APSA Best Book Award 2021

I am delighted to share that my book,  Europe’s Crisis of Legitimacy: Governing by Rules and Ruling by Numbers in the Eurozone, received the Best Book Award 2021 from the American Political Science Association’s Ideas, Knowledge and Politics Section. 


Schmidt’s subject is the Eurozone crisis, which revealed the fragility of the EU’s technocratic institutions (which she pithily summarizes as suppliers of “policy without politics”). As Greece crept towards a default on its sovereign debts in 2010, the EU’s principal decision-making bodies (the European Council, which consists of the various heads of EU member states, and the European Commission, which proposes and implements EU policy) imposed a rigid prescription of bridging loans and austerity requirements. However, Political Epistemology 42 Fall 2021 • No. 1 the effects of this rigidity were dire: financial market speculation over Greece’s debts not only failed to recede, but spread to other peripheral economies. Meanwhile, political divisions within the EU intensified, and what had been a general apathy among EU citizens about the supernational body in many cases morphed into outright hostility. In response, Schmidt argues, EU leaders relaxed the policies that had catalyzed the crisis in its early years. However, despite apparently better policy outcomes, these leaders continued to profess their adherence to “neoliberal” orthodoxy. The moralized language of profligacy and prudence that they had employed in 2010 to justify their rigidity had itself become a constraint on their political agency. Thus, when they finally acknowledged their reinterpretations of their rules in 2015, the EU’s figureheads appeared confused (if not dishonest) rather than victorious. Rather than settling the controversies surrounding the EU’s constitutional and political basis, they had in fact exacerbated them. By setting out to save the euro (albeit from a seemingly negligible threat), they had imperiled it.

The political epistemologist will find much of value in Schmidt’s thorough account. Her analysis is impressively ecumenical, drawing on political theory as well as economics, IR, and comparative politics. But, in common with her previous studies of the EU, Schmidt’s main method is interpretive. The constraints established by the leading figures at the onset of the crisis (inter alia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet, and EC president José Manuel Barroso) were fundamentally discursive. Moreover, Schmidt does an excellent job of showing that the various conceptions of legitimacy to which these figures oriented themselves were entirely ideational—and thus intangible. Early in the crisis, policymakers may have thought that they were generating sufficiently good “outputs” that the lack of democratic “inputs” didn’t matter. However, even when they did materialize, the “outputs” policymakers favored did not match those expected by voters. This led to changes in what Schmidt calls the “throughput” of the policy process—the ways in which policy is generated and citizens are, or are not, included. The bulk of Schmidt’s account is addressed to these changes, which followed dramatic shifts in power and epistemic authority as economic conditions in the periphery deteriorated. Crucially, she shows that despite their apparently salutary effects, it is far from clear that these changes will be sufficient to address the EU’s lack of democratic (input) legitimacy. Despite the discursive churn, policymakers had not (before the pandemic, at least) relinquished the idea of rigid rules and numbers, even if the content of those rules and numbers had changed. There may be good reason for this: given the technocratic discourses and expectations baked into the EU’s identity, any fundamental change might lead to more, not less conflict. Yet if elite ideas do not calibrate with those of ordinary voters, conflict may be unavoidable. Either way, Schmidt’s analysis suggests, the EU’s democratic crisis is nothing less than a crisis of ideas.

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