CPE approaches to EU integration

CPE has been applied to multiple policy areas, including the internal market, the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU; see Scheele in this volume), trade policies (see Garcia in this volume), the euro crisis and its management (see Kantola and Lombardo in this volume), and the EU’s socioeconomic governance. CPE approaches are characterised by a focus on the interrelations in the economic and political spheres. They often draw on historical materialist and neo-Gramscian approaches and take capitalism and class as their central concepts. These theoretical and methodological starting points set CPE apart from ‘traditional’ perspectives on European integration. CPE sees the integration processes and EU governance as being intrinsically linked to the dynamics of global capitalism and the wider restructuring of the global political economy. CPE scholars have also conceptualised integration as a hegemonic project of dominant transnational and national social forces and stressed the unequal effects of these processes for different social classes and groups as well as the societal conflicts (Cafruny and Kyner 2012).

CPE scholars have highlighted how the European integration process has become increasingly neoliberalised since the mid-1980s. They have typically emphasised how this trajectory reflects shifts in the global political economy and identified the social and political forces and concrete actors that have supported the hegemony of the neoliberal project at the expense of social democratic alternatives (van Apeldoorn 2002). CPE scholars have further argued that the EMU and its constitutional and other legally binding enforcement mechanisms have reinforced the neoliberal discipline, strengthening financial capitalism in the EU and separating economic policies from political accountability (Gill 1998).The successes of the neoliberal project have led to an asymmetry between policies promoting market efficiencies and those promoting social protection and equality, whereby the former are increasingly regulated at the EU level and the latter left to the member states (Scharpf 2002).

Since the financial and Eurozone crises, CPE approaches have been used both to explain the causes of these crises and to understand their political and social effects. In the following, we focus on some key contributions connected to the EU’s response to the financial and Eurozone crises: (1) the rationale and distributional effects of the austerity-focused policy response; (2) the political and democratic impacts of new economic governance structures implementing austerity; and (3) the consequent shifts in the relationship between the EU’s economic and social goals.

The EU responded to the financial crisis by encouraging ‘austerity’ — large-scale cuts in public spending — nominally to reduce sovereign debt (Blyth 2013). This approach assumed that cutting public spending would reduce national debt and promote private sector confidence and investment, thereby ultimately restoring growth. However, critics have pointed out that the evidence supporting this approach is, at best, contextual and nuanced rather than unequivocal (Clarke and Newman 2012). Austerity’s distributional impacts have also been well documented. Austerity re-allocates the costs of the financial crisis away from the private financial institutions that caused it and towards the public — particularly its poorest sectors — while mobilising a moral narrative that states overspent and that everyone needs to ‘tighten their belts’ (Blyth 2013; Clarke and Newman 2012).

CPE approaches have also examined the measures put in place to coordinate member states’ implementations of austerity, drawing attention to the constitutionalisation of austerity and the de-democratisation and de-politicisation of economic policy in the EU (Bruff 2014). The successively adopted new sets of rules — the ‘Six Pack’, the ‘Two Pack’ and the ‘Fiscal Compact’ — strengthened and complemented the debt and deficit rules of the ‘Stability and Growth Pact’ — adopted in 1997 — to ensure the stability of the EMU. They introduced, among other things, new sanctions, a requirement to include a balanced budget rule in national legislation and the annual process of economic surveillance and coordination called the European Semester (Brufl 2014; Oberndorfer 2015;see Scheele in this volume for more details).The reconfiguration of policy rules has shifted power from national and EU-level democratic bodies to executive branches and non-transparent, technocratic financial bureaucracy. It has also made austerity a permanent policy by constraining member states’ policy choices. CPE scholars have referred to this shift as ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ (Brufl 2014) or ‘authoritarian constitutionalism’ (Oberndorfer 2015).These concepts draw attention to the way in which the post-crisis reforms of EU economic governance restrict the possibilities for future generations to overturn the permanent austerity and the undemocratic policy-making processes that maintain and marginalise dissenting social groups and oppositional politics. From the CPE perspective, new EU economic governance rules help to institutionalise and maintain the neoliberal political—economic order and defend it from efforts to push for greater democratisation (Brufl 2014).

CPE has also made visible how the EU’s strengthened economic governance has shifted towards a technocratic expert regime that relies on a specific form of economic knowledge and ideas.These include, for instance, ideas about constitution-like rules as the basis of market-society characteristic of ordoliberalism, a German variant of neoliberalism (Ryner 2015), heterodox economic assumptions accepting and tacitly promoting the supremacy of the market (Bruff and Tansel 2019) and economic ideas promoting austerity (Helgadóttir 2016).The economic knowledge that disseminates these ideas masks their deeply political ideological commitments with a veneer of technocratic inevitability.

Finally, CPE scholars have argued that the post-crisis shifts in the EU’s socio-economic governance have further subjugated the EU’s social goals and policies to the objectives of budget discipline and macro-economic balance (Crespy and Menz 2015), which are supported by the ever-stronger rules and surveillance and sanction mechanisms (de la Porte and Heins 2015). Although some commentators describe a gradual ‘socialisation’ of some economic governance processes (Zeitlin andVanhercke 2018), social policies must still conform to the EU’s marketmaking logic (see Milner in this volume). In CPE literature, the economy/social relationship has thus been mainly discussed in terms of policies, governance mechanisms and actors, rather than in terms of knowledge and epistemologies.

CPE approaches have, therefore, highlighted how EU monetary and economic integration has reshaped the contours of the political arena, restricting opportunities to contest economic policy at the member-state level and enhancing the power of EU institutions. They have also helped us to understand the ideational underpinning of the EU’s economic policies and governance and highlighted the imbalance between economic and social integration. While these approaches have emphasised the category of class, they have tended to neglect concerns about gender and race. As we will show below, by neglecting these analytical angles, CPE approaches miss important dynamics that legitimise EU economic governance, core aspects of its ideological basis and some of the most important structural factors mediating distributional impacts.

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