The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Form over Contents or the misguided discussions over the new President of the EU Commission.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, was defeated in Brussels over his attempt to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission, and yet celebrated at home in the UK for making a stand against the appointment of a federalist at the helm of the Commission (BBC, 30 June 2014). In this blog post, I will argue that these discussions between federalists, striving towards a more strongly integrated Europe, and nationalists, attempting to protect national sovereignty, are fruitless and misguided in view of the EU’s current economic and social problems. They privilege the form of integration over its contents, thereby blocking more substantial questions of how the European political economy should be organised.

The importance of the contents of European integration

Federalists are clear in their recipe for Europe’s crisis. We need more integration and centralised decision-making in Brussels to overcome current problems resulting from different, un-coordinated national responses. Nationalists, by contrast, argue that individual member states are in rather different positions and therefore require the possibility to respond to crises individually, rather than being forced by Brussels into a straitjacket of joint policies. Nevertheless, what these discussions and the related debates in the media completely neglect is a discussion over the contents of European integration. 

Photo by greensefa
The discussions between federalists and nationalists hide what is really the problem at the moment across Europe: the relentless focus on austerity and the related social devastation affecting millions of European citizens. Neo-liberal austerity policies reign supreme, whether they are implemented at the European level in the so-called Fiscal Compact and its emphasis on balanced budgets or at the national level such as in the UK and the government’s policies of public sector cuts and privatisation. Austerity policies are supported by Jean-Claude Juncker, as they are by David Cameron or the Head of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage, who himself is a former investment banker.

In other words, the focus needs to be on the contents of European integration and here on potential alternatives to austerity, able to prevent social disaster.

The form of European integration and the question of democracy

Of course, the form of integration is important; not in the sense of whether decisions are taken at the national or the European level, but whether economic-political decision-making is democratically accountable or not. Here again, similar to austerity policies, there are problems at the national and European level. There has been an increasing tendency to refer economic-political decision-making to technocratic agencies outside democratic control. This includes independent national central banks as it includes the independent European Central Bank. This includes regulatory agencies at the national level in charge of privatised industries, as it does refer to the increasing power of EU institutions to monitor and control national economic policy.

Photo by Ewan McIntosh

In other words, it is highly important to discuss the form of European integration. This not, however, in relation to the level at which decisions are taken, but whether decision-making is actually held democratically accountable in the first place. New ways have to be found, new forms of democracy, which ensure that people have a say in how the economy is run at the national, European as well as workplace level.

To conclude, unless there is a change within the media, political circles and wider public debates towards a critical engagement with the contents of European integration, we are likely to continue being drowned in fruitless debates over the form of European integration, while the exploitation of European citizens as a result of relentless austerity policies continues unabated. 

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

10 July 2014

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