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April 18, 2019

Brexit: Why an American Should Care

A post by International and Area Studies student Bowen Heitt.

On June 23rd, 2016, shockwaves permeated throughout Europe as the results of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union became known. By 3 AM CST the following morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron had resigned and the entire European political order overturned. It has quickly become apparent that the question must be asked: does this political shockwave matter to the United States? Though there are a litany of reasons to be concerned, three clearly stand out about Brexit.

First, the United States has a significant trade relationship with both parties involved. With Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, four of the ten largest trading US trading partners reside within the EU- any kind of economic disruption over there will have very tangible impacts in the US. Though there has been remarkable stability in light of the many problems of Brexit to date, the economic side of the situation must still be monitored as there is great uncertainty regarding the future trade relationships.

Second, Brexit represents a larger, more disturbing trend away from international cooperation. As President Trump seeks to reimagine the way the United States interacts with the rest of the world, Brexit is a stark warning of the chaos that can ensue when longstanding relationships are upended. Decisions to leave international organizations must therefore be carefully considered and weighed against all other options.

Third, Brexit reveals the uglier side of globalization. Widespread anger over loss of jobs and autonomy likely led to the decision to leave- even if that anger was misdirected at the EU. David Cameron gave into popular anti-globalist sentiments in calling a referendum that was not desperately needed.  The resulting process has served only to further divide and fracture the country, not provide any solutions to the downsides of globalization. Americans can learn from Brexit that we, as a country, must do our best to fully understand the impacts of globalization and how we can provide new economic opportunities to replace those lost to international trade. The negatives of globalization can’t be ignored or glossed over any longer.

The United Kingdom is still dealing with the fallout from Brexit. Despite a difficult and hotly debated process within Parliament, as of this writing, there is still no clear way forward for the British people or Europe as a whole, thus leaving the UK in a state of deep and dangerous political division rivaling that of the US. Their ordeal should be cause for deep introspection. Though lessons can be learned from all sides of Brexit, Americans should be most interested in those about the economy, isolationism and globalization.

September 2018

Stephen Castle on Brexit: Inception, Relevance, and Projections

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A post by International and Area Studies graduate student Meagan Harden

On September 12th, New York Times London Correspondent Stephen Castle delivered a lecture to students, faculty, and members of the public regarding Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit. With experience writing from both Brussels and London, Castle presented a critical analysis of Brexit’s inception, political relevance, and projections for Brexit’s future trajectory. 

According to Castle, the 2016 referendum yielding Brexit was itself ambiguous and ill-fitted to reflect the complex desires of the British populace. Rather than encompassing the extensive repercussions possible upon departure, the referendum simply asked whether or not voters preferred to remain or leave the EU. Furthermore, support for Brexit was concentrated in England and Wales, with more opposition in Northern Ireland and Scotland. 

Two years later, Castle argues that Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations have ignored the long-term economic wellbeing of the UK. While Brexit supporters argue that the cessation of economic contributions to the EU would save the nation billions of dollars, Castle argues that the resulting restricted trade would prove far more costly for the UK. Particularly in the case of a “no deal,” which hard Brexiteers are pressuring May to secure, the economic repercussions would be severe. 

In addition to negative economic impacts on the UK, Castle argues that Brexit will also inhibit the flow of people into and out of the UK –which comes as no surprise, given the anti-immigration actors supporting the referendum. Castle captures the overwhelming uncertainty plaguing members of the European Union, for whom access to transnational pensions, university, and relocation will become inevitably more complex without a tenable Brexit deal in sight.

Castle concluded his lecture with a set of projections regarding Brexit’s future. With the deadline of March 29th, 2019 looming ominously near, Castle expresses tentative optimism that the British government will quell its inner turmoil and reach a deal with the EU. There is also the possibility of a “people’s vote” on the deal negotiated with the EU, though such a step becomes more likely with a change in government in Britain’s parliamentary system. Alternatively, there is growing potential that May opts for a hard Brexit after all, likely resulting in Britain’s economic hardship and bureaucratic confusion across the EU. In any case, Castle projects that Brexit’s influence will exceed the UK’s borders, impacting the EU and beyond.

May 2017

Austria's Search for National Identity from 1919 to 2016

A post by International and Area Studies graduate student Andrew Kierig

Last year’s nail-biter Austrian Presidential election thrust the small Alpine republic into the spotlight for the first time in many years, perhaps for the first time since the controversial election of former SS officer Kurt Waldheim as President in 1986. Norbert Hofer of the far-right populist Freedom Party came within thirty-thousand votes of winning the first run-off election, contested the result, and later lost the second run-off by a narrow but convincing margin.

The success of a far-right candidate like Hofer is indicative of the fact that what it means to be Austrian continues to be contested. For him, being Austrian means being Christian, to believe in the idea of a unified German cultural nation, and simultaneously to believe that Austria is more morally pure than the rest of Europe, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland included. Hofer’s peculiar affinity for the usage of the word Volk (commonly translated as “people” but here more contextually translated as “nation”) also reminds some of a much darker time in Europe’s history.

I thought back to a different period, from 1918 to 1933, that started with a sense of optimism, as many nations (eg. the Czechs and Slovaks, the Poles, the South Slavs) finally fulfilled their dream of having their own nation states. But where did this leave Austria, or as it was called from 1918 to 1920, German-Austria? This line of thinking was the catalyst for a paper I recently presented at the Washington University Graduate Student History Conference in St. Louis from March 30th to April 2nd 2017.

My paper asked how the three main Austrian political groups (Lagern) sought to address Austria’s nationhood. Should Austria be seen as separate from Germany, with its own unique culture and history? Should it become part of a greater Germany in order to help bring about a social-democratic revolution? Or, should it become part of Germany because it is already German? That is, German and Austrian history and culture are indistinguishable, and therefore the political division between the two states is illegitimate. Prior to 1918, this had never been a problem. German speakers in the Habsburg Empire were German, in the same way that Ukrainian speakers split between the Habsburg and Russian Empires were all Ukrainian.

In the paper, I examined the role that leaders of the three main groups played in the search for an Austrian idea of nationhood from 1919 to 1933, as newly independent Austria tried to make its way in very unfavorable conditions as an independent state. Two of these groups, the Social Democrats and the German Nationalists answered the question for very different reasons by wanting to become part of a “Greater Germany.”

Far more interesting was the idea put forward by the largest political group, the Christian Socials, who envisioned Austria as the “better” German state. Austria, in this view, was proudly Catholic and committed to an idea of an independent Austrian nation. In election campaigns, they portrayed their longest serving leader, the Catholic priest and theologian Ignaz Seipel, as the steady hand on the rudder of the ship of state. Seipel did successfully navigate Austria through a major financial crisis in 1922, and worked to build a system of international guarantees that would protect Austria’s long term independence. What made my paper unique was to bring the role of religion back into the center of our understanding of how Austrian identity and nationhood was formed over this period, after some scholars had largely abandoned it.

The thoughtful feedback and comments from distinguished historians at Washington University was immensely helpful, and I am very grateful for the support of both the David L. Boren College of International Studies and the EU Center. I hope my participation at this prestigious conference—I was the only presenter from a medium sized public research university—demonstrates the quality of the David L. Boren College of International Studies’ programs and the role that OU’s European Union Center plays in supporting graduate students at the University of Oklahoma. 

October 2016

Is Joining the European Union a Good Thing? A Synthetic Control Testing the Effects on the Slovak Republic

Nicole Smith speaking at a conference

A post by International and Area Studies graduate student Nicole Smith

During my first semester of graduate school, I was challenged by an economics professor to write a paper using a creative method in econometric analysis. We had recently learned about a synthetic control method that investigated the counterfactual to the reunification of Germany in the 1990s. I was fascinated that an econometric tool could provide the answer to “what would have happened if something had not happened?” I began to brainstorm other case studies that I could apply this newly found knowledge, and I decided to use synthetic control to analyze the European Union.

Little did I know that the year after I finished my analysis would bring Brexit, and some skeptics hypothesizing that the EU was doomed to fail. This paper is especially relevant, as many have questioned if the European Union is beneficial to its member countries and if it is undergoing an existential crisis with the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East. Although this paper does not look into the social or political aspects of joining the European Union, it provides one specific (and positive) story for economic success in Slovakia.

Synthetic control, an econometric method developed by Abadie, Diamond, and Hainmueller (2014), uses weighted averages of countries to track the pre-treatment indicator variables of the treated country (Slovak Republic) and presents an alternative story for what would have happened without each treatment. The units that are selected for weighting cannot receive the same treatment as the treated unit, which excludes most European countries. The three treatments are (1) adopting the Copenhagen Criteria in 1995, which alter the economic, political, and institutional policies of the state and propose an agreement for membership, (2) joining the European Union in the 2004 Enlargement, and (3) adopting the euro as official currency and agreeing to the monetary policies of the European Monetary Union in 2009.

Overall, I found that joining the European Union and adopted the common currency and monetary policy had positive effects on Slovakia’s economic growth compared to the synthetic unit. One downfall of this method is that it lacks external validity so we cannot necessarily conclude that EU and EMU membership would be positive for every country, except for its theoretical foundation. I am interesting in applying this method to additional European Union members and looking at the average effects in order to draw conclusions on the economic benefits.

When I presented this paper at the European Studies Conference at the University of Nebraska – Omaha, I received positive feedback about the work that I was doing in regards to the benefits of being an EU member. I enjoyed networking and learning from various professors and graduate students who covered topics from the politics of the European Union to French Algerian workers in colonialism to new analysis on the Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. My first conference was a success, and I look forward to presenting additional research in the future.  

August 2016

A Reflection on the Migrant Crisis: from the Bundestag to the Refugee Camps

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A post by EU Center Graduate Assistant Stefanie Neumeier

I started thinking about a good topic for my master’s thesis back in September 2015. I knew that I wanted to focus on migration as a non-traditional security concern, and I had been following the developments of the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe very closely. As I spoke to my family and friends in Germany on a regular basis, I realized that this humanitarian crisis might have a lasting impact on countries and their citizens and might shape the future of the European Union.  I therefore decided to explore the refugee policymaking process of the German government and the implications for human security of refugees and citizens.

However, finding up-to-date and accurate data for this project turned out to be difficult. There is a lack of verified information as the European migrant crisis is a rather recent phenomenon. Additionally, there is not a lot of scholarly work available on this specific topic.  I realized that in order to produce a unique and quality-rich thesis, I needed to do on-location research in Germany. I decided to contact my local Bundestagsabgeordneten (Congressman) Dr. Stephan Mayer and ask for an internship in summer 2016.  I told him about my research interest, and he unhesitatingly offered me an internship position for seven weeks.

During my time in the Bundestagsbuero  (Congressional Office) in Berlin, I worked on migration policies and attended hearings and briefings regarding the refugee situation. I got the chance to meet the Bundesinnenminister (Federal Minster for the Interior), Dr. Thomas de Maizière, the Präsident des Bundeskriminalamtes (president of the Federal Criminal Office), Holger Münch, as well as Frontex director, Fabrice Leggeri, amongst many other leading experts. I was able to interview politicians, police, representatives of civil society, and university professors, which helped me to gain better insights of the overall policymaking process. I also interned in various Fluechtlingsheimen (refugee camps) in both Berlin and Bavaria and met many refugees and volunteers. This experience enhanced my understanding of the housing circumstances, everyday life of refugees and their challenges with acquiring German language skills, finding internships/work, and accustoming to German culture. 

This internship gave me the opportunity to explore the ways in which the refugee crisis has impacted the local as well as national level. I collected a raft of data, which will serve as supporting evidence in my Master’s thesis. I was able to gain a well-rounded perspective on the crisis by interning in the Bundestag, interviewing and meeting experts, and interacting with refugees and volunteers. I am very grateful for the support from the European Union Center and the David L. Boren College of International Studies. Without their resources, I would have not been able to go on this trip.  Thank you so much for encouraging and supporting me!