Social Versus Neoliberal Europe

The discursive dynamics of politicization in the conflict over the Services Directive can be analysed from three perspectives: the individual actors who contributed to politicization by providing cognitive and normative arguments underpinning the framing of the issue in the public debate; the way in which the framing of the issue was shared beyond national borders; and the dynamics of resonance in the national public spheres which had an impact on decision making.

I n a discursive institutionalist perspective, the politicization of the Services Directive occurred through a successful conjunction between a coordinative discourse focused on cognitive aspects and specific policy issues articulated among elites and decision-making circles, on the one hand, and communicative discourse which appeals more broadly to values and normative aspects in order to reach out to the wider public, on the other. Broadly speaking, the framing of the Services Directive was rooted in the proclaimed need to defend the existence or possibility of a ‘social Europe’ against a ubiquitous ‘neoliberal Europe’. In the networks of the alterglobalist movement, a number of individuals can be depicted as activist-experts: they possess a highly specialized knowledge on EU and global policies, and are able to provide for a ‘translation’ of complex technical and legal matters in order to bring to the fore the political issues at stake. This is, for example, the case of Raoul-Marc Jennar, the frontman of Oxfam Belgique and the leader of Unite de recherche, de formation et d’information sur 1л globalisation founded in 2000 by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Jennar provided one of the early analyses of the directive proposal in which he denounces a ‘new neoliberal aggression of the European Commission’ (Jennar 2004) . Similarly, Thomas Fritz, a main figure of the NGO scene in Berlin, produced assessments where he explained why, if adopted, the Services Directive would put ‘national regulation under tutelage’, ‘cause chaos among legal systems’, ‘attack healthcare systems’, encourage a race to the bottom and ‘wage dumping and social security fraud’ and, thus, why it should be seen as the expression of ‘anti-democratic market radicalism’ (Fritz 2004). Thomas Fritz participated in many public gatherings, was heard at the EP and published a contribution on the Services Directive in a German journal for political science (Fritz 2005).

The polarization between the pro- and anti-Bolkestein coalition appeared as early as June 2004. One particular episode triggered contention in Brussels. When interviewed on-air by the Belgian public radio, the spokesperson of Commissioner Bolkestein, Jonathan Todd, referred to the flyers prepared by the Belgian trade unions for the very first anti- Bolkestein demonstration in Brussels as far right propaganda of the National Front. This triggered an unusual personalization of the debate whereby Frits Bolkestein was depicted as the embodiment of a neoliberal Europe. This was reflected in powerful visual frames and the mottos used by, for example, ATTAC Deutschland: ‘Bolkestein-Frankenstein’, or the ‘Bolkestein-Hammer’ which destroys the European social systems. Although the figure of the Polish plumber was an invention of the French far right, it echoed the concerns of unions which reject the logic of competition among workers based on labour costs:

3.42 euro/hour: this is the cost of a Latvian worker. The Bolkestein directive

does not arrive randomly at the same time as the enlargement. A Latvian

worker ‘costs’ 3.42 euro per hour, a Czech 4.48 euro, a Pole 4.48, a Slovene

8.98. The average in the ‘old’ EU-15 is 23 euro per hour. The Bolkestein directive offers a flag of convenience to companies of the least demanding countries. Whether they are native to these countries or relocated. (FGTB 2004)

This aspect accentuated the polarization between the liberal and the regulatory coalitions. In a cheeky move, Frits Bolkestein claimed in the press that he wished there were more Polish plumbers as it was a difficult service to find where he lived in the north of France (Marchand 2006, p. 22). A few days later, power in his French villa was cut-off by unionists of EdF. As a response to the anti-‘Polish plumber’[1] campaign in France, the Polish government launched a humoristic communication campaign where models posed as plumbers and nurses.

More fundamentally, the success of the framing based on social Europe lies in the fact that it was largely shared beyond national borders. When looking at a wide corpus of documents issued by ATTAC, unions and left-wing political parties in Belgium, France and Germany, all account for similar frames.[2] As far as cognitive arguments and specific public policy issues are concerned, the prominent themes are dumping, welfare services, the ‘country of origin’ principle and the necessity for control by national authorities. Regarding broader, more normative frames, all organizations of the regulatory coalition addressed the issues of deregulation, competition and the need for harmonization. Social Europe, neoliberal Europe and democracy can be depicted as the ‘master frames’ in this discourse (Snow 2004), that is, broad frames which are relevant among several contentious episodes. Indeed, we will see that these frames also play a key role in the debate surrounding an EU Framework directive on SGI (Chap. 4) and in the contestation of the GATS (Chap. 5). The criticism towards a neoliberal EU is nevertheless more present in the discourse of the most radical organizations (such as ATTAC), while it tends to be more discrete in Germany and in the documents of organizations at the EU level (ETUC and Party of European Socialists [PES]). The ideas of social Europe and democracy therefore have a key strategic function as they allowed the cementation of a heteroclite discursive coalition comprising organizations with diverse ideological preferences—ranging from the anti-capitalist radical left to the centrist and, in some respects, liberal German social democracy.

Finally, the political effectiveness of politicization in this debate lied in the fact that communicative discourse was framed and conveyed through the national media. Figures 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 show that, roughly speaking, the national debates display similar patterns. The intensity of

Number of articles referring to the services directive in the Belgian daily press

Fig. 3.1 Number of articles referring to the services directive in the Belgian daily press

Number of articles referring to the services directive in the French daily press

Fig. 3.2 Number of articles referring to the services directive in the French daily press

Number of articles referring to the services directive in the German daily press the debate was greatest in France, slightly weaker in Belgium and the weakest in Germany

Fig. 3.3 Number of articles referring to the services directive in the German daily press the debate was greatest in France, slightly weaker in Belgium and the weakest in Germany. Its salience nevertheless shows similar patterns as it was greatest in all three countries both in the spring of 2005 in connection with the ratification, and in February 2006 when the compromise between liberals and regulators was forged during the first reading in the

EP In addition, we can observe a first wave of politicization in May-June 2004 in Belgium, which reflects the pioneer role of Belgian actors and organizations in politicizing the issue as depicted above.

The power of discourse combined with the ‘internalization’ of contestation and the effectiveness of resonance in the national public spheres contributed to (re)shaping governments’ positions to a large extent. In Belgium, while the liberals did not dare opposing the critics of ‘Bolkestein’ in the face of public mobilization,[3] no agreement could be found between the socialists and the liberals within the federal coalition government and, ironically, Belgium eventually abstained during the vote in the Council.[4] In France, the ‘no’ campaign permeated the discourse of political actors across the entire political spectrum. By the first semester of 2005, framing in terms of ‘social dumping’, ‘European social model’ and even ‘(neo)liberal Europe’ had been taken over by conservative politicians. President Chirac took a radically critical stance towards the directive proposal by denouncing it as a ‘threat to the European social model’ and intervening in several occasions in the deliberations in the EU institutions. In Germany, Chancellor Schroeder spectacularly reversed the position of the federal government which, under the auspices of the liberally minded Federal Minister of the Economy Wolfgang Clement, was initially very supportive of the Services Directive. After the public campaign of the left, the Chancellor also certified the ‘social dumping’ frame.[5] The French-German coalition eventually found support from the then Luxembourgish Prime Minister then holding the Council Presidency, Jean-Claude Juncker, and even the President of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who both called for the ‘preservation of the European social model’ and to prevent a ‘race to the bottom’.[6] At the meeting of the European Council in March 2005, the heads of states and government officially called on the Commission to revise its proposal.

In conclusion, contestation of the Services Directive proposal offers a remarkable example of relatively successful politicization where transnational coalition building through both national and European channels, and effective communicative discourse reaching the wider public could shape decision making to a significant extent. The issues of liberalization of welfare services and workers’ mobility were effectively framed by calling for a social Europe and democratic Europe where citizens have their say.

  • [1] It must be underlined that the expression emerged from the far right was first reported in thepress in a statement of the sovereignist leader Philippe de Villiers. In the corpus examined here,focused on left-wing organizations, the expression only appears once. It is the statement of FritsBolkestein himself which created a snowball effect in the French press. In fact, the controversyembarrassed the French opponents of the Services Directive because it gave the movement an antiEuropean and xenophobic flavour they resented. In the German and Belgian press or documents,other similar characters such as Estonian architect or Portuguese workers could be found.
  • [2] This corpus is composed of 206 documents posted on the website of the following organizations:ATTAC Wallonia-Brussels, ATTAC Vlanderen, ATTAC France, ATTAC Deutschland, Federationnationale des travailleurs de Belgique (FGTB), Confederation des syndicats chretiens (CSC),Confederation generale du travail (CGT), CFDT, IG BAU, Ver.di, DGB, CES, Parti socialiste (PS)Belgium, Sociaaldemocratische Partij. Anders (SP.A), PS France, PCF, Die Linke, SPD, GUE/NGL, PES. Twelve documents per organization were selected over four distinct sequences of thedebate from January 2004 to December 2006 in proportion with the total number of documentsproduced by each organization for each sequence. For a more detailed analysis of this corpus relyingon descriptive statistics, see (Crespy, 2012).
  • [3] Interview with Camille Dieu, member of the House of Representatives (PS), Brussels, June 2008.
  • [4] Interview with a Diplomat 1, Brussels, January 2008.
  • [5] Widerstand gegen geplante EU-Dienstleistungsrichtlinie‘, Spiegel, 15 February 2005, ‘Paris etBerlin veulent remplacer la Directive Bolkestein‘, LeMonde, 26 April 2005.
  • [6] ‘Le debat sur la Directive Bolkestein domine le sommet de Bruxelles’, Le Monde, 22.03.2005.
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