Bloggingheads and the EU

by Henry on March 28, 2007

A new bloggingheads between Dan Drezner and meself is up, in which, as the blurb puts it, “Dan and Henry analyze Bh.tv’s new business model and then defy it by failing to yell at each other.” One of the topics we discuss is the economic future of the EU, and Andy Moravcsik’s recent article on it. As a slightly belated EU 50th birthday post, and an addendum to my previous disagreement with Andy, I’d like to point to this brand new paper (pdf) by Martin Höpner and Armin Schäfer at the Max-Planck Institut in Cologne. The take home point is that the EU’s market integration processes aren’t neutral and technical, as they are often described as being, but are instead highly political, and have adverse consequences for coordinated market economies. This feeds into the EU’s legitimation problems.

Deregulating the economy is a genuinely political decision that cannot be left to independent agents. … Whether the member states need a ‘neo-liberal’ corrective is not for the observer to choose but must be the result of public deliberation and parliamentary decisions – otherwise, the price to pay is a serious democratic deficit. However, instead of a strengthening of input-oriented legitimacy, we witness ongoing – yet increasingly unsuccessful – attempts to de-politicize EU politics. European-level actors transform essentially political matters into apparently technical ones. An extensive interpretation of the ‘four freedoms’ of the European Treaty allows Commission and Court to enforce
liberalization measures juridically. The law shields these attempts from political resistance especially in organized economies.

Which leads me to wonder, after having read Dani Rodrik’s critique of the cheerleaders of globalization in the FT yesterday whether the EU isn’t being badly misinterpreted by outside observers, especially in the US. The usual claim that one reads is that the EU’s problems are the problems of creaking economies refusing to modernize, rejecting sensible proposals such as the original, tougher form of the Services Directive etc. But can’t this be interpreted from the other direction? Couldn’t one reasonably argue that the near-stalling of the EU’s market integration process demonstrates how over-strident efforts to deregulate are liable to result in political stalemate and backlash from an increasingly truculent public? In short, can’t the EU’s political problems be interpreted not as a failure of the European social state, but as a demonstration of the political limits of attempts to introduce global deregulation, free trade in services und so weiter without real public discussion?

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1

P O'Neill 03.29.07 at 3:50 am

One issue flowing from this is the extent to which the choice to send these political issues for resolution at the EU “technical” level is still a choice made by national governments to deal with reforms that are in the national interest but can’t be implemented due to vested interests. Consider the standard political logic that certain changes are easier to implement when the national government can “blame Brussels.” On this interpretation, the EU is still doing its job and the backlash is a manifestation of the same political economy that would block an otherwise warranted reform at the national level.

2

otto 03.29.07 at 5:11 am

You know, there’s a slight lack of take-up on EU related discussion issues on CT. I wonder if there’s an EU-studies mailing list or etc which might be a better venue for this sort of post. I’d be interested if there was.

3

magistra 03.29.07 at 7:41 am

Certainly, one of the things that has aroused popular hostility to the EU in France (and to a lesser extent in the UK) is freedom of movement for those seeking jobs, at least now that means lots of Poles coming into their country. The Conservative Party have a problem with condemning this, since it is a measure warmly supported by businesses. The Conservatives tend to be reduced to arguing that we have too many Eastern Europeans coming to UK, but that this is the fault of the Germans/French for imposing transitional restrictions on immigrant employment following EU enlargement.

4

Dale 03.29.07 at 8:08 am

Yes.

5

Katherine 03.29.07 at 8:45 am

Would I be correct in thinking that the impression of the EU in the US is of a body dedicated to deregulation and modernisation? Wow, you should talk to some of the particularly phobic Europhobes in the UK, who are to a man convinced that the EU is here to wrap us up in red tape until we suffocate. How fascinating it is to see such different perspectives.

6

Alex 03.29.07 at 11:51 am

Well, there’s a curious and longstanding feature of EU discourse that everyone sees in it what they want to hate. Righties (in the UK, but also elsewhere in the Anglosphere since 2001 or thereabouts through the process of hard-right British discourse being reinjected to the Republicans) see it as a) a bureaucratic socialist monster and b) an outrageous infringment of national sovereignty.

Note the contradiction in terms – it’s an appalling expansion of state power and an appalling reduction of it at once!

And the hard left is convinced that it’s basically the CIA with a human face.

I theorise that its technocratic style of doing politics is the cause of this phenomenon. Without its own identity, you can project anything on it you want.

7

Henry 03.29.07 at 12:50 pm

otto – personally, I take an ‘eat yer greens’ attitude to this. Which is to say that even if there are a lot more people at CT who comment on US politics etc, it’s no harm for them to have to skim past an EU post every once in a while and perhaps get some idea of what’s happening (and they obviously don’t have to read it if they find the topic boring).

8

Quo Vadis 03.29.07 at 4:30 pm

I was going to say that a key difference, in this matter at least, between the US and EU is that the US government has “Corporate America” to serve as the whipping boy when hard measures have to be undertaken to accommodate competitive pressures from beyond our borders. However, it seems that in many ways the EU shares with certain private sector entities that lack of direct accountability that is essential to the distribution of bitter pills. Can we expect that the EU will achieve the same level of popularity in Europe that “Corporate America” has in the US? The comments in #6 above suggest so.

9

Matt 03.29.07 at 8:49 pm

I’d like to vote for more EU blogging here, if I may.

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