Things move slowly in the world of academic publication. Around 18 months ago my collaborator Dr Paul Beeckmans and I submitted our paper on ‘Continuous Adjustment in EU Meta-Governance’ to the International Journal of Public Administration. It was accepted well over a year ago and only last week was it finally published.
The wait means that the paper is somewhat out of date in terms of the latest changes in EU meta-governance and in particular the myriad developments in the ongoing saga of Greek bailout negotiations. To a large extent though, this doesn’t really matter for the argument that Paul and I wanted to make.
The paper started in response to a call for papers issued by Laura Horn and Lindsey Whitfield at Roskilde University for a two day workshop on the theme of ‘Structural Adjustment Comes to Europe’, which was held in November 2013. The theme addressed a question that was attracting much discussion at the time: did the austerity measures imposed on some EU member states (notably Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) by the EU institutions, amount to much the same process of externally enforced neo-liberalisation as experienced by African and Latin American governments and societies in the 1980s under the banner of ‘structural adjustment’? If the answer is/was ‘yes’, then should the same outcomes of income polarisation, social conflict and political destabilisation be expected to result from this adjustment? Several papers have been published in the academic literature which effectively address these questions.
Paul and I though, wanted to take a different approach. To us, it wasn’t entirely accurate to view the experience of bailout countries as separate and distinct to that which is inbuilt in the process of European integration. We thought that the notion of ‘structural adjustment’ conjured up images of a one-off adjustment to changed external economic realities. We wanted to suggest that European integration has been a mechanism to secure ‘continual’ adjustment to the demands of international competitiveness since at least the Delors White Paper on Competitiveness published in 1993. Since then that same commitment has been pursued through a variety of headline strategies including the Lisbon Strategy and now Europe 2020.
Where we were in agreement with the terms of the call for papers was that this adjustment was neo-liberal in orientation. Acknowledging that this is often a ‘woolly’ and under-specified term, we were specific about what we mean by this: a set of policy reforms designed to shift the gains from economic growth toward capital rather than labour; to finance over other sectors of the economy; and frequently with the effect that income inequalities increase.
The implications of our argument that adjustment is continual and an integral feature of EU integration are that all EU member states are subject to adjustment and that this will continue into the future. We documented in some detail the ways in which neo-liberal adjustment is built-in to a variety of aspects of the meta-governance process. Importantly this is about much more than fiscal policy and extends into significant areas of social, welfare and employment policy.
Our overall conclusion is in line with that of Bob Jessop that EU meta-governance has become subordinate to the process of world market integration and that this is best understood as a multi-scalar process. Meta-governance is a process of securing compliance with the demands of world market integration at a variety of other scales including state-level welfare reform, but also at the level of local and regional service provision and the organisation of individual households.
In making these arguments we contest some of the findings in the mainstream EU-studies literature that EU meta-governance is relatively ineffective at driving policy coordination among EU member states. By contrast we argue that the frequent invocation of failure in relation to member states’ efforts to meet EU wide objectives (in relation to social, employment, welfare or economic policy) are actually a useful tool to reinforce the message in favour of continual adjustment. In this sense we support the wider findings of authors such as Jamie Peck or Susan Soederberg that EU meta-governance repeatedly ‘fails forward’. The failure to fully implement one round of neo-liberal adjustment becomes the justifying logic to undertake the next round.
The full paper is available at the pages of the International Journal for Public Administration.
A pre-publication copy is also available here.