Since 2008, the terms crisis and Europe have become inseparable. As the crisis has deepened and persisted and its dimensions multiplied, the future of a united Europe and its core values have been called into question. Yet, there is wide divergence of views among experts and politicians on the causes, symptoms, implications and policies needed to resolve it. Is it necessary for Europe and the European Union to discard old models and principles in order to find a way out of crisis? Or should traditional European approaches simply be refined and applied more consistently in order to find solutions? The 2016 Summit, entitled Europe and the Forces of Disunion, will examine the adverse political, economic and social trends that have both fueled the crisis and/or resulted from it. The proceedings will assess the options open to Europe in confronting its multiple challenges and reflect on Europe’s future.
I sat on a panel entitled “From Enlargement to Brexit: The Future of the European Union” with George Alogoskoufis, Karamanlis Chair of Hellenic and European Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; R. Daniel Kelemen, Professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Politics at Rutgers University; and Sir Paul Tucker, Chair of the Systemic Risk Council, Senior Fellow in the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Kennedy School, and Former Deputy Governor at the Bank of England (2009-2013). The panel was chaired by Peter Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University.
I was in Bratislava, Slovakia from October 27-30 to participate in the Tatra Summit 2016. The theme of the conference was the current crises facing the European Union. I took part in a panel discussion entitled How to Rebuild the Trust of EU Citizens together with Goran Buldioski, Co-Director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe; John Erik Fossum, Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo; and Daniel Milo, Senior Research Fellow at Blobsec Policy Institute in Bratislava. The session, which was moderated by Barbara Wesel, Senior Europe Correspondent for Deutsche Welle, addressed such questions as: Does the European Union have capacity to combat extremism? Shall this be its tasks or responsibility of the member states? How can national and European leaders regain trust of European citizens and thus to prevent rise of extremism and populism? Is this the fault of the EU, or of national politics? What reforms does the EU or the Member States have to take?
Last week, I participated in a conference at the Fletcher School at Tufts University on Greece and the Eurozone. The conference, entitled “Greece’s Turn? Litmus Test for Europe,” included keynotes, debates and panel discussions examining the fundamentals, strengths and vulnerabilities of Greece from the perspectives of politics, business, investment and the economy, society and international relations while exploring the implications for the future of the Eurozone. The full conference agenda can be viewed here.
On Friday, October 7, The Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos in Lisbon, Portugal, hosted a conference – What Democracy? – to explore the lexicon of democracy. The eight sessions addressed such concepts as “demos”, “political representation,” “majority rule,” public space,” “pluralism,” and “social justice.” Participants included such internationally renowned speakers as Chantal Mouffe, Daniel Innerarity, and Felisbela Lopes.
I participated in a panel entitled “European Democracy vs. National Democracy” with Wolfgang Streeck, German economic sociologist and Emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. The panel addressed the question, “Are we heading to a disintegration of the European or not?” The conversation focussed on the legitimacy of the EU, its credibility, and the consequences and solutions for the future.
I was quoted today in the Washington Post in an article by Paris reporter James McCauley on opportunities for France in the wake of Brexit:
According to Vivien Schmidt, the Jean Monnet professor of European integration at Boston University, the major shift away from a French-led Europe came in the 1990s, when the European single market embraced a host of neoliberal economic polices, including the deregulation of telecommunications and, later, of electricity, both opposed by France.
“Basically, it’s no longer the French leading,” she said. “It’s a set of policies that don’t sit well with the idea of the French state being in control.”
See my comments in Kaitlin Lavinder’s article on The Cipher Brief on the rise of Euro-skepticism and the growing popularity of candidates who are political outsiders:
“Euro-skepticism has been increasing more generally across Europe, along with disenchantment with national political elites,” explains Boston University professor Vivien Schmidt, who is also the founding director of BU’s Center for the Study of Europe.
The Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, and the security crisis (that is the heightened threat of terrorist attacks on the continent) all contribute to a loss of trust in mainstream parties and the “steady rise” of populist parties across Europe, says Schmidt.
See my op-ed at The Cipher Brief on the state of European Democracy after Brexit:
Democracy in Europe is in a parlous state at the moment. The British vote for exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU) has highlighted deep-seated problems with democracy at both the EU and national levels. But it would be a mistake to think that this means the EU is undemocratic, or that Brexit spells the break-up of the EU. Rather, it shows that in the EU, even more so than in the U.S., politics has become increasingly volatile as citizens punish political elites for gridlocked governing processes and policies that don’t work.
The Brexit referendum was dominated by a populist campaign focused on immigration in order to “take back control” from the EU, which was depicted as an over-regulated, undemocratic superstate.
The same kinds of complaints voiced about the EU in the Brexit campaign are mirrored in most European countries, by the likes of, for example, Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who have also called for referenda on the EU. Euro-skepticism has been increasing more generally across Europe, along with disenchantment with national political elites. This is evidenced by the loss of trust in mainstream parties, the steady rise of populist parties on both the extreme-left and the extreme-right, and the rapid turnover of incumbent governments. The EU’s other crises have also played their part, including the Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, and the security crisis. The EU’s poor management of all of these crises has been another reason why dissatisfied citizens across Europe, not just the British, may be asking why they should belong to such a Union.
Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, all the attention has been focused on how it will go about leaving, or even whether it will leave in the end. But equally important is how the EU responds to Brexit: whether as an isolated case to be quarantined in order to avoid contagion to other member-states, or as the symptom of a wider disease. Only by seeing the Brexit vote as a wake-up call to reinvent the EU may the EU itself actually overcome the many challenges it faces. What the EU must do is to generate a ‘new deal’ for the EU as a whole, not to treat the UK in isolation.
The EU will probably treat the UK as exceptional, as the result of populist Euroskepticism gone mad in a country ill-served by a conservative party trying to solve its internal divisions via referendum, drip-fed anti-EU rhetoric by the tabloids, where the EU has been the scapegoat for the UK’s many home-grown problems. The EU is therefore likely to hunker down, to protect all the acquis so valiantly fought for over the years—including the freedom of movement of EU citizens that has been a major focus of the Leave campaign.
But however tempting it may be for the EU to treat the UK as an example—so that no other member-state follows suit—it would be a mistake. The EU would do better to listen to and address the concerns of British citizens, in particular because calls for referenda are now echoed in other EU member-states by the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, among others.
As the referendum campaign nears its end, one central issue is remarkable for its absence, despite the fact that it has been a major contributor to the anger that lends support to the Brexit camp: neo-liberalism. The revolt against the political parties, the rejection of the experts, the distrust of the elites more generally—all of this has to do with neo-liberalism—as does the venting by working and middle class people against the worsening of their life chances due to stagnant wages, growing inequality, and the increasing difficulty for the young to get a foot on the real estate ladder, or a steady well-paying job. And yet the real cause of these concerns is never addressed. Instead, the EU and immigration are blamed for all of Britain’s ills. But whether the decision on June 23 is Leave or Remain, neither Britain’s problems nor citizens’ dissatisfaction will go away.
Neo-liberalism has been so resilient in the UK as well as in the EU that it receives barely a mention in the mainstream press or in public debates. It is so pervasive that it is hardly recognized as a major source of the disenchantment that lends support to the Leave campaign. Better to blame the outsiders (i.e., immigrants and Eurocrats) than to recognize that the problem comes from the inside, from the policies of British governments.
Democratically elected British governments beginning in the 1980s sought to transform the UK economy based on a neo-liberal economic philosophy. It touted the market as the solution, the state as the problem; denigrated politicians and civil servants as rent-seekers not to be trusted; believed that financial market players were rational actors who deserved little or at most ‘light touch’ regulation; and promoted a growth model focused on debt-based real estate speculation rather than rising wages, and on service industries in place of manufacturing. It should be no wonder, following the financial crisis of 2008 with the concomitant rise in job insecurity and poverty, in the face of no change in the neo-liberal discourse let alone the policies, that working people would have lost faith in their politicians, and expect some alternative. But, surprisingly, there is no mainstream alternative, just the sirens of the populists blaming immigration and the EU.
I was was in Brussels on June 16 to give a talk at a seminar hosted by the Open Society European Policy Institute and the Istituto degli Affari Internazionali based on my contribution to the IAI’s essay collection Govering Europe: How to Make the EU more Efficient and Democratic.
In the piece, entitled “The New EU Governance: New Intergovernmentalism, New Supranationalism, and New Parliamentarism,” I explain how governance in the EU has changed in recent years, what its problems are, and how it could be governed in the future.
I argue that only by by considering the actions and interactions of all three main actors together can we fully understand the “new” EU governance and its problems. I use, by way of illustration, EU’s crises of money, borders and security, suggesting that it is best to think about the future of EU governance not in terms of any hard core but rather as a “soft core” of member-states clustered in overlapping policy communities. Finally I propose ways of reinforcing EU-level capacity for policy coordination with national-level decentralisation to address problems of democracy and legitimacy.