Feminist political economy in EU studies

As stated at the outset, FPE approaches have, surprisingly, not yet been extensively or systematically applied to the study of European integration. The policy area in which FPE approaches — or their influence — can be most readily seen in feminist EU studies is the EU’s economic governance. Feminist researchers have applied some of the concepts from FPE to illustrate that the economic goals and macro-economic policies pursued are gender-biased and that the EU ignores women and marginalised groups as citizens and as economic actors (Bruff and Woehl 2016;Cavaghan and O’Dwyer 2018;Klatzer and Schlager 2014,2019;Young 2018). In particular, the reconfigurations of the EU’s economic governance after the economic and euro crises have been used to justify cuts to gender equality policies and public services (Kantola and Lombardo 2017; see also Kantola and Lombardo in this volume) and have reshaped gendered subjectivities in conflicting ways. In the wake of austerity-driven cuts to public services, women find themselves lumbered with more care work, performing traditionally conceived feminised roles, while also experiencing more pressure to behave in competitive and risky ways traditionally conceived as masculine (Bruff and Woehl 2016). FPE concepts have been particularly useful in drawing attention to how the EU’s fiscal rules and austerity policies set limits on the potential scope of the welfare state, thus driving a crisis in social reproduction as households and individuals are forced to absorb more and more reproductive work and risk (Klatzer and Schlager 2014; Woehl 2017;Young 2002,2018).These redistributions of work and risk have affected migrant and Black and minority ethnic women the most acutely, deepening existing intersectional inequalities between women (Bassel and Emejulu 2017).

While CPE scholars have described authoritarian neoliberalism and authoritarian constitutionalism, FPE scholars have examined how EU economic governance constitutionalises masculine norms (Bruff and Woehl 2016, 93). EU-level and national fiscal bureaucracy, such as the European Commissions Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), the European Central Bank (ECB), the ‘Eurogroup’ and national ministries of finance — who have gained in power and influence — are more male-dominated than the European Parliament and national parliaments that have been sidelined, or those parts of the European Commission that have traditionally led EU gender equality policy (Cavaghan 2017a; O’Dwyer 2019). Analysis has shown that the male domination of these economic institutions corresponds to masculine norms, informal institutional rules and the practices within them (Klatzer and Schlager 2019, 51—53). Feminists have found these institutions very difficult to access, encountering stiff resistance to gender mainstreaming efforts and spurious and under-conceptualised critiques of the relevance of gender equality in macro-economic policy (Cavaghan 2017a, 61 ; Hoskyns 2008, 12).

Feminist scholars have also drawn explicit attention to the gendered forms of expertise and gendered epistemologies underpinning EU economic governance (Cavaghan and O’Dwyer 2018; O’Dwyer 2019). This adds to the mainstream political arguments that have pointed out the dominance and consequences of the ordoliberal ideas within the EU’s economic governance (e.g. Helgadottir 2016; Ryner 2015). Building even further on CPE analysis, feminist approaches have also shown that the EU’s efforts to legitimate its economic policy through a discourse of neutrality or expertise also excludes feminist concerns — which do not fit easily within the veneer of objectivity — from economic governance discourses (O’Dwyer 2019, 169). FPE analyses have thus highlighted whose interests are included as ‘economic concerns’ in EU economic policy-making and whose are not.

This has been linked to the well-documented ‘downgrading’ of the EU’s gender equality policy and a closing of policy opportunities for feminist activists (Jacquot 2015). Feminist actors targeting the EU now confront policy processes that are dominated by economic actors and concerns in which social goals have been subsumed by macro-economic ones (Cavaghan 2017b, 210). In this context, EU gender equality policy has increasingly become framed in a discourse of (individualised) ‘rights’ and economic benefits, which fits well with neoliberal tendencies to eschew engagement with structural inequalities (Elomaki 2015;Jacquot 2015).

This summary shows the promise of FPE perspectives to highlight the important role of economic policy and ideology in the EU’s gender regime. FPE analyses span different levels and sectors of the economy, elaborating links, for example, between economic ideology promoted at the EU level and the gendered subjectivities promoted to citizens in member states. These analyses also show the interrelationships between evolving EU economic governance processes and the declining levels of democratic control. They illustrate how power has shifted away from institutions and parts of the European Commission that are traditionally more open to gender equality claims and towards institutions, such as DG ECFIN, in which entrenched economic disciplinary assumptions place limits on the acceptability and intelligibility ot gender equality claims. Understanding the jargonistic vocabularies and methods ot these parts ot the Commission is much easier when we draw on Fl’E. Hence, Fl’E provides promising frameworks with which to theorise links between the EU level, member states and individuals, thus highlighting very important phenomena that are currently shaping gender equality outcomes.

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