International Law in the Age of Austerity

by Julian Ku

The imminent collapse of the eurozone (and maybe the global financial markets as well) makes for terrifying reading. It also is one reminder of how the success of regional and international legal institutions has depended on the general health of the global economy  (and of wealthy states in Europe, North America, and East Asia).  Three stories from today, both big and small, remind me of just how powerful economic forces can be.

1) The eurozone is (according to the Economist) a few weeks away from collapsing absent some drastic measure to save it. Yet the EU’s main institutions seem helpless and European Commission leaders are squabbling. The real decision seems to be in the hands of Germany’s leader Angela Merkel. I don’t pretend to know what the right answer is to this crisis, but if the eurozone breaks apart, it is hard to imagine the EU survives in its current form.  Interestingly, the choice appears to be even greater fiscal union and dominance by Brussels, or giving up on the euro project and going their separate ways. It does make me nervous that the UK Foreign Office is preparing for civil unrest in the eurozone as a result of a possible euro collapse in the next month.  It also makes me nervous that the U.S. Federal Reserve may be preparing a “shock and awe” intervention into the European sovereign debt market. In any event, the EU as a gradual project of ever closer union through the forms of international law (e.g. treaties and such) seems unlikely to continue without substantially different institutional mechanisms (referendums anyone?).

2) The Kyoto Protocol is heading toward an ignominious expiration, with key participants like Canada already signaling they will not sign an extension, and may not even stay in the system until the 2012 expiration date. The cost is the protocol is a huge reason why even the EU is demanding big changes.

3) And on a much smaller note, the ICC has been complaining that their host country, the Netherlands, are being a little bit too dutch in refusing to continue paying the rent for the ICC’s temporary quarters in the Hague.  The ICC President mentioned this issue when he visited Hofstra recently.  It sounds like the ICC needs about 40 to 50 million euros (or perhaps some other safer currency) to get it to 2015 when its new building opens.  This amount shouldn’t be a problem but it is a sign of our new age of austerity that the open checkbook for international criminal justice is also coming to an end.

Comments are closed.