Session 1: 12:30-14:30h
Session 2: 15-17h
Patricia Chiantera-Stutte is Associate Professor at the University of Bari. Her main research field is the history of right-wing political thought in Italy and Germany. Among other topics, she has published on German geopolitical concepts, on biopolitics and on Italian fascism.
Gabriela Frei is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Junior Research Fellow in History at Oxford University. Her postdoctoral research project examines how the understanding of a legal international order changed as a result of the First World War, and how a new international economic order emerged during the interwar period.
Simon Jackson is Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Birmingham. He is completing a book on the global politics of economic development in Syria and Lebanon after World War One.
Jamie Martin is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Harvard University. His dissertation looks at the origins of the earliest plans to govern the world economy in twentieth-century Europe and the United States.
Klaus Richter is a Birmingham Fellow and Lecturer in Eastern European History at the University of Birmingham. He is currently working on a history of Poland and the Baltics during the First World War and the interwar period, which focuses on the specifics of statehood in the region.
Corey Ross is Professor of Modern History at the University of Birmingham. He is currently working on an environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from roughly 1880 to 1960.
If we cannot figure out how to properly test car emissions, we might as well give up on regulating forests, factories or garbage dumps. After all, cars ought to be ideal targets for environmental regulators. They’re largely standardised – most look and act more or less the same – and they’re produced by the thousand or million. Test one Volkswagen Polo and you should have tested them all. In theory.
Yet it hasn’t worked like that in practice. A month after the VW scandal broke most eyes are still on the German carmaker and its plunging shares, the desk clearing in management, and its hectic efforts at retrofitting. Fewer people are reflecting on what the scandal means for our system of environmental governance. This is missing the bigger story.
In a way, the emissions scandal shows there is a difference between clever cheating and dumb cheating. By its own admission, Volkswagen tampered with the car’s software in order to get good emission figures in testing mode. This is dumb cheating, especially if you get caught: it’s clearly against the rules.
But what if car manufacturers and regulators agree on a set of rules for testing that could deliver good figures for fuel efficiency? It is widely known that cars achieve notably better mileage per gallon on the test stand than in everyday practice. In fact, the difference has increased dramatically in recent years: according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the NGO whose emission tests led to the fall of Volkswagen, the gap between official and actual carbon dioxide emissions in new European cars grew from 8% in 2001 to 40% in 2014. Such a divergence is clearly misleading customers and the general public, but it’s not illegal. That’s smart cheating.
Standard setting on environmental matters is a murky area that few people bother to enter. Scientific results may provide some guidance, but there is always room for interpretation, and many rules and regulations are negotiated behind closed doors. The botched numbers for fuel efficiency are a good occasion to take a closer look. Is this the power of the automobile industry at work? Is this about lazy bureaucrats whose principal aim in life is to be out of the office at five? Or maybe it is about a third party such as the facilities that do the actual testing?
Negotiations over test procedures are inherently boring, but they matter a lot. If the upcoming Paris climate summit finally seals a deal on global warming, it will all be about numbers, and there will be endless worries if we can no longer trust them. Thanks to standardised mass production, cars should be one relatively simple part of a global system of emissions regulations. If we cannot secure reliable numbers here, we are in trouble when it comes to forests, soils, and other parts of the biosphere.
The trouble with test procedures is particularly disturbing since there really is not much room for debate. It is obvious that numbers should be accurate and that tests should reflect the real world. It’s also clear that an independent authority should certify the rules. The Volkswagen scandal indicates the industrial economies of the West cannot sustain that kind of independence anymore.
When today’s framework of environmental governance evolved in the 1970s, the general idea was that environmental ministries and other government bodies would serve as a counterweight to the vested interest. Now it turns out that the presumed watchdog is curiously reluctant to bark. A lot has been written over the last month about the loss of trust, but it’s really a matter of institutions rather than morals. Maybe we need a watchdog for the watchdog?
Volkswagen has shown the huge toll of dumb cheating, but the scandal also suggests the risk of getting caught was not significant. The story only broke because of a study that worked with a grand total of three cars, two of which happened to be Volkswagens. A cash-strapped NGO could not afford to cast a wider net, and it was a matter of luck that it made the right choices. No system of environmental governance can rely on these kinds of coincidences.
Volkswagen’s managers are red-faced, but that will be a temporary thing. They will either change their corporate culture, or there will be no more Volkswagen managers. Whether regulators are red-faced is anyone’s guess, but they certainly should be embarrassed. The question is whether anyone bothers to look them in the face.
Ever since Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved from being prime minister to president of Turkey in 2014, the country’s politics have continued an alarming drift towards autocracy. Erdogan has taken his strong party identity and command-and-control style with him – and is seriously eroding the nation’s checks and balances on personal power.
Turkey’s various presidents have been men of party political and military backgrounds alike. Though it would be naïve to suggest that none of them had any pre-existing political agenda, the record of direct party political manoeuvring is scant.
The previous president, Abdullah Gül was often condemned for his uncritical ratification of legislation passed by parliament, but in general he made an effort to stay above party politics – Gül and Erdogan shared a background in the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP). Gül’s predecessor, former constitutional court judge Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was a firm check on the early years of AKP governments.
But things are different now. The structures that hold back the increasing authority of Erdogan and his party have been under attack for some time – and Erdogan may be on the brink of finally overwhelming them. He is quite openly manouvering to concentrate power in his person rather than the office he holds, and he has been doing so for some time.
The Gezi Park demonstrations in May and June 2013, for instance, were sparked in part by his arrogant statements on municipal issues in Istanbul, blithely overriding the governor, mayor and city council.
When a massive corruption scandal broke in December 2013, Erdogan became combative. Wiretaps were released implicating AKP ministers, Erdogan and their sons in wide-scale embezzlement. Erdogan first dismissed the wiretaps as forgeries, then held them up as evidence of a conspiracy.
But ultimately, any “conspiracy” against him clearly failed, as 25 police officers and various others were arrested in raids against those who instituted the wiretaps in the first place.
This was just one of many attempts to reign Erdogan that have failed. After the wiretap scandal, he not only bounced back, but campaigned to great effect in the municipal elections of March 2014, sometimes appearing simultaneously in different places by way of a hologram. And despite the previous year’s upheavals the AKP won a majority across the country.
Neither Erdogan’s overreach nor evidence of corruption moved the electorate against the AKP. The verdict seemed to be “they steal, but they work hard,” in contrast to previous more secular-minded governments which were also accused of corruption, but were not seen to be working for the good of the country.
And while the AKP certainly benefited from heavily favourable coverage by the state broadcaster TRT, the charisma and personal power of Erdogan himself was also a major factor. Any attack on Erdogan simply seems to galvanise his supporters behind him.
Now Erdogan is president, not prime minister, he is meant to be on a much tighter leash. Article 101 of the Turkish constitution makes it explicit that the president must sever all connections with their party. But Erdogan is not just flouting this core requirement; he is openly campaigning for his party in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Erdogan has also been giving a series of lectures to “muhtars“, village and neighbourhood officials who are elected but not affiliated with political parties. Since these officials have local influence and a role in registering voters, recruiting them to a party political agenda is also against the law.
Most shockingly of all, Erdogan has actually started asking the electorate to return 400 MPs for the AKP, which would provide the AKP government with the majority it needs to unilaterally amend the constitution. For the president to make this plea at all is illegal.
Regardless of what happens in the election, substantial damage has already been done. The previously ceremonial chair of the presidency is rapidly being turned into a powerful executive post, drawing influence and authority from a Parliament subservient to the person rather than the institution.
It is not inconceivable that if they were elected, 400 AKP members of parliament (out of a total of 550) under the de facto leadership of Erdogan could vote to rewrite the constitution and overnight make his currently illegal electioneering legal – and along with it, his radical effort to gather ever more unaccountable power for himself.
The Week 8 Modern and Contemporary History Research Seminar is on Wednesday 4 March 2015, at 16:15 in the Rodney Hilton Library. It will be delivered by:
Abstract: Drawing on Canadian state security records, the problematic nature of which will be discussed, this paper examines the tactics and strategy used by the largely all-male police against the Women’s Liberation Movement between 1969 and 1988. It argues that ultimately the police’s own lack of clarity about what it was pursuing in terms of subversion combined with external factors, including the nature of the movement it spied upon, not just weakened its surveillance campaign but ultimately helped undermine counter-subversion as a dominant characteristic of the Canadian security state. Finally, the paper will argue that in an era of WikiLeaks and the revelations of Edward Snowden, it is crucial to recognize that certain groups and individuals disproportionately experience surveillance, both in the past and in the present.
All are welcome and there will be drinks.