EU Politics Between Technocracy and Democracy

From Consensus to Conflict

The marketization of welfare is not dealt with here primarily as a matter of economic change and policy making. The key aspect of interest is that this kind of policy change has continuously triggered contestation. Chapter 3 shows that, to a great extent, mobilization against the restructuring of public utilities and the privatization of, for example, care services or transport has been local or circumscribed to specific sectors, and protest has typically been organized by workers unions. However, two main trends have developed over time. On the one hand, such protest has involved an increasingly wide range of actors, NGOs, local citizen groups and the like. On the other hand, large organizations have tried to go European by coordinating their action through transnational networks, forums and platforms in order to influence policy making at the EU level. Perhaps more than any other policy area, public contestation over the tensions between market making and citizen welfare can be seen as a ‘stress test’ for the EU, which has historically developed as a technocratic entity but has become, at least since the Treaty of Maastricht, a would-be democratic polity.

It is now commonplace to claim that the EU displays a deep deficit of democratic legitimacy. Many political scientists have concentrated on the institutional causes of such a deficit by comparing the EU with national or federal democratic polities (Beetham and Lord 1998; Thomassen 2009) or by claiming that the EU’s sources of legitimacy should be redefined against new standards related to its capacity to deliver efficient public policy (Majone 1998; Scharpf 1999). In order to go beyond the institutional debates, I have argued that a main problem undermining democratic politics at the level of the EU lies in its political culture, which aims mainly at generating consensus and is biased against the expression of conflict (Crespy 2014), especially for those actors who contest the project of integration through the markets. The aversion towards conflict and the pursuit of consensus is historically carved in the anatomy of the EU, characterized by functional integration a la Monnet and the consensus- driven community method. Besides representation through the continuous strengthening of the EP (Costa and Magnette 2003), enhancing participation and deliberation has been thought of by European elites as a way to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU.

Yet, the rise of deliberative democracy in the 2000s has also mainly been geared towards technocratic and consensus-based—as opposed to conflict-based—forms of deliberation within the various EU organs and bodies (e.g. comitology, inter-parliamentary cooperation or constitutionmaking bodies) or the institutionalized ‘civil dialogue’. When engineered by the EU institutions themselves, experiments such as deliberative polls among randomly selected citizens are bound to be turned into instruments of political communication geared towards the staging of intercultural consensus (Aldrin and Hube 2011). In spite of pleas for enhanced citizen participation, deliberation has been encapsulated within epistemic communities of national experts and NGO representatives at the elite level, thus generating strong socialization effects among the ‘professionals of Europe’ within the EU microcosm in Brussels. This is not to say that contentious politics do not exist in the EU.

Historically, social conflict has been a main driver of democratization (Tilly 2004). Over the past fifteen years, scholars of social movements have studied the adaptation of collective action to the Europeanization of policies and interest representation (Imig and Tarrow 2001a; Balme and Chabanet 2002, 2008; Ruzza 2004; Della Porta and Caiani 2009). The contribution of these organizations to the democratic legitimation of the EU is ambiguous. On the one hand, contemporary transnational social movements can be seen as a laboratory of transnational deliberative democracy where the multicultural nature of deliberation in the EU is being managed (della Porta 2005; Dorr 2008). Moreover, as they are targeting the EU institutions, they also tend to acknowledge the EU as a political centre. On the other hand, these movements have often had a radical stance towards the EU as they have mainly pictured the EU as a neoliberal technocracy. For this reason, they have for most of the time been kept out of the realm of legitimate EU politics. The main result of the institutionalization of the ‘participatory norm’ (Saurugger 2009) has therefore been the creation of an exclusive—as opposed to inclusive—political sphere with insiders and outsiders, the latter being kept out to maintain the consensus over integration through the market.

The picture is more mitigated as far as trade unions are concerned. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has tried to maintain itself as a contentious insider incorporated into the institutional system through the social dialogue and, at the same time, able to endorse more conflict-based forms of involvement. However, specialists of industrial relations have underlined both the potential for reviving European democracy through transnational mobilization (Erne 2008; Gajewska 2009) and the problems related to national divergences and ideological as well as financial dependence of the ETUC on EU institutions (Gobin 1997; Martin and Ross 2001; Wagner 2005). Overall, the EU’s functioning displays a structural bias against the traditional actors of industrial democracy as well as newer forms of contentious politics which are critical of neoliberal policies (Bieler 2010). Focusing on transnational campaigns on EU policies which have involved social movement organizations as well as unions, Parks’ work (2015) nevertheless shows a subtle and interesting articulation of consensus and conflict: it is precisely because the eruption of conflict remains the exception in the consensus-oriented EU politics that political (as opposed to technical) campaigns are more likely to impact decision making. To do so, though, it also needs to resonate within national political spaces rather than remaining confined to the ‘Brussels bubble’.

By looking at contention over the marketization of welfare services, this book further investigates the role of contention with regard to the democratization of the EU polity. Insofar, it is in tune with a recent body of literature which shows how contentious politics and politicization are constitutive of a pan-European public sphere, thus contributing to the democratization of the EU polity (de Wilde and Zurn 2012; Trenz et al. 2014; Statham and Trenz 2015). These authors, nevertheless, show that politicization is not directly conducive of the legitimation of the EU polity. Rather, contestation is more likely to bring about a more acute delegitimation in the short and medium run which translates into increased Euroscepticism, diffuse discontent towards political authority, and a greater polarization between the winners and the losers of integration. While this literature focuses on politics and the contestation of the

EU as a political order, there are good reasons to think that the policy dimension plays a crucial role, as the crisis of the Eurozone or the refugee issue has shown. Democratic legitimacy does depend not only on the possibility for expressing dissent but also on the actual possibility to trigger responsiveness from the political authorities and thus shape policy making. By focusing on the marketization of welfare, the study presented here therefore investigates the policy dimension; more particularly, one that may affect the less well-off citizens, namely the potential losers of denationalization.

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