Europe against Europe: making sense of the intensity and diversity of European economic cooperation

By Prof Laurent Warlouzet, Sorbonne University

Europe contre Europe (“Europe against Europe”) aims to make sense of the intensity and diversity of European economic cooperation from 1945 to the current COVID-19 crisis. Its subtitle “Entre liberté, solidarité et puissance” refers to the three forms of economic cooperation that have prevailed on the continent since 1945: the liberal and market-oriented model (liberté = “liberty”), the socially-oriented model (solidarité = “solidarity”), and the model based on a more assertive posture (puissance = “power”).

The book was reviewed by the leading French newspaper Le Monde when it came out in early 2022. It explores the history of the continent from a genuine European lens, combining archives spread over 8 different countries, from national governments (Britain, France, and Germany), European and international organizations, and non-state actors (trade unions and business organizations). The use of archives, which is possible primarily for the pre-1992 years, allows the researcher to move beyond official discourse and contemporary accounts, and to uncover a deeper layer of decision-makers’ motivations. In addition, it is also helpful in revealing alternative paths not taken. The book also expands on a vast trove of literature in history, political science, economics and law. In particular, it builds on a book crafted when the author was postdoc at the LSE and published in English, a work which spans the period ranging from 1973 to 1986. This is entitled: Governing Europe in a Globalizing World. Neoliberalism and its Alternatives following the 1973 Crisis (Routledge 2018) and was reviewed, among others, in Foreign Affairs.

Five key research findings can be identified, three related to the three economic models, a fourth regarding the functioning of EC/EU institutions, and a fifth one with respect to the UK.

First, market-oriented Europe (“liberty”) has obviously been central since 1948, with the Marshall Plan and the OEEC, the first European organization. It has materialized in a series of stages: the Common Market, the single market, and then the Economic and Monetary Union. The book examines those classical steps, and goes further in identifying long-term debates, firstly between an integrated market and a free trade area, and secondly between different types of monetary union. It provides many new insights into the history of neoliberalism, defined as a radical form of market-oriented Europe. It identifies a neoliberal pattern in some features of the eurozone crisis and, more originally, in the case of competition policy, notably through the influence of ordoliberals, and later of US-inspired scholars. Thus, it contributes to the history of neoliberalism beyond the usual suspects (Thatcher and Reagan). It also adds to the history of the European monetary union by emphasizing the crucial role of the failure of the “locomotive” attempt in 1978 and the German near-crisis of 1980.

Second, “solidarity” has also been a regular pattern since the Marshall Plan, but in a more piece-meal fashion. After 1970, it has manifested through regulation in certain areas, notably gender equality, working conditions and, increasingly, the environment. A fierce transatlantic battle occurred around 1980 on the democratization of companies but, ultimately, this had little impact. Redistribution was a less important tool in Europe than within national welfare states, but was nevertheless significant, from the Marshall Plan to the current scheme to alleviate the plight of poorer regions. The book uncovers the attempt at creating a “Social Europe” unveiled by ambitious leaders such as Willy Brandt from Germany or Jacques Delors from France, but also the weakness of this “social” coalition, with its fundamental internal divisions.

Third, exerting power (“puissance”) through European institutions has never been obvious, as the European communities/Union were set up precisely to avoid any kind of power politics. However, in the economic sector, some hints of “neomercantilism,” a policy designed to directly support industry through non-market tools, are visible. The most obvious case is the Common Agricultural Policy. Besides, European cooperation in international trade has been essential, notably to respond to protectionist tensions, especially those coming from the US (from Nixon to Trump), and to organize trade with Africa (mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s), and now through the project of Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. Promoting a European industrial policy has always been more difficult, although some notable exceptions, such as Airbus, exist. The book uncovers not only the French project of industrial policy but also the German and British hesitation, despite their official commitment to free trade.

Fourth, the book explores the specificity of the EC/EU decision-making system. While it is marked by inertia, it is also open to change as the coalition of actors is broader than at the national level. Without the European institutions, France would definitely not have accepted the 1980s legislation on car emissions, adopted under pressure from northern countries. Germany has certainly played a central, but not dominant, role in the institutions. Usually, Bonn, and then Berlin, have had more moderate aims than both Paris and London, so the Germans were in the end closer to the final compromise. Like all actors, Germany also had to compromise on many topics (the common and single market, the CAP, monetary union, etc.).

Fifth, the UK appears in this book as a major actor, which has wielded a considerable influence on the organization of European cooperation. Since 1956, it has constantly promoted the setting of a vast free trade area, with this project popping up again regularly, notably after the 2016 Brexit vote. In this regard, Thatcher was fiercely supportive of the single market programme (which she could have vetoed) but only if it had a “deregulatory” twist. Britain has also played a crucial, if largely underestimated, role in social Europe, notably in terms of regional and environmental policy. However, as “Europe-bashing” has always been popular, this role has been largely underestimated, thus leaving Britain with the image of an “awkward partner,” a term endorsed by British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, and which was actually already used by British diplomats in 1980! In fact, new archival evidence has proven both the proactive role of the Thatcher administration in the first years of the single market programme, and its deliberate willingness to hide this enthusiasm for European integration out of internal political considerations.

Anyone interested in the history of Europe as a continent since 1945, and as a source of specific European organization (of which the European Union is one among others) should read this book, which straddles history, political science and economics. It is also worth reading for anyone interested in the evolution of economic and social policies, from inflation to gender equality and environmental protection.

Prof. Laurent Warlouzet is Professor of European History at the Sorbonne University. He was appointed associate professor at the Université d'Artois. He held postdoctoral fellowships at the European University Institute in Florence and at LSE, where he taught in the MSc History of International Relations. He has recently published the book Europe contre Europe. Entre liberté, solidarité et puissance (Paris : CNRS éditions). IACES Vice President Dr Giada Lagana asked Prof Warlouzet to tell us more about the book - with a view to speaking with him at a later date in an exclusive online event.

(The photo of 'Stop Brexit Man' Steve Bray - who features on the cover of Prof Warlouzet's book - is courtesy of Garry Knight).

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