The Commons and a New Global Governance
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The Commons and a New Global Governance

Edited by Samuel Cogolati and Jan Wouters

Given the new-found importance of the commons in current political discourse, it has become increasingly necessary to explore the democratic, institutional, and legal implications of the commons for global governance today. This book analyses and explores the ground-breaking model of the commons and its relation to these debates.
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Chapter 8: Expropriation by definition? Regime complexes, structural power, and global public goods

Thomas R. Eimer


Global public goods are frequently defined in horizontally overlapping and vertically interconnected institutional arrangements. Liberal scholars usually assume that the malleability and procedural inclusiveness of regime complexes can mitigate at least the worst forms of power politics and hereby contribute to more inclusive global commons. This chapter challenges the analytical and normative optimism of the global governance literature and its functionalist underpinnings. It does not deny that sophisticated institutional structures may indeed at least partially compensate for relational power imbalances. However, it is argued that the search for common solutions remains embedded in a context of structural power relationships, which shape the negotiation context and thereby define the policy space even in the absence of outspoken pressure politics. Under these conditions, international cooperation may perpetuate and even reinforce the already existing power differentials both among and within states. By this, regime complexes may effectively expropriate less powerful actors and deprive them of their already scarce resources. This critique is empirically illustrated by the analysis of the regime complex on biodiversity, which is commonly portrayed as the world’s most advanced institutional framework to reconcile the sustainable use of natural resources, economic as well as scientific progress, and human (indigenous) rights. Based on the conceptual critique and its empirical illustration, the chapter concludes that regime complexes are less likely to produce global public goods but can rather be expected to create globalized club goods.

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