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Special issue: Normative dimensions of the European crisis

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (peer-review)
Author RonzoniMiriam, ViehoffJuri,
Project The Anatomy of Systemic Financial Risk: Combining Ethical, Political and Economic Dimensions for Public Policy
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Other publication (peer-review)

Publisher Sage Publications, London
DOI 10.1177/1474885117704593

Abstract

The project of European integration is arguably currently facing its deepest crisis since its inception. In less than 10 years, what looked like a steady process of political enlargement, institutional consolidation, and economic convergence has come to a halt (or has even shown signs of backsliding). The project is now threatened in its very existence. This is true both for the Eurozone and for the European Union (EU) more generally. The global financial crisis has exposed the vulnerability of the Eurozone governance structure to exogenous shocks, and highlighted the problem posed by deep economic discrepancies between member states. The crisis has brought into focus the profound and often adverse consequences that current forms of economic and financial integration have for the adequate functioning of both domestic and supranational institutions. Responding to these difficulties, some significant changes have been made to the Eurozone’s mechanisms – initially in the form of conditional lending to indebted Eurozone member states, and subsequently through the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, the incorporation of evermore stringent rules regarding national debt levels and deficits, and the implementation of debt-brakes through the Fiscal Compact. The Eurozone, however, continues to struggle to find the right balance between further integration on the one hand and protection of the diversity of welfare state arrangements and democratic institutions of individual states on the other. Moreover, new institutions and practices (including, centrally, austerity programs) have been met with profound popular resistance especially in adversely affected countries. This has led to a grave legitimacy crises of Europe’s now fragile-seeming supranational institutions. Some scholars have suggested that this crisis calls for a further push towards supranational integration which, crucially, must replace austerity and debtor-punishment with genuinely democratic procedures and substantive economic solidarity in the form of an EU-wide redistributive mechanism (Habermas, 2015: 550). Other theorists have argued, to the contrary, that the Euro-system in particular, and the EU’s pro-market economic governance more generally, have failed member states, and that we should therefore revert to a ‘Europe of States’ in order to safeguard (or indeed rescue) both national democracy and national welfare systems (Scharpf, 2015: 394; Streeck, 2014: 272). By and large, however, the Euro-crisis, its institutional responses so far, and the political contestation it has encountered have remained relatively under-theorised by political philosophers – especially when compared to the detailed recent treatments by economists (see e.g. Krugman, 2012; Sandbu, 2015; Stiglitz, 2016). To make matters worse, the whole EU, over and above the Eurozone, faces a deep legitimacy crisis. On the 23rd of June 2016, the United Kingdom voted in favour of leaving the EU. And as this special issue goes into print, Prime Minster Theresa May is pushing ahead to trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty, formally giving notice that the UK will in fact exit the EU. Beyond its practical impact on the EU and the UK, ‘Brexit’ has great symbolic significance both in virtue of its modality (a popular referendum, thus symbolising the public rejection of what is largely perceived to be a technocratic, elitist, and undemocratic institution) and because the United Kingdom was already perceived as the EU member enjoying the highest level of autonomy within the Union. Brexit will be a first, and a first whose modalities and ripple-on effects are all but clear. Questioning EU memberships and the very existence of the EU has, moreover, ceased to be a taboo in many other countries, including several founding members like Italy, the Netherlands, and France. The role of policies of austerity, as well as the vitriolic popular debates that have split Europeans into ‘Northern-creditors’ and ‘Southern-debtors’, can hardly be overstated as we seek to understand this larger phenomenon of disaffection with European integration. The aim of this special issue is to offer a range of perspectives and normative assessments of these recent events and to initiate further research into the fundamental issues raised by recent developments in European economic and financial integration. Specifically, the different articles investigate whether – and if so how – the economic and financial calamities, and the ensuing political crisis, demand a fundamental reassessment of the degree to which supranational arrangements of the kind we find amongst EU(-rozone) member states are (i) compatible with the advancement of social justice and democratic legitimacy within states and (ii) can realistically be designed so as to guarantee free and fair interaction amongst self-determining political communities.
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