves. Without fora to discuss and decide how to tackle and manage these things, life would be much worse for everyone.

The same processes happen in the different regions of the world. The EU is perhaps the most successful example so far, but there are other economic and political unions and blocs have been formed. In trade, in addition to the EU there are EFTA, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, ASEAN, COMESA and many others; 419 different regional trade agreements, according to WTO. These have not just appeared, but serve an important need to coordinate and discuss issues that matter regionally. Here are the main different frameworks in Europe.

Supranational_European_Bodies-en.svg

Source: wikimedia

The trend is clearly in the direction of more states becoming members of more of these frameworks, because it makes sense to do so. This kind of soft-federalism is also called subsidiarity, which means that decisions are made at the level where it makes the most sense to do so, which in itself is a functional/rational approach to decision-making.

Now the (nation) state level seems to be under the most pressure. On the one hand there are forces of subsidiarity that come with globalisation and pull more and more things to the supranational level. At the same time, there is also a drive for more autonomy for sub-state government levels. In some federal states such as Germany, the US and Switzerland, this is managed pretty well. In others, there is considerable conflicts because there are people who do not think they need or want the state they are in (Catalan independence in Spain, Belgium, Scottish referendum, etc).

In parallel to this development, we also see the development of megacities, which are becoming more important than the countries that host them and where there is a huge rift between the cosmopolitan/urban/digital nomads living in those cities and nativists who live in the surronding countryside.

The proof that we already live in this cosmopolitan federalist world is apparent in the huge amount of interest that possible Brexit generates outside of the UK. This interest is there because what the British people decide will have consequences to other people in the world. And in this complex arrangement which has to consider many competing interests, national referendums are not the tools to decide such matters.

But there unfortunately is referendum today in the United Kingdom so I hope that the people of UK vote responsibly and take into account that they make a choice not only concerning the UK, but they make a decision that will also impact all other people in the EU as well. Distractions such as Brexit are not only going to create a lot of unhappy people whichever way the decision goes, but it also stops us from discussing issues that need to be solved together. Imagine having meeting at work about a new product, when one of the participants cannot decide whether he wants to work there or not and makes that the main discussion topic.


How state aid killed Estonian Air

Posted: November 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, law | No Comments »

The abrupt but expected end of Estonian Air on 8 November 2015 was due to serious breaches of state aid rules. By ‘rescuing’ the airline, the Estonian government instead committed several sins, which were easy to foresee for anyone who have even the slightest understanding of that area of EU competition law.

The aid was to rescue an airline that was not profitable for 10 years, it was given multiple times after several unsuccessful attempts at different business strategies. Sustaining a business which would fail under market conditions is a sin in a market economy. A healthy marketplace is one where innovative and efficient companies grow at the expense of obsolete uncompetitive ones. By giving aid, Estonian government helped a company that should have gone out of business years ago to remain operating. This means that the more efficient companies had no possibility to compete on a fair basis (hence the reason why Tallinn Airport has seen very little competition from other airlines). By giving this unfair advantage to Estonian Air, Estonian government impeded the normal functioning of the Tallinn flight passenger market, a distortion that is not in the interests of consumers.

This means that not only that Estonian taxpayers had to spend a huge sum as an illegal subsidy to a company with no viable business model (money that could have been better spent), but that also everyone flying to and from Tallinn Airport have had to pay significantly higher ticket prices (or not be able to enjoy lower prices). Lack of competition also meant lower interest in entering the market.

State aid is something that is given only in last resort, if nothing else works, but the company can still be viable. It was quite obvious that there is no way that Estonian Air could be viable (no such realistic business plan existed). However, by giving the company state aid, it created conditions where the company did not need to have realistic business plans. Instead, it sends the company a message that however crazy and unrealistic plans there are, the state will in the end cover the losses. This induces reckless and extreme risktaking behaviour (cf Taskila plans). This is why the ‘one time, last time’ principle is so important as it really means that the state aid is there for this one time.

State aid to a non-viable company is also unfair towards other Member States. What if all Member States behaved like Estonia? A subsidy run to the bottom in which all Member States start pouring public money into airlines that would never stand a chance in an open market would be a huge waste of resources. It also undermines the great achivement that is the single European aviation market, which has only existed for less than two decades and has brought so many benefits.

The establishment of a new company with the exact same routes, by the same owner, using again public money seems to me to be another attempt to flaunt these rules. If this company fails in a year or two, will there be another 40 million euros spent on another airline and then another? Why? This does not seem to be following the essence of these rules, and specifically the ‘one time, last time’ rule.

In my opinion, the European Commission has been too lenient in the Estonian Air case, by delaying the obvious decision for so long.

One more important thing.

EU state aid law does not have public enforcement mechanisms (i.e. the European Commission) only, there are also private mechanisms available. This means that there might be claims for damages against the Estonian state by other airlines that have suffered because of this illegal aid. This means that airlines that have had to compete unfairly against the one that has received illegal state aid (i.e. Air Baltic, Finnair, Lufthansa, Ryanair) could claim under national law damages from the Estonian government. Estonian Competition Act is brief on this, but states in § 78 that “[p]roprietary or other damage caused by acts prohibited by this Act shall be subject to compensation by way of civil procedure.” If I were any of these competing airlines I would seriously consider bringing a civil claim in an Estonian court for damages against the Estonian state for giving illegal state aid to Estonian Air. Because the breaches were fairly obvious and very grave, it could well be worth the effort.


Online freedom and offline borders

Posted: May 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, migration, refugees, thoughts | No Comments »

The role of Facebook, twitter and social networking applications in the so-called “Arab Spring” and other forms of resistance to authoritarian regimes has been much lauded in the West. The spread of social media seems to also have a role in the ongoing migration disaster at Europe’s borders, but also probably requires a fundamental rethink to the physical boundaries between countries.

Restrictive migration policies are already morally problematic, especially when talking about refugees. Seyla Benhabib wrote that:

Migrations pit two moral and legal principles, foundational to the modern state system, against each other. On one hand, the human right of individuals to move across borders whether for economic, personal or professional reasons or to seek asylum and refuge is guaranteed by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Article 21 of the declaration recognizes a basic right to self-government, stipulating that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”  /…/

The international system straddles these dual principles but it has not been able to reconcile them. The irony of global developments is that while state sovereignty in economic, military, and technological domains is eroded and national borders have become more porous, they are still policed to keep out aliens and intruders.  The migrant’s body has become the symbolic site upon which such contradictions are enacted.

/…/

If conditions in a person’s native country so endanger his life and well-being and he becomes willing to risk illegality in order to survive, his right to survival, from a moral point of view, carries as much weight as does the new country’s claim to control borders against migrants.  Immanuel Kant, therefore, called the moral claim to seek refuge or respite in the lands of another, a “universal right of hospitality,” provided that the intentions of the foreigner upon arriving on foreign lands were peaceful.  Such a right, he argued, belonged to each human being placed on this planet who had to share the earth with others.

Even though morally the right to hospitality is an individual right, the socioeconomic and cultural causes of migrations are for the most part collective.  Migrations occur because of economic, environmental, cultural and historical “push” and “pull” factors. “We are here,” say migrants, “because in effect you were there.”  “We did not cross the border; the border crossed us.”

European countries, especially my own coutry Estonia, seem still to be much in favour of moving to very secure physical borders while at the same time promoting extreme freedom online. People around the world at the same time are more and more living a blended online and offline life, both modes complementing and impacting the other, sometimes indistinguishably so. The 1,3 million strong Estonia is a particular example of this clash: it is the most conservative EU country in terms of migration and citizenship, and at the same time it promotes “e-residency”, a project to attract foreigners to use its e-services.

The assumption seems to be that we can separate offline and online lives from each other. But that is not possible. People who migrate or intend/have to do so (a few of whom have to resort to dangerous and inhumane journeys across the Mediterranean or other external borders) also live partly online. They see the self-curated life stories of their Facebook friends and instagram contacts in Europe, which acts as a further motivation to try to take on the trip to  escape persecution or seek a better life. They use social media to organise transport and contact smugglers, in absence of secure and safe legal pathways (but of course, are not really “lured in” by them as reported by many in the media). One of the translators to Estonia’s troops in Afghanistan was able to create an unprecedented discussion in Estonian media about getting refuge, because he was able to use social media to contact journalists and others in Estonia.

This conundrum is not solvable by creating barriers to the online side. The ridiculous proposal to close the social media pages of smugglers, which was among the initial lackluster EU plans to address the issue, would be practically impossible to implement (as most of the EU’s initial plans). What can be done is to rethink asylum and migration policies so that it takes into account the fact that we live in borderless online world in a way that softens, not hardens, borders offline, a part of which is dealing with poverty and inequality. This might eventually lead to a world without borders both offline and online.


Estonia’s refugee debate

Posted: May 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, migration, refugees, thoughts | 1 Comment »

In Estonia, the European migrant/refugee crisis has resonated particularly strongly. This is somewhat surprising at the first glance, but actually quite expected, because it calls upon issues that are extremely important, but with which Estonia at the same time struggles.

  1. The acceptance of liberal democratic (or Western) values of tolerance. Historically, European liberal social values have been accepted by the Estonian political elite only superficially. Human rights and tolerance in particular have not become entrenched due to the lack of will by the political powers to deal with the topic (partly due to their own world view). Perhaps it is true that Estonia also was admitted to the EU too soon, and only because it promised to do certain things and legislated others, but has no real intention to take European values seriously. The refugee issue forces us to overtly choose between universal moral and legal values prescribed by international human rights and nativism/nationalism.
  2. The large Russian minority in Estonia. The usual counter argument from the conservative politicians (and many others) is that there already are 30% of non-Estonians living in Estonia and we should not increase that percentage. This is offensive to the Estonian Russians basically stating that they are second class and that it would be better for them to leave. It also tells us that the integration policies so far have been a failure, since the poisonous discourse of Estonian Russians as not being a part of “us Estonians” still hangs on. The decision to accept migrants would help to deconstruct this damaging discourse.
  3. Facing up against racism and islamophobia. I included racism and islamophobia here, because there seems to be much more willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees than Arab or African ones, which in my opinion is not only related to the geographic and relative proximity of Ukraine, but also to the skin color and religion of the different refugees. There is a strong undercurrent of racism and islamophobia in Estonia, which is fuelled by lack of direct contact with people from muslim background or people with a black skin colour combined with negative media portrayals and stereotypes. The debate makes it easier to fight these negative stereotypes, especially thanks to Estonian journalists who have sought out refugees who have come to Europe both in Italy, Greece and Sweden and who help telling their very human stories.
  4. The sovereignty and borders issue. Refugees and other migrants symbolise the impossibility of having closed borders in today’s globalised, interdependent world. Borders have become and should be porous, says Seyla Benhabib, and I agree. Fortress Europe is an endeavour that was doomed from the start. Keeping people from moving from one country to another is not morally or ethically compatible with how we live our lives today and the refugee crisis forces us to recognise this. It also means that sovereignty must be and is gradually transformed from a national one to cosmopolitan one, if we want to preserve and grow peace and prosperity. In Estonia, the strong rhetoric of keeping our borders secure and the criminalisation of irregular border crossings are completely wrong things to say or do.
  5. The raison d’etre of Estonian statehood. Partly because of neoliberal thinking, we have created in Estonia a state with the wrong values. In Estonia even more so than in other Western countries, the state must be foremost a well-oiled machine that efficiently delivers services (and protects us from Russian invasion). Although the Estonian Constitution prescribes a strong liberal Western state, the actual state that we have is more of a value-neutral, almost nihilistic one (except the nationalist streak which only seems to be strong in the national defence and interior realms). Overall the Estonian political elite have not taken moral stands on value issues, delegating authority and responsibility for these values to Europe. Now, with the refugee crisis, the Estonian government is faced with a moral decision (much like with the civil partnership law last year), in which it has to clearly make a choice. It forces our pragmatic party politicians to make a moral leadership decision.

So, the European refugee crisis is also at the same time an Estonian identity crisis. The voluntary acceptance of a number of refugees by resettlement from refugee camps outside of Europe and participation in the burden sharing for asylum seekers (although I do not think it is helpful or humane to characterise asylum seekers as a ‘burden’) will contribute to the slow untangling of all of those issues and hopefully make Estonia a better society for all of us. In 2018 Estonia will take on the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU (and also celebrate 100 years of the Estonian state), which means that we will be center stage in Europe and the world, and we have to be able to deal with and lead on all kinds of issues, but migration is surely going to be one of them. It will be an important test of whether we are mature enough to lead on these moral issues.


The evolution of Western public service: from personal servants of the sovereign to representative bureaucracy and multi-level governance

Posted: January 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, governance, schoolwork, thoughts | No Comments »

Note: This was originally written as a final assignment for a course on Public Service.

This essay aims to discuss the evolution of the Western public service, reflecting on the historical development of it, and then looking at the specific challenges that public services faces today. The essay focuses in that part on representative bureaucracy and its links with multi-level governance and neutrality. It is not an in-depth study, but rather gives some sketches and preliminary observations on these themes. Particular attention will be given to Estonia and the European Union, which are used especially in the latter part of the essay to illustrate specific examples and current issues.

The question of what we need the public service for has had different answers in different times. If one agrees that the definition of the public service is “mediating institutions that mobilise human resources in the service of the affairs of the state in a given territory” (Bekke et al. 1996, cited in Van den Berg 2011), then it is tightly connected with what the state is and what it does. In this way it depends on what is the status of the state in a given time and place as well as the personal position and values of any individual and her experiences vis-a-vis the state.

When discussing the evolution of the role of public service, it is thus necessary to look at the wider context of what the state is and what are the institutions that mediate human resources in state affairs. This essay aims to discuss the development of Western public service in particular due to its dominance in the academic discourse which of course does not mean that other public service traditions are less important or valuable to study. It also aims to draw upon parallels of evolution of public service in a multitude of Western countries, which does not mean that all countries are or were similar in the way the public organisation was organised. Notably, the US and European approaches to public service were and continue to be different in many details, but there is also significant diversity among European states as well.

Raadschelders and Rutgers (1996) identify five phases of public service. They place the origin of the civil service to 13th century when the state appears although they also admit that government existed also before that. Initially, civil servants were the people who took care of matters for the sovereign and since there was no concept of public vs private sphere, the focus of civil service was to serve the sovereign and only the sovereign.

The next significant development, or phase two, according to Raadschelders and Rutgers (1996) came in the state servants, which occurred with the formation of states and speading of the notion that the task of the monarchy is to provide public welfare. The centralisation and unification of the state meant that there were new professional and ethical expectations of what the ideal civil servant should be: experienced, neutral, honest etc. The relative gain in importance of higher functionaries came due to more expenditure and tasks of the state and a larger number of civil servants.

Phase three sees the formalisation and institutionalisation of the civil service which appears in the 18th century. This started the process of separation of the private and the public spheres which created the conditions for the development of the modern civil service. This also meant that that the public service started to wield more power alongside, or even in competition with, the sovereign. This process culminates in the period between 1780 to 1880, when the modern civil service was born (Raadschelders and Rutgers 1996). In this period, civil servants became the employees of the state, more particularly executive branch of government, which was accountable not to the sovereign, but a separate sovereign power. The concepts of separation of powers and Rechtstaat defined and delimited that power. The civil service also became  increasingly hierarchical and organised, and specific recruitment criteria were established, starting the shift of focus to public service as a human resource issue (setting the stage for representative bureaucracy to emerge later).

The next stage of development was to regulate the civil service and protect it from political interference. In this stage the separate employment conditions and social guarantees for public servants were established. It was the birth of the monolithic and hierarchical public service in which emancipated civil servants not only served, but had rights. This also means the growth of the public sector as a whole, because there was a strong demand for state involvement in provision of social and health services.

The last stage means a complete professionalisation of the civil service. This meant strict entrance exams and elite education, a merit based system which brought about a new elite of high civil servants, a class of protected individuals. As this elite education was not accessible to all, this brought about claims of lack of representativeness of the highly professional service. This meant a pressure to balance the merit-based system with representativeness, which is only recently becoming a more discussed topic in many countries.

Of course, in recent times one of the main impact has been the (in a large part unsuccessful) adoption of business sector organisations practices for the state organisation, collectively referred to as New Public Management (Drechsler 2009). Although the hey-day of NPM was relatively short-lived, it brought a renewed focus on efficiency and reduction of the size of state and public service that has resumed in many places. For example, all concepts of state reform in Estonia still foresee the reduction of number of public servants as the population is also declining. The relative size of government and number of inhabitants do not need to necessarily bear relation to each other, it rather depends on what is the role of the state and public service in a given country.

There are many challenges and possibilities for the public service for the coming years, which will shape what it will become. There are numerous issues that can and should be written about. Future is unpredictable and context changes rapidly due to technological and other events; recent paradigmatic changes have occured due to 11 September attacks and the financial crisis. The impact of these events on the state could not have been foreseen, but it is profound. The emergence of a surveillance and security state, which was revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and the constant challenges of slimming down the public service have been reactions to the Black Swan events for which people and states were not prepared for.

It is thus questionable whether any specific direction can be predicted or undertaken. We now live in an interconnected and interdependent world of multi-level governance which cannot be controlled or directed due to its sheer complexity. In a multi-level governance setting, the state as a whole and each public official individually is facing a difficult choice of a multitude of relationships and allegiances. I will look at three issues in this setting: representative bureaucracy, value-neutrality and supra-nationality.

In terms of representative bureaucracy one of the main changes that the public service is undergoing is the gradual introduction of diversity and inclusion. This means that each public sector organisation should ideally mirror the ethnic and other types of diversity of those that it governs. In Estonia, the example of inclusion of people with disabilities and of Russian national orgin has been under discussion. The Estonian government has, as a consequence of criticism of its disability benefits reform, promised to employ ca 1000 people with disabilities in the public sector by 2020. This, however, has not been due to ideas of representative bureaucracy, but in order to show an example for the private sector that these people are employable as such.

In terms of challenges for the next years, the challenge of building a more representative bureaucracy is going to be one of the main one. In many countries there are already plans to set specific targets, such as the diversity policy of the Flemish government (De Beeck and Hondeghem 2010), which mentions representative bureaucracy as one of the arguments for diversity and inclusion in the public sector. Although diversity and inclusion has been mainly a private sector initiative, it has been adopted by the public sector using the same organisatsional management arguments by public sector organisations. In my opinion the recent focus on representative democracy stems from both its origins from the private sector (which is using a business case for diversity approach) and also from the propagation of equality and diversity in the EU level (for which it has been given competence). This means that one of the change is that we are going to see more debates around representativeness of public sector in addition to more traditional topics of representation of minorities and women in the political structures and sphere.  In Estonia the topic is still relatively new, although recently state institutions, such as the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund and Estonian Social Protection Fund signed up to the Estonian Diversity Charter, which had previously had only businesses as members. Although invited, none of the government ministries joined at this time.

It has also been shown that representative bureaucracy also brings about organisational performance gains (Meier and Capers 2012), which is counterintuitive, as people associated strictly merit based organisations with more professionalism, although there is not a lot of research in this area yet. It has also been shown that representative organisations have better chances at achieving meaningful co-production and overall better attitudes towards the state institutions.

At the same time, representative bureaucracy is difficult to achieve, because it also depends on the awareness and attitudes, i.e. the social context, but also on the willingness of civil servants to make the changes. Representativeness cannot be solely mechanical or outside of the political context (Meier and Capers 2012), it rather requires a sensitivity and custom approach that is fitting to the specific circumstances and time.

It is difficult to evaluate what the impact of passive, but especially active, representative bureaucracy will be. It has already been shown that there are informal networks consisting of politicians, public officials in the state, local, European levels, academics, lawyers, NGO activists and businesspeople that actively promote a specific interest or value and push for better policies. This has happened for example in the area of legislating same-sex unions in which transnational networks have played an important role (Paternotte and Kollman 2013) as has so-called Velvet Triangle networks for gender equality.

This brings about the question of neutrality of the public servant when it is actively pursuing to protect and advance interests and rights of a specific group. Does active representative bureaucracy means that a value-neutral public service becomes an impossibility? The neutrality of public service has meant traditionally the separation of public servants from the political philosophies and ideologies of the political rulers, as to ensure that it is not necessary to exchange all public servants after a change of political direction (as happens with senior officials in the US).  This is different from public officials having their personal values influencing policy outcomes, which can happens in any case (Witesman and Walters 2013). In this sense representative bureaucracy has existed for a long time, it is only now it has been a subject of more academic research.

So one can argue that value-neutrality in public administration is a practical impossibility and rather than try to protect against it, it should be embraced and brought out into the open. There are specific values that the state stands for that are politically very contested and of course depend on the specific context of the state. In a wider sense, the values of the state are prescribed in constitutions or, in the EU’s case, in the founding treaties. However, the practical application and interpretation of these values by public servants is a more complicated matter. For example, the Estonian constitution has conflicting human rights based values of liberal democracy, but at the same time stressing the importance of ensuring the continuation of the Estonian ethnic nation by internal reproduction (Velmet 2014). In this context how a public servant sees an issue has important implications for policy outcomes.

Public service is not influenced only by national actors, but also trans- and supranational ones. In the European Union, which is the most advanced example of multi-level governance, national public servants participate in policymaking in the European level. Although the national officials work for the national governments (and should it theory mainly represent the interests of their government), this is not necessarily always so. For example, national public servants can be seconded to work in the European level institutions, which can have an impact on how they perceive their work even after the end of secondment. On the other hand, transnational relationships formed between officials can also work for or against the promotion and spreading of certain policy goals, values and laws.

The impact of Europeanisation for public service is much larger topic than just representativeness, but this also brings out the question of who exactly is the subject of a (national) public servant? If the decisions of public servants also have an impact in the lives of people in other member states, then who should this person represent? This might not necessarily mean, then that public service should also include foreign nationals. Member States can deny foreign nationals access to certain core public service positions, which have a special trust relationship with the state.

Representative bureaucracy in a multi-level governance setting is something that will have a  impact on public service in the next years. For example, the (informal) networks of state security public servants/business interests/politicians go against other networks of those politicans, public servants/activists and others that promote privacy and fundamental rights. Active representative bureaucracy means a more level playing field between these competing interests, since it brings in more diversity of voices and allows for better coordination and organisation.

Since the political decisionmaking in the EU has specific deficiencies in terms of democratic governance, representative bureaucracy could offer one of the remedies for overcoming the impasse in policymaking in the European level. This is already happening in the form of Open Method of Coordination, scoreboards and other soft law tools that are usually put together by officials with a specific aim to influence Member States to change their policies in a way that is bypassing democratic decisionmaking by the European Parliament and the Council.

This essay attempted to look at the evolution of Western public service and discuss the changes that are going to impact public service in the future, focusing specifically on representative democracy, neutrality and multi-level governance. It identified some of the pitfalls and opportunities offered by these developments in the current changing context and attempted to bring forward some preliminary observations in this field. One can only hope that these developments do not compromise the enormous social and economic value offered by public service, but are rather used to make it more responsive, just and equitable.

Tallinn, 5 January 2015

References:

De Beeck, S. O. P. and A. Hondeghem. 2010. Evaluation of the Flemish Government’s Diversity Policy. Paper for the EGPA Conference 2010 Toulouse, France.

Drechsler, W. 2009. The rise and demise of the New Public Management: Lessons and opportunities for South East Europe. Uprava-Administration 7.3

Meier, K.J. and K.J. Capers. 2012. Representative bureaucracy: four questions. In: Peters, G. and J. Pierre. Handbook of Public Administration (2nd ed.), London: SAGE, pp. 420-430.

Paternotte, D. and K. Kollman. 2013. Regulating intimate relationships in the European polity: same-sex unions and policy convergence. Soc Pol.

Raadschelders, J. and M. Rutgers. 1996. The evolution of civil service systems. In: H. Bekke, J. Perry and T. Toonen (eds). Civil Service Systems in Comparative Perspective. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 67–99.

Van den Berg, C. F. 2011. Transforming for Europe: the reshaping of national bureaucracies in a system of Multi-level governance. Leiden University Press.

Velmet, A. 2014. Kooseluseadus ja liberaalse rahvusriigi paradoks. Available at: http://arvamus.postimees.ee/2804848/aro-velmet-kooseluseadus-ja-liberaalse-rahvusriigi-paradoks

Witesman, E. and L. Walters. 2013 Public service values: A new approach to the study of motivation in the public sphere. Public Administration. pp. 375 – 405.


Fuzzy borders

Posted: January 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, law, philosophy, thoughts | No Comments »

There has been recently some discussion in Estonia on the culture of complaint, especially in the rather influential conservative-libertarian circles. This concept, which was initially proposed by the late art critic Robert Hughes in his bestseller book in the US in 1993, was expressed in Estonia in modern terms by Elver Loho in his post on nihilist.fm. Obviously I disagree with both Robert Hughes and Elver on these issues, but that is for another post at another time. However, this has started me thinking on group-based approaches to categorising people.

It used to be easy to define and label individuals based on specific stereotypes and assign them to ingroups and outgroups, i.e. Estonian and Russian, woman or man, gay or straight, which could then become basis for discrimination or even worse as history has witnessed. However, there are additional facets to this because people’s identities and group boundaries are changing too because of social progress and also technological progress that has made unparalleled mobility and connectivity possible for many people around the globe.

Ingroups and outgroups are becoming at the same time fragmented and globalised due to the impact of social media. Fragmented in the sense that people find new ingroups based on extremely specific criteria (fans of an obscure singer) that allows them to cultivate their individual interests while sharing them with people from around the world. Globalised in the sense that there are new global ingroups and outgroups (Beliebers, Apple fans, chemtrail conspiracy theorists, etc etc) that come and go. These seemingly superficial categories have much more impact than one thinks, comparisons with religious cults are not totally out of place.

On the other hand, the perceived borders between groups based on which people used to be labelled and grouped together are becoming fuzzy. Distinct human races have been proven not to exist, ethnicity is more and more self-defined and unlimited (how would you objectively define an Estonian?). People migrate and get multiple relationships with different ethnic and national communities.

Country borders are becoming porous, because states cannot any more decide who can live in their country. In Estonia’s case, 500+ million EU citizens have a rights and obligations in relation to Estonian state, as well as the huge number of permanent residents who are non-citizens, not to mention refugees under international law. Although non-citizens have no access to traditional representative democracy through elections (which is a problem), they can wield power in other ways (for example through the judiciary and the executive branch). Citizenship has little meaning left for defining ingroup/outgroup. E-resident Edward Lucas is probably considered by many Estonians belonging to an ingroup more than many of the 300 000 Russians living here on a permanent basis.

One cannot really base one’s attitudes towards people based on perceived gender and sexuality, either. Gender and sexuality is not binary, because in addition to cis gender persons there are people who identify as various forms of trans* and in addition to strictly heterosexual people there are a range of (closeted and non-closeted) lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, etc people. Also, disability as a social construct can now under anti-discrimination law mean any long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents from participating in work-life equally with others (i.e. including certain overweight people).

This variety of differences, which is also intersecting in each individual and unique human being, some of which has always existed and some of which has been made possible by technology (i.e. mobility and connectivity) is the thing that seems to making people uneasy and uncertain, because they cannot rely on their prejudice and stereotyping. I do not have an easy stereotype for a cis gender, lesbian, Chinese businesswoman, who lives in India and has a British spouse. What if she is also a Belieber and uses Linux? Stereotypes that used to be good for easier living are increasingly unreliable and also unacceptable (which is why sensitivities and so-called political correctness has become an issue).

In order to cope, one cannot but to have tolerance for all the various individual differences and find common ground on shared humanity, which leads us closer to Benhabib’s cosmopolitan federalism.

Read: Benhabib, Seyla. “Borders, Boundaries, and Citizenship.” PS: Political Science and Politics 38.4 (2005): 673-677.


The end of collective technophilia?

Posted: May 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, politics, privacy, technology, thoughts | 1 Comment »

2014 could be the year that a serious shift happened in our attitudes towards technology.  A more critical, perhaps mature attitude seems to be developing, initiated by the Black Swan event created by Snowden revelations, the so-called Snowden effect. Our societies will be better because of it, especially in terms of protection of human rights and democracy.

For a long time, there has been a concern that human rights do not get enough emphasis in our constant drive for better and more efficient living through constant improvement of technology. This has meant that technology has become and end and not means to achieve something.

In Estonia, this is even more prevalent, because the national narrative and international image of the country has been built to depend on technology. The success of e-stonia is seen as source of national pride and international scholars are also usually not focused on such a small country, which prevents any critical analysis of the situation and opens Estonia up to huge vulnerabilities. This perverse view of technology is seen particularly strongly now, when e-voting is touted by the ruling political elite (while one major party is totally against it). This view can be seen for example in the statement by President Ilves: “Minule on e-hääle andmine mitte ainult mugav, aga eelkõige usaldusavaldus maailma ühele paremale IT-süsteemile, usaldusavaldus Eesti riigile.” (“For me, e-voting is not only convenient, but foremost a statement of trust towards one of the world’s best IT-systems, a statement of trust towards the Estonian state”).

Worldwide, the shift to a more reasonable, less hype-filled approach is evidenced by various courts trying to better balance freedom of information and speech with privacy rights and other rights. Freedom of information and speech has seen an unparalleled Golden Age with the Internet, however, previously there was not much discussion related to the fact that human rights are interdependent and indivisible. Thus, a much greater emphasis on freedom of information also means that some other rights are going to be less protected.

In some remarkable recent court decisions courts have finally begun to critically evaluate the impact of technology to the society and, specifically, human rights. They have attempted (arguably not most successfully), to rebalance freedom of information with other rights. This has been mostly happening in Europe, since the EU has the strongest data protection laws in the world.

  • In the Delfi vs Estonia ECtHR case the ECtHR placed the responsibility for libelous anonymous comments on the online news portal that published them, rather than the author of the comment. The case has been referred to the Grand Chamber so there still might be a change, but the initial chamber decision stated pretty clearly: “The ease of disclosure of information on the Internet and the substantial amount of information there means that it is a difficult task to detect defamatory statements and remove them.”
  • The CJEU invalidated the Data Retention Directive in its landmark judgment in which it declared mass surveillance illegal. The CJEU went further than anyone expected when it said: “As for the question of whether the interference caused by Directive 2006/24 is limited to what is strictly necessary, it should be observed that /…/ the directive requires the retention of all traffic data concerning fixed telephony, mobile telephony, Internet access, Internet e-mail and Internet telephony. It therefore applies to all means of electronic communication, the use of which is very widespread and of growing importance in people’s everyday lives. Furthermore, in accordance with Article 3 of Directive 2006/24, the directive covers all subscribers and registered users. It therefore entails an interference with the fundamental rights of practically the entire European population.”
  • The CJEU also ruled in its very recent Google Spain decision that there is a strong “right to be forgotten” and the search engine must remove links to information that a person does not want to be linked to. The CJEU said: “As the data subject may, in the light of his fundamental rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, request that the information in question no longer be made available to the general public by its inclusion in such a list of results, it should be held, /…/ that those rights override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in finding that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name.”

There are also some other interesting developments:

  • In popular culture, tech culture has increasingly become subject of criticism. See the series Silicon Valley and, most poignantly, a recent episode of HBO’s Veep.
  • Recently it was reported that German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel suggested that it might be necessary to break up Google, while current President of the European Parliament and one of the top candidates for the next president of the European Commission Martin Schulz stated on Google: “Whoever knows everything about citizens, firms and politicians achieves a level of power which doesn’t belong in a pluralistic democracy.”
  • There are also growing grassroots citizen movements that target the tech giants such as Europe v Facebook.
  • MOOC courses are increasingly seen as mostly hype and not the transformation that it was claimed to be.
  • The Estonian Supreme Court also decided in a less reported case last December that charging less for online court proceedings than traditional ones is unconstitutional, because of the importance of fundamental rights at stake (access to justice). The Court among other things heavily criticised the concept of efficiency behind the introduction of the e-justice system and accused the government that it is trying to shift the burden of entering and submitting complicated legal documents from the courts to the general public who might not be best prepared for it.
  • The Estonian online election system has been called highly vulnerable and recommended to be abondoned by leading scholars in the area.

Thus the shift consists of better rebalancing freedom of speech and information with other human rights in the online context and a more cautious and realistic view towards the danger that the likes of Google and Facebook are posing to the lives of all individuals, our human rights and democracy due to their omnipresence in the Internet. In terms of Carlota Perez’s Techno-Economic Paradigm Shift theory, this could be signal that the world has moved on the a more stable and peaceful deployment period of the currently dominant ICT paradigm from the turbulent installation period.


The elections that nobody cared about

Posted: May 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, european union, governance, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

Today the European Parliament elections started in Estonia with the pre-voting and e-voting. Leaving aside the debate sparked by the questioning of the integrity of the e-voting system, it is quite remarkable how uninteresting the European Parliament elections have been for everyone: the general public, the political parties and the candidates themselves. Sure, there have been interesting candidates. Sure, the campaigns have reached a new low. But there does not seem to be anything remotely fresh in these elections. The EP elections have become a sideshow, a marginal affair. Why?

There are some global reasons:

  1. The constitutional nature of the EU: Joseph Weiler has written about the legitimacy crisis and why the EP elections does not solve this. Due to the nature of the EU, the results of the EP elections do not automatically and directly translate into changes in the EU level (because the Council also has a say). Even the Commission president might not come from the party that gets the most votes.
  2. The lack of pan-European polis. There are no pan-European political debates or media space which would bind people together in a common discussion. There is no platform in which to commonly discuss European issues: instead there are 28 different debates on different issues going on in 28 different member states.
  3. The disconnect between EU level political parties and national level political parties. The campaign in Estonia has been very bizarre, because some people talk about European issues and others about national ones. This complexity deters voters.

Specific reasons in Estonia:

  1. Six seats is a really marginal number. People cannot see how six members out of 750 can have any kind of influence over EU policy. They are also divided between different parties, so basically there is also no interest from any of the EU level parties, because the two big ones are sure to get at least one seat, liberals two and the other two are the only ones that are in limbo.
  2. Extreme disconnect between EU level and national level in elections. Two of the main opponents in the Estonian campaign are actually going to be in the same political group in the EP. The Reform Party (ALDE group) is campaigning mostly against the Centre party (also ALDE group).
  3. E-voting has probably made voting less relevant, more ephemeral. Although e-voting might increase the turnout (although there is research suggesting otherwise), it seems to lower also the overall relevance of voting as a ritual. Thus it becomes a mere functional, mechanical process in which customers click to choose the best government that provides best service (boosting clientelism and lowering the meaningfulness of the democratic processes).
  4. Parties are saving resources for the elections that truly matter. In one year there will be national parliamentary elections, which is the main focus of the political parties. EP elections are used mostly as a testing ground for messages and new faces, not as a separate election.
  5. Other topics overshadow the lackluster campaign. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, the debate surrounding the new government, the draft gender neutral co-habitation law, the Eurovision song contest and other topics take up space from EP elections.

As a true European, I hope that the EP elections will go well and the voter turnout increases even despite the lack of attention to the campaign. But it does show that something fundamental has to change in the electoral process and the architecture of EU in order for the EP elections to truly matter.

P.S. An idea how to increase voter turnout (not necessarily the quality of the debate though) is to allocate seats based on voter turnout. In this way each country should get a minimum number of guaranteed seats in the EP, but they can increase this number if a certain threshold of voter turnout percentage is surpassed. This requires, of course, more uniform election procedures in all MS. You could not have compulsory voting like in Belgium. And probably also no e-voting.