Managing the European economy after the introduction of the Euro
Managing the European economy after the introduction of the Euro

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Managing the European economy after the introduction of the Euro

1.7 Conclusion

Several concluding points are worth drawing attention to. First, it is clear that the general thrust of EU policy making, whether this be pushed by the Commission or the Council of Ministers, is one that embodies a neo-liberal, market-based liberalisation and de-regulatory agenda, though as with any programme of this kind, there are anomalies and reversals to this overall trajectory. Nevertheless, it is not one that has foregrounded the idea of a ‘social Europe’, even though this does figure strongly in the Lisbon Agenda (Grahl, 2001). And in as much that this neo-liberal Agenda was to be consolidated in the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty, this Agenda would have become entrenched and eventually written into EU law (the Constitution consolidates all previous treaties into its own provisions, so the Maastricht criteria become part of the Constitution). Thus, perhaps rather paradoxically, those countries traditionally most hostile to the Constitution, such as the UK, would actually be getting a constitutional agenda that most closely conformed to their own idea of how the model of the European economy should be run.

A second point to note is the way in which the EU remains an arena of political contestation at a number of levels. We have noted the way (arguably) the Council of Ministers has tried to wrestle control over the economic policy making agenda away from the Commission (in respect to the SGP in particular ). This indicates the still lively debate about supranationalism and intergovernmentalism in respect to the development of the EU. But, in addition, there are still significant differences between the EU members over economic policy and institutional reform, even amongst those fully committed to the widening and deepening of the Union. For instance, there are the differences of interest between those in the Euro-zone and those outside of it, whether they would like to keep out of it (like the UK and Sweden) or those who would like to get into it (like many of the accession countries). And then there are potential differences between the new and candidate members themselves over the exact exchange rate that would ensure them the most competitive advantage over the others. And all this is independent of the differences within ‘Old Europe’, between large countries like France and Germany, and the smaller ones like the Netherlands and Austria (who strongly supported the ‘Services Directive’).

Finally, we have the possible consequences of the development of a two-currency world, with the further possible development of an alternative supranational configuration in east Asia later in the 2000s. Under these circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the advantages of remaining aloof from the development of these supranational regional configurations, and of presenting oneself as an essentially free-floating world trading economy, unencumbered by the collective responsibilities of managing such a system (as is the case with the most Euro-sceptical wing of UK public opinion). The greater issue that this throws up, of course, is how exactly to govern this emergent system (Bromley, 2001), so as not to encourage the re-emergence of insular economic policy making and a complete retreat from liberal internationalism and multilateralism in the international economy.

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