Monday, April 9, 2012

Ohrid Conference Day 2: Lectures galore!

Day Two of the week of conferences started with breakfast, decent food, a European style breakfast (I like my American style with lots of food and options for vegetarians, not just meat, cheese, bread, tomatoes, and cucumbers) [ok, that is over simplifying it, but  (thanks google!) an European breakfast usually consists of bread, cheese, meat, and possibly fruit. An American breakfast usually has eggs, meat, cereal, toast, fruit. They claim the major difference is hot vs. cold.] Anyway, basically it was Daniel and I there for the first 30 minutes, because Macedonians aren’t big breakfast eaters.
I think that the conferences can speak for themselves, and I want to share what I learned and questioned while there. So instead of glossing over the few presentations, I will actually go into detail with them. Feel free to come back in a week or gloss over the next few posts as I go into detail.

The first talk was with Karolina Ristova-Asterud. She was talking about “Building a European Polity.” A polity is a very common phrase used when discussing the European Union (EU). According to D Held, a polity is an empirical and normative model o a political community as a starting reference and embedded in the western logos. But a Wiberian definition includes a political formation or state composed of (1) hierarchical power or organization or order that is included under the threat of monopolized force (2) over people inhabitants (3) on a defined geographical territory.

But the main question is how do we treat the EU? As a state? Post state? New type of organization? Intergovernmental organization? If we treat it as an INTERGOVERNMENTAL POLITY, the member states are the decisive players, no matter how much power is transferred, it will continue in this fashion, it strengthens the power and sovereignty of the state. Is this a new form of hegemony of big states over little states, or is it the little states more powerful in the EU? If we treat it as a SUI GENERIS POLITY (meaning a new kind), we can’t compare it to anything else be it states or intergovernmental organizations.  It has pluralism in policy creation, functional diversification between state and non state actors, lacks hierarchy but has interdependence, and informality in the decision making process. If we treat it as a COMPARATIVE POLITY, we recognize that it is not a state nor an international organization but the member state’s experience is (and should be) influential and used in building the EU policy.  Many characters of the state are included, but not all.  

Dr. Ristova-Asterud marks four perspectives of EU polity in the future:

(1)    Return to classical perspective of international organizations. This would mean not only applying the brakes, but turn back the clock. Everything should be a consensus.

(2)    As intergovernmental technopolis (she thinks this is most likely). What it is now, remains the same and stops integration at the Lisbon treaty.

(3)    Becomes a federal parliamentary state. A daring proposal suggests a higher commitment of power.

(4)    Becomes a supranational parliamentary. It will be a sui generis polity (post sovereignty) that is beyond statehood with mixed multi-levels of governance.

After her talk, we went to lunch! One thing I have to say, is they had vegetarian options every day for every meal. (This is surprising in Macedonia- most of the time, people ask me what vegetarianism is.) Oh, and they give us dessert. I love me some dessert. A group of us then went for a 20 minute walk along the lake front, I mean why not? It’s beautiful and there!

The next talk was by the UK Ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Yvon. He actually was very interesting to listen too, because he took questions and was frank and not totally diplomatic with us. (He was obviously representing the UK and had to say all the official positions, but he was able to do so in most ways that sounded like he wasn’t just spouting party lines. One of the interesting things he said that was true for most foreign services is that they are accountable to parliament which is worried about national purposes and issues, thus the foreign service has to justify their actions abroad to the national parliament. He challenged the idea that NATO is only for security and the EU is only for prosperity. Also, with the EU and enlargement, as he faced questions with this occurring. A question that has often been raised about enlargement is if it will still have conflicts within the boundary of the EU. Will the conflict still exist if the warring countries are within the EU or will that not change anything at all? He did advise MK to better prepare and provide clarity so that the accession process will go more smoothly.

After a short break, we had another lecture. This one was by Dr. Vanco Uzunov entitled “Protection of the EU Single Market Through Competition Policy.”  He started off his lecture with a very controversial proposition: we only go to school to study to make ourselves more competitive. After a small bit of conversation in which some people agreed, and other said they went solely for the purpose of learning, he continued (kind of) into his main topic. He spent the majority of his time explain commonly known economic topics rather than jumping into the main part of his supposed topic. I felt at first that he was talking down to us by explaining concepts that we all should have known already, but he did get into the “meat” of his topic eventually. One interesting concept is that the EU completion is something not found elsewhere in the world. It not only aims to protect the market completion but also to promote and protect market integration between EU members. In addition, apart from addressing private distortions of competition, it also curbs the distortions of the market by its own member states (ex: subsidies for national companies at the expense of other EU countries products). The EU market is also implemented at a multi-level political system, that the EU and member states are both responsible for implementing. At one point, he tried to say that marriage is something that states don’t regulate, and how would we feel if the state tried to tell us who to marry. He said this about three times before I had to speak up and tell him that the state DOES regulate marriage, not only do we have to go and register/get a marriage license, we are only allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Before dinner, we went for another walk. Dinner was interesting, they offered me an omelet. That night, built into the schedule of the conference was “clubbing in Ohrid.” No joke. They offered us transportation to and from Ohrid to go to a club/pup (with two return options 1am and 3am). I was fine and enjoying myself at the pup before they turned on the strobe lights. Ever since I fell down the stairs in Russia strobe lights make me sick if they are on for more than 30 seconds or so. So the last 45 minutes not so fun! But the rest of the time, it was so lovely to sit (and actually DANCE!) with people. We had a blast! The bus that was supposed to take us back at 1am didn’t show up until 1:30, and boy was it cold.

See you around the globe!

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