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Thesis of the month


Every year, about 30 Ph.D. theses are defended in the SPS Department. In order to illustrate the range of topics, the department presents a selection of theses chosen among those that are both of very high quality (as certified by the examiners’ reports) and whose findings may be of interest to a wider public. 

 

torstadAfter Reform: Procedural Justice and the Legitimacy of International Institutions 

Vegard H. Tørstad


Thesis summary

Do decision-making procedures matter for the legitimacy of international institutions? Social psychologists have for years shown that the ways in which decisions are reached matter in important ways for people’s beliefs in the legitimacy of organizations and political systems. However, we know little about whether and how the procedures of international institutions matter for their member states. In his thesis, Vegard Tørstad demonstrates—through case studies of the UN climate negotiations, the WTO Dispute Settlement System, and the UN Security Council—that decision-making procedures constitute an important source of states’ perceptions of the legitimacy of international institutions, and that enhancing procedural justice can improve these perceptions.

Legitimacy is a crucial quality that contributes to the effectiveness and longevity of international institutions. However, over the past years, the legitimacy of many international institutions has been called into question by states. The legitimacy challenges of these institutions have several facets; but one of the most frequently voiced concerns among states is the inadequacy of institutional procedures. For example, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been denounced for voting systems based on unequal weights, putting small member states at a disadvantage. UN investor-state dispute settlement has been accused of biased rulings against developing countries and low transparency. Finally, the UN Security Council has been criticized for its structure of five Permanent Members with veto powers as well as for its culture of exclusivity and lack of transparency in decision-making.

These examples illustrate different types of procedural legitimacy deficits in international institutions. As a remedy to procedural legitimacy deficits, many international institutions have implemented reforms. In his thesis, Tørstad formulates three distinct types of procedural justice reform—participation, transparency, and impartiality—that international institutions can implement to enhance their standing among their memberships. He then empirically tests whether these three types of reform lead to enhanced legitimacy perceptions among states, by analyzing hundreds of institutional debates and position documents over time.

Overall, Tørstad’s three case studies demonstrate that decision-making procedures constitute an important source of states’ perceptions of the legitimacy of international institutions, and that enhancing procedural justice can improve these perceptions. Throughout his thesis, Tørstad finds that procedural justice reforms significantly affect how states view the legitimacy of international institutions, even when controlled for the effect of institutional outcomes. However, the legitimacy effects are not unequivocally positive. Tørstad finds that procedural justice reforms have had positive legitimacy effects in the UN climate negotiations and in the WTO Dispute Settlement System, but negative effects in the UN Security Council.

One explanation for the varying effects is that the reforms re-redistribute procedural control over the institutions to different degrees, leading to differentiated effects: the participation and impartiality reforms lead to positive legitimacy effects for economically weaker states, while the transparency reform in the UN Security Council leads to positive legitimacy effects for economically stronger states. The differentiated effects demonstrate how institutional decision-making procedures are intertwined with power politics and illustrate why procedural justice reforms are not necessarily a panacea for solving legitimacy deficits in international institutions.

Cadmus permanent link: https://hdl.handle.net/1814/69682

 

Short bio

Vegard H. Tørstad defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in January 2021. He is currently Postdoctoral Fellow at BI Norwegian Business School, where he works on the ReConnect project. Tørstad’s research focuses on international institutions, environmental politics, and legitimacy; and has been published in Environmental Politics, Environmental Research Letters, Environmental Science & Policy, and Climate Policy.

  

 

Milazzo_PhotoInterstate solidarity and responsibility shirking in refugee protectionA normative approach to justice among EU member states 

Eleonora Milazzo


Thesis summary

What do European Union (EU) member states owe each other in the field of refugee protection? How should we understand the references and appeals to solidarity among them with respect to the management of asylum flows? These questions have become increasingly relevant since the 2015 European response to inflows of asylum seekers. This is not only because solidarity is a difficult concept to grapple with, but also – and perhaps more importantly – because EU member states have repeatedly failed to manage asylum flows in a fair way. Normative political theory does not provide satisfactory tools to tackle the theoretical and political facets of this problem. In fact, the field generally lacks normative guidelines as to how international duties to refugees relate to duties among states in a regional union like the EU. Upon joining the EU, in fact, these states conceded to the partial limitation of their traditional powers of sovereignty. In addition, member states jointly established and maintain an important set of institutions, including an internal free movement area and the Common European Asylum System. Based on these facts about EU membership, should member states have a special duty to share the costs connected to the provision of asylum that is different from the duties of cooperation that they owe other states at the global level, beyond the EU? In her thesis, Eleonora Milazzo shows how applied normative theory can fruitfully address these questions by developing a novel normative framework to define the duties that EU member states have towards each other in relation to refugee protection. Her findings develop along three lines. Firstly, Milazzo proposes a normative theory of solidarity duties between states for the provision of asylum in the specific context of the EU. Secondly, she explores the real-world circumstances of non-compliance with requirements of justice. To do so, she examines what arguments EU member states put forward to justify their policy choices and proposes a framework to assess whether we should accept them or not. Lastly, Milazzo draws concrete policy conclusions from her normative arguments by defining guidelines for an institutional reform that is desirable from the point of view of justice, but that also takes into account real-world problems.Milazzo’s thesis makes three contributions to the debate on solidarity in the EU and the ethics of refugee protection, with important implications for the policy debate around these issues. Firstly, she persuasively shows that we should adopt a “multilayered ethics of asylum governance” to allocate the costs of asylum provision among states, one which accounts for associative relations among states. Milazzo also shows that we should adopt a “logic of co-responsibility” to explain why EU member states should cooperate in granting international protection, and that a mere humanitarian logic proves unsatisfactory for this task. Lastly, Milazzo’s normative theory lends support to three institutional and policy reforms in the EU: a pre-distributive mechanism to replace the Dublin principle for allocation of responsibility; mandatory redistributive instruments which should cover all material and process aspects of reception and integration; and a legally enforceable duty of solidarity that also allows to sanction responsibility shirking. 

Cadmus permanent link: https://hdl.handle.net/1814/69575 

 

Short bio

Eleonora Milazzo defended her thesis at the EUI in January 2021. The first paper based on her Ph.D. research has recently appeared in Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric. Her research focuses on EU political theory and the ethics of refugee protection. She is also interested in a wide range of normative and policy issues surrounding regional migration governance, EU integration, and global governance. Currently, she is Research Consultant at the International Organisation for Migration and Associate Fellow in the European Affairs Programme at the Egmont Institute for International Relations. 

  

 

Driedger 150x

David and Goliath: Power Politics and Military Conflict in the Backyards of Major States

Jonas Driedger


Thesis summary

War and military conflict between states have decisively shaped modern history. This is particularly the case for so-called unequal neighbors, where states with globally preponderant economic and military strength – great powers – clash with vastly weaker states in their neighborhood. For example, the proximate cause of the Second World War was the German invasion of Poland in 1939.  

Conflict between unequal neighbors remains a significant threat for human security, economic welfare, and strategic stability across the globe. For instance, experts, diplomats, and politicians regularly warn that conflict could escalate between China and its various small neighbors, and that such a conflict could drag the United States into the unfolding confrontation. 

Previous research has not explained why unequal neighbors sometimes co-exist amicably and sometimes choose to clash in these globally significant conflicts. The latter is particularly puzzling as doing so threatens the weak neighbor’s survival and diverts the powerful neighbor’s attention and resources away from seemingly more important issues. 

In his thesis, Jonas J. Driedger shows that specific dynamics of domestic power politics of one or both neighbors can fuel power politics between unequal neighbors, which ultimately leads to conflict. As the sociopolitical and strategic affairs of neighboring states are strongly interlinked, specific shifts in either side’s domestic and external power politics can inadvertently threaten assets relevant to leadership survival on the other side. Consequently, leaders on both sides use militarized policies to stay in charge, externalizing the costs of conflict both to the other state and politically weak groups in their own state.  

Driedger tests and empirically supports this argument with a wide array of methods and evidence, showcasing his argument’s ability to explain conflict dynamics in radically different settings. Using statistical analysis on all pairs of unequal neighbors between 1816 and 1989, Driedger demonstrates that military conflict between unequal neighbors is typically preceded by pre-existing threat perceptions between the leaders, by increasing domestic pressures on leaders to adopt hostile policies, by perceived windows of opportunity to use force now rather than later, and by worsening threat perceptions due to emerging alliance ties between the small neighbor and external great powers. 

Complementing these statistical tests, Driedger also uses process-tracing for in-depth analyses of the relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary (1878-1914) as well as between Ukraine and Russia (1992-2014). Data stem from primary historical sources of leadership deliberation and original policy documents and interviews conducted in Russia and Ukraine. In both cases, he uncovers how leaders’ drive for their own political survival explain why these relations were variously marked by peace, low-scale conflict, and war. 

Driedger’s research on military conflict between unequal neighbors also adds to our understanding of other forms of conflict, such as economic sanctions, and relations between other kinds of states, like equally powerful neighbors. Furthermore, the dissertation provides insights into the dynamics of deterrence and alliance politics and the interconnections of domestic and international policy. 

Politically, the findings allow to identify, anticipate, and better manage situations prone to conflict onset, such as powerful nationalist pressure groups, regime changes, great power security crises and certain kinds of extended alliance policies between small neighbors and distant great powers. 


Short Bio

Jonas J. Driedger is a political scientist from Germany, specializing in international security cooperation, deterrence, the causes of armed conflict, and international security policy, especially of NATO, the EU, Germany, and Russia. He defended his thesis in December 2020, while also being a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow for Transatlantic Security Cooperation at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (Johns Hopkins University) in Washington DC. He was an Alfa Fellow and Visiting Researcher at the Moscow Higher School of Economics. He taught and did fieldwork in Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and Russia. Jonas’ academic publications include an article at the European Journal of International Security and chapters in edited volumes published by Springer and Columbia University Press. Jonas also contributed analyses and policy advise in German, Russian, and English, including to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Oxford University Changing Character of War Centre, Politico Europe, The National Interest, EUIdeas, EUObserver, and EurActiv.   

Carlos Hernandez150Cracking Meritocracy from the Starting Gate: Social Inequality in Skill Formation and School Choice

Carlos J. Gil Hernández 


Thesis summary

In contemporary liberal democracies, a college education is the best bet to climb up the social ladder for working-class families. However, inequalities by parental socioeconomic status in college enrolment remained at worryingly high levels in the last decades. Carlos’s thesis aims at answering a key unresolved question in sociological research: why are social inequalities in schooling so “sticky” over generations? 

To answer this question, Carlos’s thesis explores how wealthy families avoid their children falling down the social ladder from early in life. Its core argument is that negative traits for skill formation and learning—low birth weight and IQ—are less or not detrimental at all for well-off children when compared to disadvantaged peers. Upper-class parents follow compensatory strategies—educational investments and aspirations—to reproduce their status in a rigged social contest.

To illustrate how upper-class families crack meritocracy, Carlos focuses on Germany, one of the OECD countries with the lowest levels of social mobility. The segregating German school system, applying tracking into academic or vocational schools from age 10, is key in explaining low equal opportunity. Thus, Germany represents an ideal context to test how well-off families prevent downward mobility through access to academic schools bound to college.

Carlos’s thesis produced two novel empirical findings. Firstly, children from different social backgrounds are far from having the same chances of developing those abilities considered as main indicators of academic merit—cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Inequalities start to gestate in the womb, so that low birth weight (<2,500 grams), a good indicator of child health and developmental potential, is only detrimental for disadvantaged families. This finding illustrates how biology interacts with social environments in shaping unequal opportunities to develop academic skills from the starting gate of life.

Secondly, Carlos’s thesis documents high levels of social inequality in the transition into academic secondary schools among equally-skilled kids in terms of cognitive ability and effort. Well-off families compensate for low ability: the socioeconomic gap in school choice is largest among underperforming students. These findings put into question the legitimation of the German system of ability tracking, as teachers are biased in their evaluations as a function of students’ socioeconomic background. An illustrative example of this bias is the case of the primary school teacher of an inventor of the COVID-19 vaccine, Uğur Şahin, who thought that Uğur was not smart enough to enrol in academic education. 

Generally, Carlos’s thesis poses a serious challenge to liberal conceptions of equal opportunity that define merit as the sum of natural ability—IQ—plus effort. Carlos argues that the design of the German educational system reflects socioeconomic inequalities in a race that begins much earlier, even before birth. Thus, early tracking educational systems work as a bottleneck that should be erased if a better allocation of talent and opportunity is to be achieved. Socioeconomic inequalities in school choice over and above students’ ability represent a waste of academic potential for disadvantaged students, compromising upward social mobility and economic growth in post-industrial societies.

Short Bio

Carlos J. Gil Hernández defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in October 2020. Carlos carries out theoretically-driven empirical research with interdisciplinary interests in skill formation, intergenerational social mobility and social policy. He is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Trento, where he works in the Project “INEQUALITREES-A Novel Look at Socio-Economic Inequalities using Machine Learning Techniques and Integrated Data Sources”. His work has been published in journals and editorials such as Sociology of Education, European Sociological Review, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, and Stanford University Press. Previous to his doctoral studies, he completed MA studies at the Pompeu Fabra University and the University of Tilburg.

 

Kandyla_150The Emperor’s New Clothes? Assessing the Democratic Value of the European Citizens’ Initiative

Anna Kandyla


Thesis summary

The European Union (EU) has long been accused of suffering from a democratic deficit. One of the reforms introduced with a view to helping tackle this deficit is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an instrument which makes it possible for citizens to present legislative proposals to the European Commission, provided that they have collected one million signatures from at least one quarter of Member States. Ever since the ECI was introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon, it has been accompanied by buoyant democratic rhetoric. But, does the ECI indeed help enhance democracy in the EU?

In her thesis, Anna aims to provide a comprehensive answer to this question by bringing together normative democratic theory with an analysis of the ECI in practice. She develops three criteria against which the democratic quality of the ECI is empirically assessed: (1) equal and inclusive participation, (2) openness and group access to the agenda, and (3) impact on the EU legislative agenda.

To assess equal and inclusive participation, Anna looks at the inclusiveness of the ECI and inequalities of voice at the level of the citizens. Analyzing Eurobarometer survey data, she finds that the propensity to participate in the ECI is higher among those who tend to be politically active also in other ways: the better educated, those who trust EU institutions and their own political capabilities. As such, the ECI does not appear likely to offset equalities of voice and make participation more inclusive.

The second criterion focuses on the groups that use the ECI to bring an issue to the EU agenda and the factors that influence their efforts. The analysis of a sample of initiatives using Qualitative Comparative Analysis, shows that the registration of an initiative is only possible when the organizers are experts on EU matters. Since registration is required to start collecting signatures, it becomes a filter which prevents access to the procedure for EU novice groups. Yet, for collecting the signatures it is essential that the organizers, however resourceful they may be, tap into issues that have formed the subject of previous mobilization campaigns across the EU. Thus, while the ECI does not fully break with patterns of bias that characterize the access of civil society groups to the EU, it appears able to uplift more grassroots demands to the agenda.

The third criterion is about output and the extent to which valid initiatives lead to a legislative proposal. Examining the demands of all four initiatives so far considered, Anna finds that the ECI has had a limited impact on the EU agenda, which can be explained if we look at the dynamics of legislative agenda in the EU. It appears that in order to secure a legislative commitment by the Commission, the demand an initiative puts forward has to be congruent, at least to some extent, with the preferences within and across the Union’s institutions, which in the EU context is easier said than done.

In sum, the results relativize the democratic value of the ECI in practice and make an empirically-grounded contribution to discussions about the possibilities and the limitations of enhancing the EU’s democratic fabric via instruments other than elections.


Cadmus permanent link: https://hdl.handle.net/1814/68475

 

Short bio

Anna-Angela Kandyla defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in September 2020. Her research interests focus on political participation, social movements, democratic innovations and EU governance. She is also interested in the media’s role in public opinion and democracy. Her research has been published in the Journal of Common Market Studies, Comparative European Politics, and the International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. 

 

GandersonPolitics by Association. Party Competition and Post-Crisis Bank Structural Reform in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany

Joseph Ganderson


Thesis summary

When policies fail and a crisis strikes, politicians need to diagnose what went wrong and propose fixes. However, even when faced with the same problem at the same time, policymakers in different countries can reach different conclusions about what to do next. The financial crisis of 2008 presented multiple countries with the same problem: large banks that were ‘too big to fail’ needed public bailouts to prevent economic contagion and collapse after Lehman Brothers went under. Among the set of potential solutions, the most radical option was structural banking regulations: breaking up the largest firms by preventing them from combining traditional commercial banking with apparently riskier, if more lucrative investment banking. This step was universally opposed by these large banks, who argued it threatened their competitiveness and capacity to fund the real economy. However, despite these warnings the financial heartland of the UK implemented a strong structural firewall, Germany a weaker measure and the Netherlands rejected this approach entirely. These countries absorbed similar crisis costs and had parallel patterns of partisan governance through and after the crisis, so why did they take different approaches?

Against prevailing theories pointing to the overriding influence of business or structure of national economies, this thesis finds that political parties hold sway. Analysing patterns of competition between major parties in the three cases, it develops a new model, “Politics by Association”. This identifies three types of party, which are incentivised to play issues up and down based on their historical association with them. Incumbents governed up to and through the crisis and into a ‘crisis election’, a moment of judgement when the issue remains publicly salient. The thesis finds that in each case incumbent parties responded in predictable and consistent ways, internationalising crisis causes and proposing minimal responses that downplay historical failures. Associated Opponents are parties out of government who can still be linked to the policy failure. They have an incentive to avoid the issue and focus on other points of differentiation, as the VVD did to absolve itself of blame during the Dutch fallout. Unassociated Opponents are the disruptive force, these are opposition parties without historical baggage in this area. The thesis finds they have a strong incentive to attack incumbents, domesticising the crisis and placing popular, more radical reforms on the agenda to gain political capital. In the UK and Germany, the bargaining strength of these parties – the Liberal Democrats and Social Democrats respectively – determined the extent to which structural reform was pursued. An absence of any major unassociated party in the Netherlands ensured that the Dutch banks themselves were able to exert decisive control via a less costly programme of self-imposed cultural reform.

This basic framework adds a new dimension and research agenda to the evolving literature on how parties compete and set agendas. In an age replete with social, political and economic crises and seemingly ever greater misgivings between polarised parties, the model sketched out here helps shed further light on how politics translates into policy.

Cadmus permanent link: https://hdl.handle.net/1814/68560 

 

Short Bio

Joseph Ganderson completed his thesis under the supervision of Prof. Pepper Culpepper and defended it in September 2020. He is a researcher at the European Institute, London School of Economics, where he works on the ERC-funded project SOLID (Sovereignty, Solidarity and Identity in the EU Post 2008). Here, his primary focus is on Brexit, where he teaches a postgraduate module and is working on the implications of this membership crisis for the future of the European project. Prior to his doctoral studies, he worked in EdTech in London for several years. He received a postgraduate innovation scholarship and MA from King’s College London (2012) and a BA from the University of Sheffield (2011).

 

 

  

Sphend KursaniContested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the Post-1945 International Order

Sphend Kursani


Thesis summary

Why is it that some contested states survive and others do not? Contested states are entities that exhibit strong elements of empirical statehood, but lack universal international recognition from the existing society of states. An intriguing aspect about contested states is that when they emerge, they undermine the authority and sovereign claims of the internationally recognized states that try to exert control over them. But when they continue to survive and persist, they additionally show a stubborn capability to challenge the broad and long-held consensus on the protection of borders and territorial integrity of the existing members of the society of states out of which contested states emerge. As such, unlike modern-day sovereign states, the death rate among contested states has been high. More than half of the thirty contested states that emerged at some point after WWII have already perished. The death of such entities as Aceh in 2005, Bougainville in 2001, or Biafra in 1967 is not a surprise. At the same time, entities such as Abkhazia, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, Transnistria, and others have demonstrated a striking ability to survive, despite pressures that come from the constant contestation of their existence. How do they make it?

Kursani’s thesis finds three distinct sufficient “pathways” to contested survival. The first consists of conditions that vest contested states with an external supportive social environment. This environment legitimizes these entities, to a degree, enabling them to interact with the existing society of states. The second consists of conditions that explain survival through the existence of unstable and troubled neighborhoods which contested states strategically navigate by receiving some outside support. These troubled neighborhoods are characterized by the involvement of parent states (i.e., states out of which contested states emerge) in concurrent and long-standing conflicts with actors inside and outside their territories, providing contested states enough room to “breath.” The third consists of contested states’ sustained state-making efforts in a general condition of peace, which they characteristically maintain by having an outside helping hand. These three overarching “pathways” to survival speak of the heterogeneity of contexts in which these entities navigate with their contested status in the international system.

Interestingly, the thesis finds that there is no single condition that is necessary for contested states' survival. Yet, it suggests that what happens outside their domestic environments remains crucial to their survival. To survive, contested states must either have some helping hand from outside actors, a substantive degree of international legitimation, or an unstable parent state. The thesis also finds that the post-WWII international legal and normative order presents contested states with a trade-off. In seeking to achieve universal international recognition, contested states must curb their claims to self-determination and sacrifice some of the elements of empirical statehood they have managed to establish. 

Cadmus permanent link: https://hdl.handle.net/1814/67955

 

Short bio

Shpend defended his Ph.D. dissertation on “Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the post-1945 International Order” in July 2020. From October 2020, he will be a Lecturer at the University of Leiden. His research interests include self-determination, secession, statehood, recognition, violence and extremism. Shpend has obtained his M.Phil. degree in 2011 -with distinctions on his dissertation- in International Relations, from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Before joining the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the EUI, Shpend has been a politically active member of civil society in Kosovo, and has conducted research for several institutes and think tanks. Shpend has authored more than a dozen scholarly articles and policy reports. He is currently co-authoring a book on “The Geography of Peace Settlements: De Facto States and Land-for-Peace Agreements”, Routledge. He has been recently commissioned to additionally contribute to the Routledge Handbook on “Self-determination and Secessionism”.

 

 

Page last updated on 01 March 2021