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.
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Photo credit: European Parliament
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>>
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.
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.