Contradictions and Limits of Neoliberal European Governance: by Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, Jan Drahokoupil, Laura Horn

By Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, Jan Drahokoupil, Laura Horn

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Below I argue that the effective subordination of the principle of social protection to that of economic liberalism within the embedded neoliberal concept of control, and therefore the primacy of the disembedding force of neoliberal restructuring, must be understood with reference to the fundamentally asymmetric nature of European governance as it evolved since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. Embedded neoliberalism as asymmetric European socio-economic governance The social purpose of European multi-level governance is revealed if we see how European integration in the past decades has created a supranational internal market (and later a monetary union), thus transferring ‘policies promoting market efficiencies’ to the European level, whereas policies ‘promoting social protection and equality’ have remained at the national level (Scharpf, 2002: 665; see also Scharpf, 1999; Holman, 2004a).

As Drainville has argued, ‘as a political reality, neoliberalism is both a broad strategy of restructuring and a succession of negotiated settlements, of concessions to the rigidities and dynamics of structures, as well as the political possibilities of the moment’ (1994: 166, emphasis in original). This understanding of neoliberalism opens up political space for subaltern classes to contest and challenge neoliberal governance, and engenders a research perspective that takes into account the agency of resistance.

Following Bob Jessop (1990, see also the introduction to this volume), we may call this the neoliberal strategic selectivity of the current EU as ‘a multilevel state formation’ (Jessop, 2002: 205). As Scharpf contends: ‘[I]n principle, the only national options which remain freely available under European law are supply-side strategies involving lower tax burdens, further deregulation and flexibilization of employment conditions, increasing wage differentiation and welfare cut-backs’ (2002: 649).

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