Brussels shows what it really is: a neoliberal straitjacket

19 December 2014

Brussels shows what it really is: a neoliberal straitjacket

That countries which don’t belong to the EU will now come under European Economic Governance reveals a dangerous level of audacity, argues SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel.

The European Commission is planning to subject candidate member states to its strict budgetary control. With this, the long arm of the EU will reach further than ever before into countries’ economic government – into states outside the European Union’s own boundaries. The fact that future member states will be kept on the Brussels leash completely undermines the EU’s democratic legitimacy.

The results of the European elections showed with no room for doubt that support for the EU’s present course is in decline. From the wings, both the far left and extreme right parties gained more votes than ever before, by loudly proclaiming their Euroscepticism on the socio-economic and political level. The election’s outcome was the result of an EU which appeared to be affecting deafness, an EU which since the crisis had seen extremists increasingly holding the reins. Meanwhile the troika tore on with its unrelenting austerity policies. The IMF was itself apparently shocked, because on more than one occasion it declared that the troika’s one-sided and extremely harsh policies were smothering the recovery of the European economy in the cradle.

Expanding power

In the midst of the crisis Brussels moved to expand its position of power at the expense of the sovereignty of the member states, depriving them of any possibility of escaping the crisis through investments, The already stringent Stability and Growth Pact, through which budgetary deficits and national debts were controlled, was extended with the addition of stricter budget rules, clothed in official Anglo-Saxon jargon with words and phrases such as “Six-pack”, “Two-pack” and “Fiscal Compact.”

In order to coordinate and control the budgetary policies of the member states, a policy framework known as the European Semester was set up. The Semester confers the power to impose sanctions when a member state fails to abide by the budgetary rules or does too little to address national problems, the implication being that these powers can be used to force reforms. Once again, Brussels’ power is being deepened still further.

Another example of Brussels’ growing power is that the European Semester is currently playing a prominent role in the EU’s enlargement policies. The European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations recently declared his ambitions for the coming five years: ‘I’ll do everything in my power to make progress on the necessary reforms in these countries, and in this the EU will provide every form of support.’

These “necessary reforms” were hatched in the same swamp as the austerity agenda which has flooded over Europe, north and south, since the crisis. It is currently expected of candidate member states that they institute reform programmes designed to bring their economies more in line with those of the rest of Europe: directed more strongly towards competition and an improved climate for investment.


The reforms in this way pushed through by the EU reach deep into the national economies of the candidates for accession. Transport, energy, education, the environment, research, industry and infrastructure, hardly any area of policy remains unnamed on the Commission’s list. Quite apart from the question of whether the individual candidate member states, many of which are in the western Balkans, are done any favours by the EU’s reform agenda, a much more fundamental question arises, as to whether the Commission’s far-reaching step in imposing policy from on high is not seriously undermining the EU’s legitimacy, and the sovereignty of states along with it. Because the neoliberal straitjacket which the Commission has imposed on the member states in the form of European Economic Governance is now being imposed even on countries which don’t belong to the EU.

It’s quite disgusting that the Dutch government is applauding this approach from the Commission. In practice it means that countries will soon have to transfer actual powers to Brussels before they are even members of the EU. At a time when support for Europe is crumbling in rapid tempo, this is dangerously audacious.

So it’s very much the question how the peoples of the candidate member states will react to the reforms. The existing European framework of economic governance and budgetary consolidation is aimed primarily at guaranteeing the internal market and preserving the euro at all costs.

Sitting pretty as a result of this policy are, meanwhile, not the citizens of EU member states, but that branch of capital which operates internationally and which time after time profits from a constantly growing EU which simplifies international investments and provides cheap labour.

This Commission’s neoliberal enlargement strategy threatens to make of the European project, which began as a guarantor of peace, security and prosperity, a permanently unreliable and undemocratic EU. The Netherlands would be better opposing this, rather than falling into this latest Brussels trap.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national daily newspaper the Reformatorisch Dagblad.

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