Grexit, the Euro Crisis, Brexit, and the Future of the European Union

Greece's Turn
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.

European Democracy Vs. National Democracy

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.

Vivien Schmidt 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.

A video of the session is available here:

[Download the conference Program.]

[Watch the entire conference on YouTube.]

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


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.

[Download PDF]

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

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.

Vivien Schmidt Presentation on the Euro Crisis of Governance at Dublin European Institute

Vivien Schmid’s UCD lecture draws on a report that she recently prepared for the European Commission. The EU’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.’

Using the systems related terms of democratic theory, this paper first analyzes this legitimacy crisis in terms of problems with the ‘output’ performance of EU policies, the EU’s responsiveness to European citizens’ political ‘input,’ and the quality of the EU’s ‘throughput’ processes. It then considers how these play out for EU institutional actors—including in turn the ECB, the Council, the Commission, and the EP. The paper’s overall argument is that EU actors have sought to fix the economics and calm the politics by progressively reinterpreting the rules without admitting it in the discourse, and that such reinterpretation ‘by stealth,’ although perhaps beneficial for output legitimacy, risks generating further problems for input and throughput legitimacy.

The paper also shows that EU institutional actors differ with regard to their avenues for legitimation and their responses to fast burning versus slow burning phases of the crisis, with the main differentiation between technical and political actors. The paper finds that both EU technical and political actors have generated mixed responses from the public and analysts alike as a result of the disconnection between what they do and what they say. The ECB is seen either as ‘hero’ or ‘ogre,’ the Council as ‘dictator’ or ‘deliberative public body,’ the Commission as ‘ayatollahs of austerity’ or ‘ministers of ‘moderation,’ and the EP as a ‘talking shop’ or a potential ‘equal partner.’

The paper ends each of the sections on EU institutional actors with proposals in the short-term for modest remedies to the EU’s legitimacy problems, even without treaty change, plus some more bold solutions for the medium and long-term. It adds a final note centered on how to rethink EU governance if Eurozone economic governance deepens. In the conclusion the paper sets the crisis into the context of globalization, capitalism and democracy, and suggests possible future developments for EU legitimacy.

For the Commission, this paper highlights the need for leadership through greater flexibility and transparency in the reinterpretation of the rules, made possible by its new EP linked input legitimacy, and its now simultaneous accountability to the EP and Council. It also recommends a transformation in the Commission’s own approach to administering the rules—from community enforcer to community enhancer/facilitator/advisor within a more decentralized system of supervision/support. For all the institutions, it proposes a return to the long-standing institutional balance embodied by the Community Method. Among the other EU institutional actors, the ECB is to limit its focus to Euro-related issues of monetary governance, leaving economic policy orientation to the other institutional actors, while doing all the necessary as quasi lender of last resort and bank supervisor. The Council is to become a more open and transparent arena for political debate about the rules.

The EP is to be brought into all Eurozone decision-making, and better tied in with national parliaments, which will also see their role expanded. Finally, for the medium and long-term future, in addition to greater fiscal solidarity, the EU should end the unanimity rule, replaced by supermajorities with opt-outs, while treaty-based rules regarding the Eurozone are to become ordinary legislation, and therefore more readily amended. Moreover, instead of a Eurozone hard core with its own Euro-parliament the EU should be conceptualized as consisting of overlapping policy communities made up of clusters of member-states, in which all have voice but can vote only in the communities in which they are members.

Understanding the Eurozone Crisis Seminar Series (Autumn 2015) was co-hosted by UCD Dublin European Institute, UCD College of Social Sciences and Law, UCD College of Business and UCD Industrial Relations and Human Resources Group.

–Originally published November 25, 2015 at

Vivien Schmidt Delivers Kleh Family Foundation Distinguished Lecture on the Eurozone Crisis to BU Alumni in London

Last week, Vivien Schmidt, Director of BU’s Center for the Study of Europe, travelled to London to deliver the Kleh Family Foundation Distinguished Lecture on “The Eurozone Crisis: A Problem of Economics or Politics.” Over 100 people attended the sold-out event at the Boston University London Center in South Kensington.

In her lecture, Schmidt argued that Eurozone crisis is not just about the economics, it is also about politics. The EU’s flawed economic policies have left Europe at risk of deflation, with slow growth, high unemployment, rising inequality, and a humanitarian crisis threatening the poorest Europeans. The toxic politics in response have become increasingly Eurosceptic and volatile, as citizens’ loss of trust and confidence in national governments and the EU have resulted in the cycling of incumbent governments and the rise of extremist parties and populist movements. The EU’s governance processes, focused on ‘governing by the rules and ruling by the numbers,’ have only exacerbated these problems, while also undermining national democracies. Is there any way out of the Eurozone crisis for the EU? Following her discussion of the challenges facing the EU in the crisis, Schmidt speculated on possible scenarios for the future.

Download audio of the lecture here.

Schmidt Speaks at State of Play 2015

Vivien Schmidt spoke recently at State of Play 2015, a daylong conference highlighting the state of social policy in the European Union held on Sept. 23 at the headquarters of the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, Belgium. The conference was held to commemorate the publication of the 16th edition of “Social Policy in the European Union,” the flagship publication of the European Trade Union Institute.

Schmidt, who also contributed research to “Social Policy in the European Union,” spoke on the topic of  “Changing the policies, politics, and processes of the Eurozone in crisis: will this time be different?”

Other attendees at the State of Plat 2015 conference included EU labor leaders, European academics, and trade organizations.

The 2015 edition of “Social Policy in the European Union” tackles the topics of the state of EU politics after the parliamentary elections, the socialisation of the European Semester, methods of political protest, the Juncker investment plan, the EU’s contradictory education investment, the EU’s contested influence on national healthcare reforms, and the neoliberal Trojan Horse of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Presentation on Resilient Liberalism at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

On October 14, I travelled to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) headquarters in Santiago, Chile, to give a presentation on the “Resilience of neoliberal ideas in Europe and beyond: its causes and its effects on the labor market and the welfare state.” Audio and video of my presentation are available here.