How Europeans Leaders Perceive Theresa May’s Brexit Speech and Why It Matters

by Christoph Meyer, Professor of European & International Politics at EIS

Prof Christoph Meyer

The speech by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, outlining the government’s principles and approaches to Brexit was greeted with enthusiasm by leading “leave campaigners” and the Brexit-supporting press. UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell said ‘I would not have changed a word’. This enthusiasm from English Eurosceptics is unsurprising given that the PM set out an approach that made ditching freedom of movement and European Courts jurisdiction the number one priority and rejected the option of retaining full access to the single market through arguing for retaining European Economic Area membership a la Norway.

Yet, parts of the speech confirmed a familiar pattern of how British leaders misunderstand how their words are going to be perceived in mainland Europe and fail to anticipate the consequences of prioritising domestic politics for the negotiation dynamics in Brussels. One major problem is the asymmetry in mutual perceptions coupled with a history of Britain’s dwindling political capital in European politics since the end of the Blair period. Many European decision-makers and opinion-shapers regularly watch the BBC and read English newspapers. They followed closely the referendum campaign even though they refrained from participating as requested by the UK government at the time. They do understand well how British politics works and know a bluff when they see one. In contrast, British elites, except for the exceptional diplomatic service, are not particularly well-informed about European domestic politics in comparison to US politics. They tend to think all that is required is to persuade Germany, over-estimating the country’s power within the EU institutions, its willingness to ignore smaller country’s interests as well as the laws and informal norms that hold the EU together.

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Much Pain but Where is the Gain? Economic Adjustment and the Limits of Ordoliberalism – Part II

Part II of the essay by Johan Ekman (@jgekman), BA (Hons) student in European Politics. 

John Ekman is a BA (Hons) student in European Politics with EIS Copyright: private

John Ekman is a BA (Hons) student in European Politics with EIS Copyright: private

After the economic crisis in the southern periphery of the Eurozone, governments agreed to bail out Greece, Portugal and Spain on the condition that they agreed to strict policy conditionalities that entailed economic austerity and substantive liberalizations. Italy, on the other hand, had to respond to a speculative attack through similar measures to avoid the same fate of other southern European countries. It is my proposition that these policy conditionalities, underpinned by ordoliberal theory, put a severe strain on a European integration project with neoliberal characteristics as lack of democratic influence, material deprivation and increasing unemployment came to dominate the lives notably but not exclusively of young people in the crisis-hit countries.

First, I will briefly present the ordoliberal underpinnings of EU policy conditionalities, after which I will use macro-economic indicators and a review of the Commission Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) to illustrate contradictions in the expected outcomes of the policies and the reality in the countries in question. I will conclude by proposing that this has not only rendered neoliberal hegemony in Europe vulnerable to criticism, but it has also endangered the integration project as a whole. Continue reading

Cracks in the Ceiling? Contradictions of Ordoliberal Hegemony in the EU – Part I

Johan Ekman is a BA (Hons) student in European Politics with EIS Copyright: private

Johan Ekman is a BA (Hons) student in European Politics with EIS Copyright: private

An essay by Johan Ekman (@jgekman), BA (Hons) student in European Politics. Part II will be published next week.

The crisis of the southern Eurozone periphery – in itself an offspring of the great crisis of 2007-2008 – has highlighted German-led ordoliberalism as the dominant theory behind European integration after the adoption of the Single European Act (SEA) and the Maastricht Treaty. This piece suggests that the contradiction between the social effects of the implementation of the strict rules of economic governance in the southern Eurozone periphery and the ideals of solidarity as expressed in the EU treaties has put German-led ordoliberal hegemony under severe strain in the EU as discontent has increased.

First, I will roughly outline how the integration project has developed, from the post WWII Keynesian welfare state centric model of Western Europe towards neoliberal hegemony in the Neo-Gramscian sense, underpinned by German-led ordoliberal theory. I will then illustrate how the development of a freer market has taken place without – and often to the detriment of – a progressive agenda aiming to strengthen social rights as an essential part of the integration project. Finally, the effects of the crisis pose the question whether access to social rights is compatible with the European integration project in its current format. To adequately address that question, there is, following Magnus Ryner, a need to look beyond a “positivist evolutionary” approach to European integration that takes the rationality of economic, political and social integration for granted.[1]

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