European Journal of Political Theory
Special Issue: Normative Dimensions of the European Crisis
April 16, 2017
Miriam Ronzoni - University of Manchester
Juri Viehoff - University of Zurich
Introduction: Normative Dimensions of the European Crisis
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.
Whilst building on the wealth of existing EU scholarship, the articles assembled here especially advance the existing debate along three dimensions:
First, they are all attentive to the quite profound changes that the Euro-crisis has brought to the project of European integration: Such changes have manifested themselves not merely in rapid institutional reforms in response to the crisis (e.g. massive extension of the mandate of the European Central Bank, highly intrusive prescriptions regarding the permissible level of debt and welfare provisions in Southern states, etc.), but also in dramatic shifts in public perception of the point and purpose of European institutions in more crisis-prone states.
Second, these articles seek to relate the existing normative EU literature both to wider theoretical discussions that have exercised political theorists in recent years (most notably to flourishing debates in international political theory and global justice) and to new conceptual tools that these discussions have made available (such as the practice-dependence approach as a method for assessing the normative performance of an institution; or the concept of demoi-cracy as an normative ideal for supranational institutions that is a genuine alternative to both intergovernmentalism and federalism).
Third, and related, they advance the existing debate by assessing the most pressing moral questions not merely in terms of the prevailing conceptual notions used in EU scholarship, many of which focus on questions of democratic procedure (viz. ‘democratic deficit’). Whilst questions of supranational democratic procedure must continue to play a prominent role in our normative assessment of European institutions, there is also room for assessing these institutions in light of other values, most obviously those bearing on political and distributive justice within and between states. These articles are therefore meant to update, advance, and enrich the existing political theory of European integration.
Andrea Sangiovanni and Juri Viehoff address the second and especially the third dimension, by exploring the compatibility of specific policies with relevant ideals of social justice, distributive fairness, and solidarity at the European level. But along the way, they also put forward arguments that are relevant to the first dimension, providing reasons in favour or against institutional proposals currently under discussion. Sangiovanni discusses, and rejects, the permissibility of in-work benefits, the welfare reform which David Cameron negotiated with the EU in the Winter of 2015/2016 in the hope of convincing the United Kingdom to remain in the EU after all. To make his case, Sangiovanni surveys and applies recent philosophical theories of discrimination, and marshals his own account as a justice-based objection to illegitimate differentiations between EU workers. Viehoff defends the idea of a European social minimum (a largely unconditional welfare contribution paid to each EU-citizen) as the object of a possible consensus among different relevant normative perspectives – i.e. as something which European federalists and intergovernmentalists, internationalists, and cosmopolitans about justice could all agree to. Stressing the particular urgency of such a proposal in the face of monetary integration, his case relies at least in part on recent Eurozone developments.
Inspired by recent applications of neo-republican thinking to questions beyond the state, Richard Bellamy takes by the horns fundamental questions about the EU’s institutional structure, asking in particular which model of sovereignty the EU should embody. The EU is often characterised as having challenged the sovereignty of the member states in ways that are both necessary and desirable. Bellamy disputes both these arguments, by defending state sovereignty as both functionally necessary and normatively desirable if citizens are to be able to reason publicly about issues of common concern, and to resolve their reasonable disagreements in a free and equal manner.
Finally, Francis Cheneval, Kalypso Nicolaïdis, and Miriam Ronzoni discuss the merits of the recently developed idea of demoi-cracy, according to which the EU does and should constitute an alternative to both federalist and intergovernmental institutional model. Drawing on the value of non-domination between heavily interdependent democratic states, Ronzoni offers a sympathetic reading of the normative ideal of demoicracy, but then introduces the distinction between institutional and normative ideals to raise doubts about whether demoicracy can be a distinctive institutional third way. In the final contribution to this issue, Nicolaïdis and Cheneval seek to move the recent scholarship on demoicratic theory a step further by exploring what they refer to as the social construction of the demoicratic reality. In so doing, they propose a conceptual framework for understanding how popular sovereignty could possibly be exercised concurrently by several rather than just one demos.