the stretching of economic and political process across continents and beyond borders
the intensification of interconnectedness and flows of trade, finance, migration and culture
If one process has defined recent decades, then globalisation would arguably top the list. There are numerous aspects to this: the proliferation of free trade has dominated economic policy throughout the world; the World bank estimates that just over 215 million people - 3.2% of global population - are classed as immigrants and organisations such as the EU and IMF point towards the growing integration of both nation states and markets, reducing boundaries between people, trade and capital. However, all across the world people are reacting to the forces of globalisation, whether it’s opposing free trade, disillusion with the EU, calls for politics to be more ‘local’ or nationalism, are we seeing a new era defined not by globalisation, but by our reaction to it?
Financial crisis / TTIP discontent
The global financial crisis that begun in 2007 has had a profound effect on the way that citizens view financial institutions and has raised questions about the economic policies that led to the crash occurring. A scepticism of financial corporations and their power permeated through the Occupy Wall Street message, echoing the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement that preceded it. Scepticism of financial institutions has extended to the concept of economic globalisation, as markets and corporations increasingly influence the distribution of resources and economic power, primarily through free trade agreements.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the USA. A 2013 report recommended a wide-ranging free trade agreement between the two parties, a conclusion that was supported by Barack Obama. Following Obama’s endorsement and then EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s announcement that talks would take place, negotiations have continued amid a torrent of opposition from citizens, professors and civil society organisations, notably digital rights groups.
As trade barriers between EU and the U.S. are already low, TTIP focuses on reducing various national regulations: environmental, food safety, finance and copyright laws. Advocates of TTIP say that it will create millions of jobs and boost economic growth, while critics cite a lack of transparency and the inclusion of an instrument known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). ISDS is one of the most controversial aspects of TTIP as it allows investors to bring a case against a state if the state violates the rights offered to the investor under public international law. Historical cases in Canada offer a glimpse of the dangers that the think-tank Modern Politics highlights when it says ISDS is an uncontrolled tool for the subordination of national states to corporate interests, blocking policies and government measures that protect the public interest. One case involving Dow AgroSciences saw them bring a case against Canada due to financial losses caused by a ban on a particular pesticide; both parties reached an out of court settlement. Using financial loss as the reason for bringing the case forward represents the danger that many people feel will become a reality if TTIP is agreed with ISDS included: corporate profit will be able to hold state governments to undemocratic account, undermining public interest.
The European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, said that she believes considerable progress can be made towards the bare bones of an agreement by the end of 2015, while it is one of the priorities for Barack Obama as his presidency moves into its final two years. The French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade has openly opposed the inclusion of ISDS, echoing support from the German Minister for Economic Affairs. ISDS has slowed down negotiations and substantial opposition from within Europe could see the removal of ISDS from the trade agreement. There is less appetite for the TTIP agreement in Europe compared to the U.S. but it remains to be seen how a compromise will be reached or whether a deal will even be finalised in the near future.
Professor of Political Economy at the University of Nottingham, Andreas Bieler, highlighted in a blog post that the Europe-wide ‘Stop TTIP’ movement has generated a lot of support, over 1.2 million signatures so far. He also frames the debate over TTIP as a conflict between “capital on the one hand, and labour, the environment and the people on the other.” Opposition to economic globalisation is not new yet there is a sense that opposition to TTIP is more widespread and outspoken as economic policy throughout Europe is repeatedly failing to deliver for citizens.
The ongoing debate over Britain’s potential exit from the EU and the growing popularity of eurosceptic parties throughout Europe has raised a lot of questions over the role and structure of the EU. Initially set up to discourage war within Europe following the Second World War, it was founded upon noble ideals of peace and unity. More recently, the limitations of a political and economic union are beginning to show as a raft of political parties from all parts of the political spectrum offer criticisms. Many parties including UKIP in the UK and National Front in France oppose the EU on the basis that migration threatens national values, although the National Front once criticised the EU as being “the last stage on the road to world government” - an overly dramatic critique but one that touches upon a lack of adaptability to local needs. Other parties such as Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece criticise the EU for imposing harsh austerity policies and implementing a neoliberal agenda. Both critiques highlight the difficulties of a political union that spans different economies, nations and cultures. Although the EU has succeeded in its initial goal to prevent war, the continent is far from united as many Southern European countries bemoan the power that Germany has within the EU.
A letter that came to light last year, sent by the European Central Bank to the Spanish Prime Minister in 2011, encapsulates the myriad of troubles that the EU faces. The President of the ECB detailed in the letter several key conditions that if met would result in the ECB buying Spanish debt. The letter highlights the public unaccountability of European institutions as the ECB effectively dictated domestic policy to a sovereign government. It represents what Giandomenico Majone describes in his book, Europe as the Would-Be World Power: The EU at Fifty, as a self-perpetuating Brussels-centric system of governance that has extended its reach too far.
The possibility of Podemos and Syriza gaining the most seats in their respective national elections would open up the debate for EU reform even further, as both promise to fundamentally change their respective nation’s relationship with the EU. The lack of a distinct European identity also hinders the EU as national identity still garners a stronger connection, inhibiting a shared interest that would allow democratic culture to flourish.
Calls for regional devolution within the UK run along the same lines as calls for EU reform, the desire for representative politics that allow citizens to shape their society. The recent independence referendum in Scotland raised this issue due to the asymmetry of the UK – England has greater representation - and has given impetus to similar movements in Wales and Northern England as people feel disillusion with a London-centric political system that operates on a global scale, competing with other global cities like Shanghai and Singapore. This represents a process captured by two academics Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift when they wrote an academic paper looking at ‘nodes’ – the idea that certain cities such as London act as connections in a global network. The flip-side to this concept is that areas outwith these ‘nodes’ end up falling behind or find themselves ignored, a sentiment well understood outside London, but also felt throughout much of the developing world.
An opinion piece by musician and activist Billy Bragg calls for greater devolution to the regions of England as “the gravitational pull of the capital is distorting our economy.” He also bemoans the City of London’s influence on parliament, saying that regional assemblies could act as a challenge to London’s power.
In contrast to the homogeneity of globalisation, there is growing national sentiment throughout the world. Scotland and Catalonia are two nations with strong self-determination movements that largely focus on social justice and fairness at home. In addition to this, rising powers China and India are strong on nationalist rhetoric; Chinese leader Xi Jinping adopted the term ‘Chinese Dream’ as a slogan in 2013, adding to the Communist Party of China’s official ideology of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, while Indian nationalism has its roots in reactions to colonial policies. Interestingly, neocolonialism is a criticism often directed at multi-national corporations as they exploit labour and resources from less developed countries, creating an unfair dependency on foreign investment and trade agreements.
Discourse on Chinese nationalism has been driven by scholars and intellectuals in recent years and is underpinned by a perceived marginalisation of China by Japan and the West, as well as a historic sense of China as a ‘Great Nation’ hence Xi Jinping’s description of the ‘Chinese Dream’ as ‘national rejuvenation.’ The growth of China challenges American dominance, which as this paper argues, has created and nurtured globalisation as it serves the American vision of world order. Western discourse on nationalism often focuses on xenophobia and barriers, limiting the potential of a progressive nationalism – although this is growing, as evidenced in Scotland - which in turn arguably prevents progressive internationalism.
Each issue mentioned above shows that where the forces of globalisation are present, there is a growing reaction to the effects of it. Returning to the definition at the beginning, there are difficulties in stretching political processes beyond borders, nations and cultures, especially when there is an associated lack of democratic accountability. The same applies to stretching economic processes across continents as protectionist impulses are apparent within TTIP talks from both sides and citizens scepticism of the benefits of such processes given the recent financial crash. There is a growing body of criticism highlighting that neoliberal economics is not improving the lives of everyone, but rather it favours an economic elite and increases inequality, within nations and between nations.
Radhika Desai ties these various strands together in her book, Geopolitical economy, when she concludes that “A strategy of reforms forcing states to serve the interests of working people and democratizing them so they contribute to strengthening working people’s power is a viable strategy for meaningful reform, and even, potentially, revolution leading beyond capitalism.” She also suggests that a multi-polar world opens up spaces for countries farther down the geopolitico-economic hierarchy to assert their interests, with the potential for progressive forces to play a greater role.
Robert O. Keohane from Princeton University highlights the lack of democratic principles in global governance, while some have argued that “A return to smaller government is a natural reaction against the disempowerment, loss of specificity, and vertigo caused by a global empire…“ There is a growing awareness that reacting to globalisation doesn’t necessarily mean insularity but often represents a desire for democracy, a sentiment echoed by Desai in her strategy for socialism. Globalisation is not the abstract and inevitable process that it once was and it’s becoming clear that the coming years will be defined by our reaction to it.