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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In this section I will argue that the declining legitimacy of Lisbon is in fact part of a more general, and multi-level, legitimacy crisis of embedded neoliberalism as a concept of control for the European integration process. Although the rightward shift of the Barroso Commission is for sure not helping in this regard, I argue that this crisis was bound to erupt in any case due to the contradictions inherent in embedded neoliberalism (and as already manifest in Lisbon from the start, as argued above).

This is most clearly reflected in the ways the Lisbon strategy, as part of its proclaimed goal of promoting the transition to a knowledge-based economy, emphasizes the need for the creation of a ‘European Area of Research and Innovation’, stimulating in particular R&D within the ICT-sector, including the allocation of some public money through the European Investment Bank. In this context we must note the ideological overlap between the social-democratic and neo-mercantilist projects inasmuch as they both tended, for different reasons and in different ways, to reject the pure laissez-faire of economic liberalism in favour of Polanyi’s principle of social protection, that is, they were both aimed at the conservation of productive forces (Polanyi, 1957: 132).

This, then, is at the core of the contradictions of the embedded neoliberal European project. These contradictions, their class nature and their political implications will be analysed in the second part. As in recent years European governance has become even more thoroughly neoliberal, the incompatibility of the Polanyian principles of ‘economic liberalism’ and ‘social protection’ (Polanyi, 1957: 132) have also come more to the fore. 2 Examining some of the implications of these contradictions, I argue that they reveal the political limits of the current European project, as they have become manifest in an unfolding multi-level legitimacy crisis and a growing contestation of neoliberal governance.

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