Research- International Relations

The faculty of the IR department is actively pursuing a research agenda that is investigating a number of acute political themes including energy and environmental policies and approaches to security, theories of representation, European integration, and parliamentary networks, EU foreign policies – particularly as relate to Asia and the US, and the contribution of geopolitical theory to foreign policy such as China’s maritime interests and behaviour.

Dr. Franco Algieri

 Dr. Algieri is currently concentrating on three research projects. The first a major study on the consequences of the US’ rebalancing policy in the Asia Pacific for the EU’s Asia policy.  Dr. Algieri is also studying Austria’s position in the EU’s enlargement policy, particularly in the context of the project ‘EU member states and enlargement to the Balkans’ coordinated by the European Policy Center in Brussels. Thirdly, he is working on the future of the EU's Foreign and Security Policy.

Dr. Elina Brutschin

After finishing her PhD in political science on the liberalization of the European gas market (at Konstanz University under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Volker Schneider), Dr. Brutschin has been researching on the political economy of energy. Energy and environmental topics are getting more attention from political scientists, however, interdisciplinary studies that combine political, economic as well as socio-technical factors remain rare. Dr. Brutschin's main research agenda is to fill this gap. Her research can be divided in three major areas: co-ordination of policies at the European level, interaction between energy and security, and domestic factors affecting energy infrastructure projects.

Univ. Prof. Dr. Johannes Pollak

Dr. Pollak's research focuses on the intersection between political theory and European Integration. The latter poses serious challenges for the central concepts of political science developed in the wake of the formation of the nation state. In his own words, “political representation is the concept I have so far devoted most attention too because it strikes me as the pivot of western liberal democracy. How can we organize accountable representation in times of increasing internationalization and in times where political decision-making and democratic authorization seem to be moving further apart?” ‘Standard theories’ of representation focus on the role of regular territorially-based elections which provide a mechanism for citizens to select their officials and entrust them with the running of public affairs. They assume that the representatives will either ‘stand for’ or ‘act for’ the citizens, reflecting the electors’ interests, values and opinions in the normal business of government.

Changes in the political landscape in recent years have thrown the overly simplified assumptions of the standard model into question and potentially transformed the logic of political representation. Especially the diffusion of more informal structures and opportunities and the diversification of the forms of association in modern societies as well as post-material ideals and cultures for representation challenge traditional notions of representation. Owing to these changes, it is no longer possible to represent and aggregate the interests, opinions, and values of the citizens through electoral mechanisms without taking into account an increasingly interdependent environment in general and, for Europe, the European Union’s complex multi-level system of governance in particular. Nor does it seem likely that the standard model of representative democracy can describe and assess emerging forms and meanings of political representation beyond formally entitled representatives. This suggests a reconfiguration of the relationship between territory, function, identity, accountability, and transparency as the main vectors of democratic representation. Whereas some have seen these developments as taking us back to pre-modern theories of representation as found in republican theories of mixed government or mediaeval notions of Empire, others regard them as marking – for good or ill – an extension of liberal constraints on democracy, that reduce (though some claim they may, perversely, enhance) the dangers of majorities or powerful minorities undermining individual rights or justice.

Currently, the European Union is spearheading a ‘Weber’ian turn’ towards administrative decision-making and is thus an ideal laboratory for analysing changes in representation. It is experiencing an ‘agency fever’, i.e. policies without democratic politics via executive institutions far removed from parliamentary politics. The delegation of authority to such non-majoritarian institutions, functionally oscillating between the collection of information, the preparation of decisions, and the execution of specific programs is part of the trend from government to governance. But what does this mean for the democratic quality of a political system? Do we need to forego liberal democratic representation for accountability, i.e. supplanting ex-post control for democratic deliberation?

Pollak is working on book project with the working title: ‘The EU’s system of compounded representation: does it deliver?’ that concerns the system of compounded representation of European governance. It is based on a critique of the over-used but underspecified concept of governance. Together with C. Lord, he developed a matrix of four tests which may be reasonably demanded of any representative system: (1) A Kantian test of equal democratic self-legislation; (2) A Weberian test of equal power to control public administration; (3) A Mill test of equal regard in public bavardage; and (4) A Bohman test of equal influence over the shaping of conditions for democracy itself. The matrix draws on current discussions in democratic and representation theory as well as on ‘classics’. They launch with the question, what is representation and extend the approach of M. Saward who introduced the notion of ‘representation as claims-making’. This approach seriously falls short of guaranteeing democratic representation in the case of the EU. The complexity of the institutions and the variable audiences make a connection between claim and audience next to impossible. In a next step, it is asked what a system of compounded representation tries to achieve in theory – from the justification of decisions, the stabilisation of rule, reflection and identity building to the maximisation of responsiveness and individual liberty. They then go on and analyse the EU’s specific system of compounded representation reflected in the treaties as formal embodiment of a normatively grounded representative system. We conclude that the failure to deliver on what the Treaty of Lisbon promises further undermines the EU’s legitimacy.

Pollak is also under contract with Ashgate to write a book (together with C. Lord) on “Concepts of Representation” for their series on Public Policy and Political Theory. This latter work deals with the conceptual development of representation.

The second strand of Dr. Pollak’s research focuses the development of a parliamentary network (‘multilevel parliamentary field’) in the EU, which is increasingly seen as a panacea to counter the further power increase of the executives and the decreasing democratic legitimacy of the EU by constituting a discursive arena linking national publics. His theoretical starting point is J.S. Mill’s understanding of the parliament as a legitimising institution which is less involved in detailed policy making but rather controls the executive. Empirically, the economic crises hitting Europe and the U.S. hard since 2008 provide ample testing ground. The political authorities at all levels proved barely capable of containing the economic crises, frankly admitting that “we didn’t know, what we were doing” (Jean-Claude Trichet). Developing a common policy at the EU level proved to be especially difficult due to the different interests and the different socio-economic implications of the crises for the member states. What happened though was a further ‘executivization’ of financial oversight embodied in the EFSF and the ESM. i.e. decision-making by executives and bureaucratic elites based on expert knowledge. The market was portrayed as an ‘animal rationale’ following dry logics and therefore not requiring parliamentary ‘deliberation about alternatives in the light of the day’ (J.S. Mill). In addition, it has often been stressed that parliamentary deliberation and procedures are too cumbersome and time-consuming and are thus an obstacle for effective policy-making. Indeed, national parliaments and the European Parliament played a marginal role at best (with the exception of the German Bundestag) – a situation justified by pointing to the urgency of the matter. Thus, while at the level of primary EU law representative democracy is appealed to by EU institutions and member states alike, a crisis like the current one seems to make respecting those principles in practice difficult. Why do parliaments hardly use their rights when it comes to the scrutiny of the government? Which parliamentary model is better suited to fulfil its tasks? How does parliamentarism change in times of executive politics? What impact does the rhetoric of emergencies have on parliaments’ central task of deliberation in public? Instead of heated debates parliaments seem to have relegated the task of deliberation to constitutional adjudication. Corralled between a dominant (party) executive and rising demands for direct participation, parliaments have to re-define their role and objectives.

Pollak’s invetigations into the dominance of the executive take into a third domain of research, namely European Energy Policy, which serves a case study to test the assumptions and hypotheses. It is an area of research that crosses over similar areas of research Dr. Samuel R. Schubert and Elina Brutschin.  A book manuscript for Palgrave Macmillan was completed together with S.R. Schubert and M. Kreutler in May 2014. The main research questions are (a) why has a policy filled with such an eminent importance not yet been fully integrated and subjected to single market rules and (b) how does the European Union attempt to secure its energy safety under conditions of dependence. While the fist is an almost classical EU integration, the second is much more geared towards the international (and ever more internationalizing) nature of energy politics.

In addition to his research and teaching duties, Dr. Pollak is currently the Interim Director of the Webster Vienna Private University campus.

Dr. Samuel R. Schubert 

Dr. Schubert focuses his work on European energy policy, energy geopolitics, and the application of classical geopolitical analysis to contemporary international relations. In the area of energy, Schubert works closely with his colleagues inside and outside of the department. Together with Pollak and Kreutler (IHS), he recently completed a manuscript on Energy politics in the European Union, a state-of-the-art assessment of the evolution and current nature of the EU’s energy policy and its enduring struggle to find balance between national and community interests as well as economic and geopolitical security. 

Along a similar vein, Schubert’s research focuses on the relationship between energy and major power war. It is becoming increasingly popular to purport that states have gone and will go to war over energy resources. This notion, however, is built on a number of implicit assumptions – dwindling fossil energy resources, zero-sum energy games in an allegedly globalized energy market, the ability to secure resources once a conflict has been decided, etc. – the co-occurrence of which has yet to be observed. There is no doubt that wars have been fought in energy rich areas such as the Middle East, North and East Africa and Central Eurasia. Scholars of the Resource Curse have demonstrated that oil rich states tend to be highly militarized. And there is little doubt that oil and other energy resources often lay at the heart of enclave and civil wars. Seen empirically, however, these are not cases of international wars caused by the struggle for energy resources, but rather well fitting anecdotes. They neither prove the hypothesis that the pursuit of energy resources causes war nor do they shed light unto the conditions under which powerful state’s international quest for energy leads to interstate conflict or cooperation.

How, when, where, and why do states’ pursuit of energy autonomy affect international cooperation and conflict? Various arguments suggest that as resources run thin, international conflict will increase between energy consumers in energy rich areas. However, evidence from the last forty years suggests that cooperation is more likely than conflict. This can be explained by the interaction of two variables. The first is simply the market price for energy. The second is the salience of what Schubert calls supply availability for power projection (SAPP), a product of a state’s inclination to project power externally. Schubert’s research to date has explored long-standing consumer nations (the US and European powers) operating under similar conditions and is currently working on expanding the research to include secondary or regional powers and pure supplier states.

Also in the area of energy, Schubert is developing a greenness indicator together with E. Brutschin, one that integrates and simplifies current methods to enable a reliable cross-country comparison of environmental greenness. As the discussion over finding the right mix of environmental policies becomes more politicized, an important question arises: is there an objective measurement of environmental sustainability or, in other words, the greenness of a member state (the outcome side of the policy process)? As the EU strives to speak with one voice, can we show that becoming a member of the European Union makes a country greener, despite the expected increase in energy use, economic production and transportation? In other words, does EU age matter? This latter question implies the possibility of a causal link between collectively established rules, regimes and state– a form of collective environmental statecraft. Initial research in this area suggests that EU conditionality might have stronger effects than the economic growth on the greenness of a country. Further tests are planned to extend this new greenness index to include other major players including the US and BRIC countries.   

Schubert’s third line of work focuses on classical studies of geopolitics and geopolitical theory. Geopolitics is widely conceptualized as the spatial study of rivalry over territories and resources. The explanatory power and conditioning effect of geopolitics has been well documented. However, theoretical advances in the last three decades have expanded the utility of geopolitical theory in explain medium to long-term developments in international relations in particular as pertains to matters maritime powers, regional land powers, and of space. Indeed, geopolitics is making something of a comeback and is increasingly being considered a discrete perspective on international relations, but one that is often overshadowed by simplistic, i.e. non-theoretical application of geography as semi-determinism. Neo-Weberian geopolitical theory has been so far the most thoroughly theoretical approach, but its achievements and limitations have yet to be synthesized in a critical manner. Working together with a network of geopolitical analysts, Schubert is working on a project that will explore recent advances in geopolitical theory and offer an empirical analysis of foreign policy based on geopolitical approaches asking questions such as: a) what are the limitations of the neo-Weberian geopolitical theory and b) what is the contribution of geopolitical theory to foreign policy analysis?

One specific area focuses on the contribution or utility of geopolitical theories to explain China’s maritime policies toward the East and South China seas. Beguilingly called the Caribbean analogy, it has been suggested that China’s military strategists are implementing the ideas of A.T. Mahan, who argued that great powers must dominate the globe’s sea-lanes of communication in order to become the guarantor of world commerce; and, thus, the US should take naval control of the Caribbean. Schubert investigates that claim by identifying the key elements of Mahan’s strategy, testing its most discernable behavioral element, the acquisition of islands and outcrops, necessary to command the seas of its own ‘Caribbean’ in order to determine whether or not such an analogy is useful in understanding Chinese maritime policy. Early findings suggest that China’s behaviour in the East and South China Seas is indeed analogous to that of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s 19th century thinking of expanding slowly and methodically farer afield from the mainland to acquire control of vital points along its sea-lanes of communication. Schubert’s investigation of China’s behaviour is only one part of a broader examination of Mahan’s extensive works on geopolitics and the maritime view of economic, political, military power and security.

In addition to his research and teaching duties, Dr. Schubert is currently the Associate Interim Director of the Webster Vienna Private University campus.

Photo: Rosario Fiore "Old Map (73)" 2010.  Antique Maps of the World, Map of Europe, Nicolas Visscher, c 1640. (CC BY-ND 2.0)