Roundtable: Global Governance in a Changing World

Roundtable: Global Governance in a Changing World
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From the autocratic turn to negative news coverage: at a recent roundtable in Prague, experts from ENSURED and beyond shed light on some of the key challenges facing global institutions today.

What are the key challenges for global institutions today? How are geopolitical tensions and great power rivalries impacting multilateral relations? How can international cooperation be revitalised for an age of intersecting crises?  

These and other questions animated a recent ENSURED roundtable at Charles University in Prague. ENSURED experts Michal Parizek (Charles University), Thomas Sommerer (University of Potsdam), and Clara Weinhardt (Maastricht University) were joined by Glasgow University’s Benjamin Faude to dig deeper into some of the key research strands on the state of global governance.

Stagnation at the WTO

Clara Weinhardt offered insights into the state of affairs at the World Trade Organization and unpacked the recent WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13), which she noted has generally been perceived as a disappointment because it failed to deliver even on those reform agendas for which expectations were only modest to begin with.

Two other points highlighted by Clara concerned what appears to be growing access restrictions for non-state actors to negotiations at the WTO and the central topic of contestation in the body: How should countries qualify for – or which countries should be eligible to claim – a developing country status and the corresponding special treatment?

Democracy in Decline

Zooming out onto the level of cross-cutting trends in global governance, Thomas Sommerer presented empirical data on the growing share of not fully democratic – or outright autocratic – countries in international organisations. He highlighted that between 2010 and 2020 a range of organisations lost their “democratic majority”, meaning it is no longer the case that democratic states make up most of their membership. Other important institutions – including the United Nations – are very close to losing their democratic majority. And still others, such as the EU, NATO or the OECD, have lost their “democratic homogeneity” (i.e., they no longer have a fully democratic membership).

With respect to the research agenda going forward, Thomas highlighted one area deserving particular attention: the rise of so-called electoral regimes – regimes that hold elections but lack other important features of liberal democracy – whose behaviour and preferences in international organisations are especially poorly understood.

External Factors: Media Coverage and Crises

Posing the question whether global governance is too aloof and distant from lived realities, Michal Parizek presented data on the media coverage of international organisations across the world. Among other points, he highlighted data demonstrating how news reports about the UN and other bodies systematically differ both in their intensity and in content between the Western world and most of the Global South. Moreover, new data shows that the UN is presented more negatively in European news reports about the Russia-Ukraine war than is the case in all other world regions. In addition to discussing the implications of these findings, the participants also explored how new machine learning-based approaches, combined with big data, enable us to better trace these macro-level patterns.

In a final input, Benjamin Faude spotlighted the specific challenges that arise from crises – that is, shocks marked by imminent threat as well as high uncertainty and urgency – for multilateral efforts to manage transnational challenges. Emphasising that crises typically heighten states’ focus on interests and immediate challenges, as compared to long-term gains, he elaborated on how governance schemes that are tasked to manage transnational crises must find a difficult balance between rigidity and flexibility. The former trait is primarily associated with traditional formal institutions, which are strong in absorbing the crisis shocks, while informal, “low-cost” institutions typically are more adaptable.

For more on the state of thinking and research on global governance, stay tuned for our upcoming literature reviews (out soon).

(Photo: David Watkis / Unsplash)
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