Moving forward – key issues

In this final section, we explore the possibilities of — and barriers to — a feminist transformation of the EU’s gendered macro-economic policies and economic governance processes informed by Fl’E theoretical thinking. We also discuss EU policy fields in which Fl’E approaches could be applied in greater depth.

Gender budgeting — and to a lesser extent, gender mainstreaming — have been seen as a way to implement the critical insights of feminist economics and Fl’E in practice (O’Hagan 2018). Gender budgeting is a feminist strategy for bringing an intersectional gender lens to macro-economic policies and budgets and pushing these in a more gender-equal direction. Its radical potential lies in the way it challenges entrenched gender-biased understandings of the economy that underpin macro-economic policies (O’Hagan 2018). However, in EU policy-making, the promise of gender budgeting has not been actualised. Efforts to integrate a gender perspective into macro-economic policies and economic governance as part of the EU’s commitment to gender mainstreaming have been disappointing — and often met with hostility (Hoskyns 2008; O’Dwyer 2017;Villa and Smith 2014). The few examples of gender budgeting or gender mainstreaming that can be found in EU macro-economic policies do not challenge the gender biases entrenched in EU macro-economic policies and economic epistemologies. Instead, only gender equality commitments that support existing macro-economic priorities of growth, jobs and competitiveness have been adopted (Hoskyns 2008; O’Dwyer 2017). Even these rather meagre gender equality commitments can be undermined, however, when they are passed to member states for implementation, and budgetary discipline remains the ultimate priority (Cavaghan and Elomaki 2020).The apparent legitimacy of the gendered economic model, which is blind to the importance of reproductive labour, and the economic policies that sustain inequalities therefore remain largely intact in the EU.

Fl’E helps us to understand these disappointing outcomes. It throws our attention onto how the institutional barriers to gender budgeting and gender mainstreaming that have been identified by gender and EU scholars are intertwined with economic ideological and epistemological barriers. The disciplinary divisions between the macro- and micro-economies explain why the EU’s macro-economic policies have been resistant to gender equality claims while gender perspectives have been integrated into the EU’s employment policies — an area traditionally understood as micro-economic policy (Cavaghan 2017a; Hoskyns 2008). Moreover, the hierarchy and associated boundary between the economic and the social — the productive and the reproductive economy — serves to exclude certain concerns, such as the unpaid economy and the crisis of social reproduction (enhanced by the economic crisis) from the EU’s core economic agendas. These barriers are also connected to power and privilege. Reconfiguring the distribution of social reproduction would erode the ‘tax’ currently being extracted from women that subsidises the productive economy. It is therefore not a surprise that policy-makers resist tackling these injustices, which have benefited capitalist accumulation and supported gendered and racialised power relations.

Fl’E approaches therefore have a double role to play in the feminist transformation of the EU’s macro-economic policies and economic governance. On the one hand, Fl’E insights can inform the efforts to challenge these policies. On the other hand, a broader application of FPE-informed research is needed to examine the full array of EU policies and the ways in which integration reconfigures power and relationships that extend from individual subjectivities within households up to the highest levels of EU policy-making.

Many areas of EU policy that have not been thoroughly researched by feminists are ripe for the application of Fl’E approaches.Young (2018), for example, points out that FPE has not engaged sufficiently with the impact of EU monetary policy, such as quantitative easing. Similarly, trade has not been extensively explored using the full range of FPE concepts. A handful of existing analyses have highlighted gender equality issues related to EU trade policy (see Garcia in this volume).True (2009), for example, has shown that EU trade policy — thoroughly imbued with neoliberal assumptions — shapes the inclusion of any gender equality clauses into the familiar ‘business case’ mould. Garcia and Masselot (2015; see also Garcia in this volume) have shown that even these conceptually weak rhetorical commitments are not adequately implemented. FPE perspectives on trade also hold the potential to theorise the effects of EU disintegration when we try to work out, for instance, how the UK’s exit from the EU and the new trading relationships it might build could affect gender equality in the UK, the EU and third countries (see Guerrina and Masselot in this volume).

It is also surprising that, despite acknowledgements of the impacts that austerity has had on social reproduction — and migrant women in particular — and the fairly large body of research on EU migration (see Krause and Schwenken in this volume), feminist EU studies have not turned to FPE to join these findings together and to theorise the role of the care chains in migration within and into the EU. Such an analysis would provide an excellent opportunity to examine the racialised and classed relationships — not just between men and women, but also between women — that state and corporate non-responsibility for social reproduction — supported by a myriad of EU policies — embeds as a part of the EU’s broader gender regime. Nor have the relationships between EU economic ideologies and climate policy and the environment been extensively explored (see Allwood in this volume), yet FPE has provided many analyses of these phenomena in other international arenas (Elias and Roberts 2018).

FPE’s analytical vocabularies thus have considerable potential to elucidate the links between multiple levels of the EU polity and the ways in which gendered economic goals and concepts structure activities throughout them. This focus on the economic — conceived in a feminist political sense — sets FPE approaches apart from competing feminist approaches to the analysis of European integration. FPE perspectives push us to understand the links between EU economic ideologies — and the processes putting them into action — and the lived experiences of businesses, households and individuals. They show us how integration has shaped the gendered contours of the political arena and highlight the importance of gendered epistemologies and hierarchies between policy areas, thus providing analytical tools that can be applied to many policy areas. The application of FPE perspectives in feminist EU studies thus has the potential to deepen and widen feminist theorisation of the EU as a whole, providing fresh perspectives that could help to show the full complexities of the role of gender (inequalities) in the maintenance of the European project. FPE concepts should also play a crucial role in studying the gendered and racialised effects of the multiple crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the gendered and racialised effects of the containment and recovery measures (see Klatzer and Rinaldi 2020).

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