With Britain’s exit from the European Union, France sees an opening

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.”

Read the full article here>>

The Rise of the Fringe: A Threat to Democracy?

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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.

Read the whole article>>

Photo: Anna Omelchenko

European Democracy in a Parlous State

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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.

Continue reading>>

Photo: European Parliament

Brexit and the EU: A new deal for all the EU or no deal at all?

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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.

Continue reading on the Governance Blog>>

Photo credit: European Parliament

The Issue Remarkable for its Absence: The Resilience of Neo-Liberalism in Europe

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.

Continue reading at Cambridge University Press blog>>

The New EU Governance: New Intergovernmentalism, New Supranationalism, and New Parliamentarism

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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.

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Europe’s Crisis of Legitimacy: Governing by Rules and Ruling by Numbers in the Eurozone

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I was in Mannheim on June 6 to give a talk entitled: “Europe’s Crisis of Legitimacy: Governing by Rules and Ruling by Numbers in the Eurozone” at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), in their political science seminar series. I argue that the Eurozone’s economic crisis has generated a crisis of democratic legitimacy, as deteriorating economics and increasingly volatile politics have combined with restrictive governance processes focused on ‘governing by the rules and ruling by the numbers’. I analyze this legitimacy crisis in terms of problems with the ‘output’ policies, ‘input’ politics, and ‘throughput’ processes, arguing that in response to such problems, EU institutional actors—ECB, Council, Commission, and EP—all sought to reinterpret the rules and recalibrate the numbers ‘by stealth,’ that is without admitting it in their public discourse. My talk addressed not only issues of democratic theory but also neo-institutionalist theory, by analyzing on-going processes of ideational innovation and discursive legitimation during the Eurozone crisis using discursive institutionalism.