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VP(R)'s Picks: Technocracy and the Crisis of the EU

Vice-President (Research)'s Picks: Technocracy and the Crisis of the EU


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The European Union (EU) has turned increasingly to rule by technocrats rather than politicians and to coercive enforcement rather than voluntary co-operation. This diminishes the quality of democracy and fuels the turn to populism, argues a new analysis co-authored by Dr Stefan Auer and Dr Nicole Scicluna.

The European Union (EU) project was intended to integrate its members through law in pursuit of a common future. But the euro crisis that started in 2010 exposed flaws and deficiencies in its governance. It gave rise to two trends – technocracy and coercive enforcement – that have made the EU more authoritarian and harmed democracy at the EU and national levels.

This is the argument in a paper co-authored by Dr Stefan Auer, Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies, and  Dr Nicole Scicluna, Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, focuses on the actions of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) since the euro crisis. It traces how the EU has moved from pursuing integration through law to pursuing it through expediency and coercion.

While the legal approach worked well enough before the crisis, afterwards strains arose because of the difficulty in amending the EU treaties to adapt to new circumstances and the lack of a fiscal counterpart to the monetary union.

The EUImage by 10Markets, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using rhetoric of “necessity”, the ECB sought to keep members in line through unconventional measures that overstepped its mandate of setting monetary policy and stabilising prices. In Cyprus, for example, it pressured the government to accept an austerity-linked bailout that the ECB itself helped to design and would oversee, undermining democratic oversight by the Cypriots. In Greece, it decided against extending emergency liquidity assistance, which led to a shutdown of the country’s banking system days before a major vote.

The CJEU, meanwhile, upheld the legality of a 2012 bond buying programme of the ECB that treaded into economic policymaking, which is not within its mandate.

The result of these actions is that the ECB has been expanded and politicised, while the law has been overburdened and undermined because it is being used to solve political problems. The technocratic approach has also fuelled the turn to populism. “There is no easy way out of this predicament,” the paper concludes.

Dr Auer has written extensively about various aspects of the EU crisis and received GRF funding for the project, Borderless Europe and its Discontents. Dr Scicluna’s research has also focused on the EU, including the 2015 monograph European Union Constitutionalism in Crisis.

Scicluna, N. and Auer, S., “From the rule of law to the rule of rules: technocracy and the crisis of EU governance”, West European Politics, 22 Mar 2019, DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2019.1584843, pp.1-23.