EPSA – a new association for political scientists in Europe

The European Political Science Association EPSA is off and running. It has a website, it is on Facebook, it twitters, and offers receptions. You can now join its ranks at a reasonable price and you will very soon be able to submit papers and panels for its first General Conference in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, on 16-18 June 2011. But why have another association in Europe? Why pay more membership dues and add another conference date to an already packed calendar? 

EPSA is the only Europe-wide association based on individual membership. ECPR (the European Consortium for Political Science Research) has institutional membership, and ECPSA (the European Confederation of Political Science Association) is an organization of national political associations. EPSA thus follows the example of American associations – and it does in other ways, too. As Ken Benoit (Trinity College Dublin), one of the founders of EPSA, explained at the association’s inaugural workshop in June this year, the idea is to provide well-organized and high-quality conferences at conference centers and hotels in easy-to-reach locations – a bit like “Mid-West” and in contrast to ECPR’s conferences in often peripheral universities. Again in contrast to ECPR, which sometimes makes it hard and costly to cooperate with US-based colleagues, EPSA explicitly seeks to promote transatlantic exchange. In addition, it plans to “publish a general journal of political science that will have a profile, impact, and structure on a par with top general political science journals in the United States”.

At the same time, EPSA may well become a niche association in Europe in the beginning. ECPR has made great efforts, with some success, to integrate Southern and Eastern European political science, and it is a platform for diverse methodological and theoretical approaches. At the inaugural workshop of EPSA, the participants came almost exclusively from the northwest corner of Europe and the US and predominantly represented quantitative political science. Some even called for formally committing the new organization to an EITM (empirical implications of theoretical models) standard. It will be a challenge for EPSA to combine high (professional and organizational) standards with credible openness. The first general conference will show where EPSA is heading. Come and see for yourselves. And pour your own pint on the way (out).

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Democracy promotion and civil society – impressions from field trips to Eastern Europe

A strong civil society is widely regarded as a “school of democracy“, a provider of social capital, and a protective counterpart to the power of the state. In post-communist Eastern Europe, however, civil society has often been described as weak – and as primarily based on private personal relations as a legacy of communism. External democracy promoters have thus made the development of civil society one of their primary goals in the region. What have they achieved?

In a series of field trips to some “late democratizers” of Eastern Europe organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and its regional offices, a group of PhD students and their supervisors from the Center of Comparative and International Studies and the Viadrina University (Frankfurt/Oder, Germany) visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine in 2009 and 2010. Here are some impressions and ideas resulting from our conversations with NGOs, donor organizations, political observers, and state officials.

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Swiss EU policy – from sonderweg to impasse

At the end of March, Germany and Switzerland agreed in principle on a double taxation agreement. Although the details remain to be negotiated (or disclosed), it is clear that the agreement and similar ones to follow with other EU member countries will end the delicate distinction between tax fraud and tax evasion that Switzerland has used to block inquiries from other countries and that has made possible a business model with a suspected volume of 500 billion untaxed Euros. It will also endanger an important economic niche that Switzerland had secured in an economically integrating Europe. Even though the tax issue created an especially heated political debate, it represents only one symptom of deeper structural problems that Swiss EU policy has run into and that put into question the Swiss bilateral sonderweg in Europe.

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