New Paper on EU Meta-Governance

Things move slowly in the world of academic publication.  Around 18 months ago my collaborator Dr Paul Beeckmans and I submitted our paper on ‘Continuous Adjustment in EU Meta-Governance’ to the International Journal of Public Administration.  It was accepted well over a year ago and only last week was it finally published.

The wait means that the paper is somewhat out of date in terms of the latest changes in EU meta-governance and in particular the myriad developments in the ongoing saga of Greek bailout negotiations. To a large extent though, this doesn’t really matter for the argument that Paul and I wanted to make.

CC - courtesy of Wikipedia

CC – courtesy of Wikipedia

The paper started in response to a call for papers issued by Laura Horn and Lindsey Whitfield at Roskilde University for a two day workshop on the theme of ‘Structural Adjustment Comes to Europe’, which was held in November 2013.  The theme addressed a question that was attracting much discussion at the time: did the austerity measures imposed on some EU member states (notably Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) by the EU institutions, amount to much the same process of externally enforced neo-liberalisation as experienced by African and Latin American governments and societies in the 1980s under the banner of ‘structural adjustment’?  If the answer is/was ‘yes’, then should the same outcomes of income polarisation, social conflict and political destabilisation be expected to result from this adjustment?  Several papers have been published in the academic literature which effectively address these questions.

Paul and I though, wanted to take a different approach.  To us, it wasn’t entirely accurate to view the experience of bailout countries as separate and distinct to that which is inbuilt in the process of European integration.  We thought that the notion of ‘structural adjustment’ conjured up images of a one-off adjustment to changed external economic realities.  We wanted to suggest that European integration has been a mechanism to secure ‘continual’ adjustment to the demands of international competitiveness since at least the Delors White Paper on Competitiveness published in 1993.  Since then that same commitment has been pursued through a variety of headline strategies including the Lisbon Strategy and now Europe 2020.

Where we were in agreement with the terms of the call for papers was that this adjustment was neo-liberal in orientation.  Acknowledging that this is often a ‘woolly’ and under-specified term, we were specific about what we mean by this: a set of policy reforms designed to shift the gains from economic growth toward capital rather than labour; to finance over other sectors of the economy; and frequently with the effect that income inequalities increase.

The implications of our argument that adjustment is continual and an integral feature of EU integration are that all EU member states are subject to adjustment and that this will continue into the future. We documented in some detail the ways in which neo-liberal adjustment is built-in to a variety of aspects of the meta-governance process. Importantly this is about much more than fiscal policy and extends into significant areas of social, welfare and employment policy.

Our overall conclusion is in line with that of Bob Jessop that EU meta-governance has become subordinate to the process of world market integration and that this is best understood as a multi-scalar process.  Meta-governance is a process of securing compliance with the demands of world market integration at a variety of other scales including state-level welfare reform, but also at the level of local and regional service provision and the organisation of individual households.

In making these arguments we contest some of the findings in the mainstream EU-studies literature that EU meta-governance is relatively ineffective at driving policy coordination among EU member states.  By contrast we argue that the frequent invocation of failure in relation to member states’ efforts to meet EU wide objectives (in relation to social, employment, welfare or economic policy) are actually a useful tool to reinforce the message in favour of continual adjustment. In this sense we support the wider findings of authors such as Jamie Peck or Susan Soederberg that EU meta-governance repeatedly ‘fails forward’.  The failure to fully implement one round of neo-liberal adjustment becomes the justifying logic to undertake the next round.

The full paper is available at the pages of the International Journal for Public Administration.

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A pre-publication copy is also available here.

Alternatives to Neoliberalism? A Challenge within

A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to attend an interesting seminar “ Ideology after Crash” organized by the POLIS at the University of Leeds. It started off with a critical introduction to the crisis by Wiegratz followed by several other speakers. These are my own thoughts on some of the matters discussed.

The crisis of neoliberalism does not date back to as recent as 2008 – to the year when Lehman Brothers announced its bankruptcy. Neoliberalism has been in crisis since its inception. Perhaps not felt by the global North but surely by the South over the decades of its existence. The failure of neoliberal policies to realise growth became clear in Latin American region in the 1980s, the Asian region in the 1990s and in the African regions to date. The 80s was considered the ‘lost decade’ for Latin American countries along with many parts of Africa. But in the new millennium it hit home, the global North. Advocates of Neoliberal thesis including the two Bretton Wood Institutions, the IMF and the World Bank were left baffled. For the first time nobody had a ‘mantra’ to remedy the problem…they still don’t. There was no economy to show as an example and say ‘this is how you should do it, because thanks to the years of endeavouring to establish one global capitalist empire everyone is caught up in this economic hodgepodge. So it appears this is ‘the crisis’. Then comes the question, is there an alternative?

At the seminar Hugo Radice made an attempt to answer the question ‘Why neoliberalism still rules despite the global crisis?’ His argument like many others’ was that so far the left has been unable to conceive an alternative other than to reproduce the state led economy rhetoric which again as we have observed before, eventually gets subdued to the will and the word of the market actors. Therefore there is lacuna in the debate for alternatives.

This is aggravated by the transformation of the individual. Radice argues that the individual mind-set within the current neoliberal system has been transformed by the ideology that state’s role in the economy is that of a facilitator’s where as the market opens the avenue for the potential to achieve success. But here one should also ask whether we consider neoliberalism as an independent phenomenon or as something that we created so that we could be ruled by it. If it’s the latter, then it’s not the system that adjusts the individual’s mind-set but it’s the mind-set of the individual that adjusts the system prolonging its existence. This can be exemplified by looking at the amount of resistance and the current on-going debate over the proposed Obama health care policy. The resistance observed is coming from none other than the individuals (collectively represented) not the state or the market.

Thus what is required right now is not a power shift between the state and the market but a revolution in individual and group subjectivities, which hold these two as the perennial truth about the world order. I’m not talking about one of these ‘revolutions’ that you see as a result of the spread of Internet social media, or a series of goal driven protest campaigns to achieve one or two changes within the existing system. I call these ‘domesticated’ revolutions within the existing system that prolong its existence through distraction. What we need is a change at the core. The core is none other than the individual.  The alternative thus is to challenge ourselves rather than the outside world because neoliberalism is built into us as individuals and exists in us not anywhere else.

In a recent paper Nunn (2013) discusses about the rise of the Neoliberal individual. According to his argument the neoliberal state propagates the idea that the individual citizen is a consumer. This idea of equating individual citizens as consumers tends to help conceal real class differences in the society through increased accessibility to commodities that also become class or status symbols. Haug (2005) argues that the imaginary power of these commodities detaches its consumer from reality. He argues appearance of the use value of a commodity makes the consumer believe that the ‘appearance is the being’ where as all along it’s a deception. But Polanyi (1957) argues that the individual’s interest in material goods is essentially associated with his or her ‘social standing, social claims and social assets’. Thus an individual’s interest in material goods seeks exactly the deception that Haug (2005) assumes that he or she embraces unwittingly. In a class-based society it’s more of a distraction rather than a deception where the individual is trying to distract oneself from the reality. In the process his or her revolutionary instinct is subdued to what’s on offer within the existing system.

Neoliberalism feeds on individualism and it influences day-to-day lifestyle. It infers that the individual exist for achieving his or her interests. But these interests are perceived, not actual. The perceived interests are created for us by the culture we live in and neoliberalism in that sense infiltrates that culture the individual lives in. The perseverance about ‘me’ as the ‘be all’ and the ‘end all’ of things has reduced politics of the world to a combination of perceived individual interests. But all of this does not happen absence of the individual’s knowledge of it. In fact it is the individual who creates space for it in the first place.

Haug. W.F (2005) New Elements of a Theory of Commodity Aesthetics [online] http://www.wolfgangfritzhaug.inkrit.de/documents/NewElementsCommodityAesthetics.pdf [Accessed : November 28th 2013]

Nunn. A (2013) The Contested and Contingent Outcomes of Thatcherism in the UK. Manchester: Transpennine Working Group

Polanyi.K (1957) The Great Transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston: Beacon Press

The time for reform is always now

Dr Stuart Shields (@docstushi, University of Manchester) will talk about the role of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and neo-liberalism in East and Central Europe.

Portland 210 Wednesday 27 November Leeds Metropolitan University

The time for reform is always now: The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development and the renewal of neoliberalisation after the ‘financial crisis’

The paper interrogates the role of the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development EBRD in the refinement of neoliberal strategies in post-communist transition. By drawing upon a Gramscian critical political economy approach, the paper argues that the EBRD has promoted the deepening commodification of post-communist social relations through the diffusion of ideas centred round three successive waves of neoliberalisation in Eastern Central Europe (ECE). The EBRD has taken advantage of a series of crises to redefine the relationship between national state and regional and international institutions, to accelerate the closure of divergent paths to development: the first based on market construction from the early 1990s, a second based on reconfiguring institutional arrangements in ECE associated with European Union (EU) accession, and third, the neoliberal promotion of competitiveness after EU membership. The paper contends that the EBRD’s strategies for neoliberalisation have shifted again in response to the current crisis, and thus a fourth wave of neoliberalisation is emerging following the North Atlantic financial crisis. This latest wave of neoliberalisation evident in recent EBRD material prompts ECE to discover sources of growth less sensitive to changes in the external environment.