The European Parliament in the new Europe: What to expect from the Brexit negotiations?

On May 26, King’s hosted a workshop on The European Parliament in the new Europe: Institutional Power and Policy Influence. Below are some reflections on the theme by Edoardo Bressanelli and Margherita de Candia.

Since 2009, the institutional development of the European Union (EU) has been marked by fundamental tensions. A key one concerns the European Parliament (EP). On the one hand, the Treaty of Lisbon re-branded co-decision as the ordinary legislative procedure, extended the legislative powers of the EU’s only directly elected institution to new policy areas, strengthened its role in the budgetary procedure and, as everyone soon discovered, withdrawal treaties.

On the other hand, the different crises that hit the EU in the same period – the economic and financial crisis, the migration crisis, and eventually Brexit – have, in the eyes of several observers, made the EU more intergovernmental. The activism of the European Council, the stipulation of international treaties outside the EU framework, and the contestation of the EU by the national publics have arguably led to the consolidation of a “new intergovernmental Union”.

With both thPicture 1e implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the different Eurocrises unfolding in parallel, the discussion on the institutional reform of the EU has been exceptionally lively. Within the context of this debate, however, the EP has seldom taken centre stage.

To address this gap in the academic literature, and shed light on this institutional tension, the Department of European & International Studies has organised the workshop “The European Parliament in the new Europe: Institutional power and policy influence?”. The event was financially supported by UACES and by a Network Grant of the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy at KCL.

Its key objective was to comprehensively assess the EP’s role in EU decision-making post-Lisbon. Under what conditions is the EP more influential in policy-making? Does the EP use specific strategies to make its voice heard? Have the crises constrained the use of its new powers? To answer these questions, early-career researchers, more established scholars and EP practitioners gathered together in this one-day event at King’s College London.

Formally, the EP is entitled to legislate on equal footing with the Council in most policy areas under the ordinary legislative procedure. Yet, during the crisis, emergency measures have often been adopted outside its framework. Additionally, when the stakes for the member states were high, or when (national) money was discussed, notwithstanding the EP’s co-decision powers its influence was limited. In such cases, the only red lines that really mattered were established by the member states, and followed by the EP.

Looking at the variation in the influence of the EP across policy areas, the workshop echoed the findings of recent research, which indicates that the member states have kept a strong grip on ‘core state powers’. For instance, member states were successful in establishing a ‘policy core’ in migration policies, while the activism of the European Council set tight constraints in the reform of economic governance.

NotwithstaPicture 2nding the important role of the member states, the EP was able to partly compensate for its relative lack of substantive influence with procedural gains and institutional rewards: for example, its enhanced powers of scrutiny towards the other EU institutions under the Economic Dialogue.

All this is relevant to the Brexit negotiations. The Lisbon Treaty has equipped the EP with a de facto veto power on the withdrawal agreement. Yet, the credibility of the EP’s threat to use it can be disputed. The EP has become a more responsible and mature player in inter-institutional negotiations. A more pragmatic and constructive attitude has generally replaced the radical position that the EP used to have when it was merely a ‘talking shop’.

The EP will hardly remain silent during the negotiations, demanding its full institutional involvement. It will also make use of every tools at its disposal to make its voice heard, and signal its position through resolutions and public declarations of its leaders.

However, in the case of the EP, power has come with responsibility. In both law-making and beyond, the EP constructively engages with the other institutions, and rarely embraces more extreme, ideological position to the very end of the negotiations. From what we know on Europe’s Parliament, and from what this workshop has shown, it seems reasonable to expect that the EP will take every opportunity to show its teeth, but it will not eventually bite on the Brexit agreement.


Edoardo Bressanelli in a Lecturer in European Politics in the Department of European and International Studies. Margherita de Candia is a PhD researcher in European Studies in the same Department.

In defence of freedom of movement: right, insurance and bond

by Christoph Meyer, Professor of European & International Politics at EIS and Eiko Thielemann, Associate Professor of European Politics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Prof Christoph Meyer

Freedom of Movement (FoM) emerged as the single biggest point of contention in the debates about the negotiation stance of the UK. The EU-27 have said repeatedly before and after the referendum that FoM is inseparable from single-market access. The case of Switzerland is instructive here: the country recently decided it would rather back down on the full implementation of its referendum vote of 2014 than lose access to the Single Market and EU Research Programmes.

British politics has drifted in the opposite direction, visible most notably in the government’s Brexit White Paper rejecting FoM and promising quantitative restrictions on EU citizens moving to the UK. Only the Liberal Democrats and the Greens say they want to keep FoM, whereas Labour is divided. After initially defending the economic and social benefits of immigration, the Labour leader appears ready to abandon it.

Those who press the case for dropping it put forward a simple justification: FoM stands for an open-door immigration policy, and restricting this was one of most important motivations for a majority of Leave voters. If framed in this way, any prize is worth paying for “reasserting control” over the borders.

However, equating FoM with unlimited immigration is flawed, whilst we argue it should be framed as a right, insurance, and a symbolic bond.

Prof Eike Thielemann

FoM is not an immigration policy but a legal right, enshrined in the EU treaties and elaborated in the Citizenship Directive, to work and study in another EU country. It applies to all EU citizens as a result of their country’s membership of the EU. An estimated 1.2 million British citizens have used the many opportunities it brings to work, study and retire in other EU countries, especially Spain, Ireland, France and Germany.

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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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Britons’ fear of migration is not only anti-factual; it is also comparatively disproportionate

By Koldo Casla (@koldo_casla), PhD candidate in the department and Policy Officer at Just Fair. This article was first published by Left Foot Forward.

Koldo Casla is a PhD student with EIS researching the promotion of human rights

Koldo Casla is a PhD student with EIS researching the promotion of human rights

I recently attended an event organised by the Foreign Policy Centre in partnership with the European Commission’s representation in the UK. The title could hardly be more topical: “Examining the EU’s democratic legitimacy”.

It really was about Brexit, like nearly every political debate in the UK for months if not years.

Hilary Benn delivered an eloquent keynote speech about the need of parliamentary oversight of the divorce process. After him, other articulate voices from both Chambers expressed their thoughts about the value of democracy, the history of Britain in Europe and the meaning of national and parliamentary sovereignty. Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP had at least one voice in the panel; so did UKIP with its only MP (to Nigel Farage’s eternal sorrow), Douglas Carswell.

“How did we get to this point?”

Judging by the interventions during the Q&A, had the referendum been held only in that room, Britain would have never chosen to leave; in fact, Conservatives would probably be a marginal force. Continue reading

Facing the Anthropocene

We are facing a planetary emergency – this was one of the alarming conclusions Ian Angus drew from his research on the Anthropocene. How to face this new geological epoch was the topic of his talk at a joint seminar of the EIS department and the Contemporary Marxist Theory Seminar Series. 

By Camilla Royle, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography

Ian Angus defining the anthropocene. photo: Pradella

Ian Angus defining the Anthropocene. photo: Pradella

It is one of the currently most discussed concepts in the social sciences – and not only there: the Anthropocene, the idea that human influence created a new geological epoch. Ian Angus, a writer and ecosocialist activist based in Canada, spoke at King’s about the approach: Angus’s new book, Facing the Anthropocene, is a contribution from a Marxist perspective to current environmental debates. As he pointed out at the start of his talk in a seminar co-organised by the Department of European and International Studies and the Contemporary Marxist Theory Seminar Series, Marx and Engels themselves took an interest in the natural sciences, both corresponded with scientists and took part in the scientific debates of their day. Their socialism was not abstract but aimed at a “concrete materialist understanding of how our world works and how it is changing”. Continue reading

The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

UK governments have claimed austerity measures are necessary while ignoring the disproportionate adverse effects on marginalized groups. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.

By Koldo Casla (KCL), Jamie Burton (Just Fair), and Alice Donald (Just Fair, University of Essex)

A Cardiff homeless man moving his belongings. photo: Ben Salter (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

A Cardiff homeless man moving his belongings. photo: Ben Salter (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

A UN Committee of independent experts recently issued a harshly worded report on the extent to which public authorities have been complying with international law on socio-economic rights. The Committee monitors states compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has voluntarily ratified along with 163 other countries. Adherence to the Covenant is a matter of rule of law. However, after months of engagement with government officials and evidence gathering from civil society groups (including Just Fair), the Committee’s report could hardly have been more damning. Continue reading

Erik Olin Wright at the Contemporary Marxist seminar

Erik Olin Wright speaks at the Contemporary Marxist Seminar at King's College London -photo: Pradella

Erik Olin Wright speaks at the Contemporary Marxist Seminar at King’s College London -photo: Pradella

How to be an anti-capitalist for the 21st century - the title Erik Olin Wright gave his talk at the Contemporary Marxist Theory seminar promised some value of benefit to his audience. Indeed, the room was filled to capacity-a number of people even had to make do with a seat on the floor.

In his talk, Professor Wright, who is based at the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented different anti-capitalist strategies, analysed their strengths and weaknesses, and introduced his concept of the erosion of capitalism: a combination of the three different anti-capitalist approaches resistance, taming, and escaping.

An overflowing speaker’s list

After his lecture, Professor Wright answered numerous questions from the audience, taking a stance on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, explaining why he did not choose a Hegelian approach to his concept of erosion, or how the Occupy movement enabled Bernie Sander’s campaign in the United States.

Filled to capacity and beyond: Hugh attendance outcome at Professor Wright's talk - photo: Pradella

Filled to capacity and beyond: Hugh attendance outcome at Professor Wright’s talk – photo: Pradella

The list of speakers grew and grew, and at some point more than 14 different members of the audience were waiting for their possibility to ask the speaker. Unfortunately, not all of them could do so within the seminar as the time ran out – but, following a tried and tested tradition, the conversation went on as the lecture theatre was exchanged in favour of a pub in London’s centre.

We would like to thank Professor Wright for his presentation and the many seminar participants for their attendance and questions!

New staff members

This academic year, several new members of staff have joined the Department. This is who they are.

Baines 2016 09 19 - Photo

Joseph Baines


Joseph Baines is a lecturer in International Political Economy:

“It has been a long journey to get to the position of lecturer in IPE here at King’s College London. My interest in the subject was sparked when I studied politics and IR as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick. I pursued my fascination with the study of contemporary capitalism, first through doing an MA in global political economy at the University of Sussex, and then through undertaking a PhD at York University in Toronto.

It was during my doctoral studies that I developed a commitment to doing research that is both unerring in its empirical rigor and unwavering in its critical orientation. My areas of specialism include agri-food studies, global value chain analysis, and the political economy of energy. As well as contributing to the core course for the International Political Economy MA, I will be leading the Masters courses in Global Economic Governance and the International Political Economy of Oil and Gas.”

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