Beyond Brexit: can the EU operate as a platform?

Article first published by Policy Network on 03 May 2016.

Can the concept of ‘platform’ offer a new way of thinking about how the EU can effectively operate?

Whatever the outcome on 23 June, the British referendum has already left a deep mark on the European Union (EU). The Brexit debate is taking place against the background of numerous serious crises directly questioning the EU’s relevance, with all leading to different conclusions. While British leaders have been criticising the EU for its regulatory and institutional overreach – “something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf”, as David Cameron put it atBloomberg in January 2013 – most voices on the continent have deplored the EU’s lack of clout and ability to impact on ‘big things’ such as immigration, socioeconomic divergences and security. This very paradox is likely to cast a long shadow on the EU’s future: some nations like it as soft as possible, while others see no other way than a political union.

Yet does it make sense to hold the EU together in the presence of such diverging projects, and can it work? In this piece I argue that the concept of ‘platform’ offers some interesting insights on how the EU could operate in the future, in a digitised world where the thirst for bottom-up initiative goes alongside the need for collaboration, data-sharing and resource-pooling.


A world celebrating autonomy and innovation

Let us start where the leave campaign want to take us in the UK. Despite their unconvincing economic argument, advocates of Brexit have done a good job of asking essential questions about democracy and global success in the twenty first century. Michael Gove has put “democratic self-government” at the top of the Brexit rationale, a perfectly reasonable principle. The leavers often take ‘small’, agile democratic nations such as Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as evidence of the possibility to flourish outside larger ensembles. They doubt the EU’s legal and institutional architecture is necessary for European nations to manage their interdependence. Why wouldn’t intergovernmental co-operation and free trade be enough?

Europeans have long answered this question. Back in the 1950s, creating a common market and embedding co-operation within supra-national institutions was seen as a condition for success and instrumental to installing peace. European nations voluntarily locked themselves in the same house and could not escape from the task of building it. After getting in, Britain did a lot to prevent the European house from aiming too high, or building the walls too thick. Instead, it promoted the idea of a large, open tent.

Continue reading “Beyond Brexit: can the EU operate as a platform?”


French labour market reform: good intentions, poor delivery

Article originally published by Social Europe on 04 April 2016.

If French politicians are serious about unemployment, they should work on an ambitious, long-term plan rather than a technocratic package

France has not been short of controversial discussions in the past few months, in a context dominated by the terrorist threat. A few days ago, President Hollande closed a painful chapter by dropping the project of constitutional revision that would have made it possible to strip convicted terrorists of French citizenship. Since then, however, the government’s labour market reform project has become the new hot potato. What is dubbed Loi El-Khomri – after the name of the labour minister – is a last-ditch attempt to tackle France’s structural problem with unemployment and demonstrate the government’s reforming credentials before the 2017 national elections. Unfortunately, the government has made a pretty poor start (with thousands on strike last week).

Why the reform?

The reasons why a reform is deemed necessary are several. The big picture is France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate at about 10 per cent. In fairness, French unemployment did not soar after the 2008 crash in the same proportions as other EU countries. However, France started from a solid 8 per cent unemployment rate, a level that has been the norm since the early 1980s. In 1992 already, Francois Mitterrand famously declared: “We have tried everything against unemployment”. Since then the French political class, right or left, has kept trying, in vain, to address France’s number one problem. Subsidised jobs, reduced working time, lower taxes for employers, easier dismissals, activation policies: none of these measures has made a substantial impact. More worryingly, youth and long-term unemployment are particularly high, and labour market dualism is real: 87 per cent of hirings are temporary contracts (2015) and, since 2000, their number has soared while those of permanent contracts have stagnated.
There are two more short-term reasons compelling Hollande to act. On the one hand, he has repeated time and again that he would not run in 2017 if he did not manage to “reverse the unemployment curve”. Yet time is running short, and the latest monthly figures have sent mixed signals at best. On the other hand, the EU has long been asking for a substantial labour market reform in France of the same calibre as Hartz IV. If he wants to keep benefiting from relative fiscal leniency and an accommodating monetary policy, Hollande needs to show some good will.

What is the reform?

The main thrust of the reform is to give more space for company-level negotiation on working time and pay in order to facilitate adjustment to new market environments. Labour legislation and the standards set at sectoral level would become less important. In other words, the bill would greatly advance internal firm flexibility – rather than modify the main parameters of French labour legislation.

In particular, firms would have the possibility to implement a lower rate of overtime pay. Today, overtime is paid at 25 per cent more for the first 8 hours (a week) and 50 per cent more beyond that, with a minimum of 10 per cent in case of a branch-level agreement. In the same spirit, employers and employee representatives could negotiate company-level agreements to adjust working time and pay in order to reach new objectives (accord de développement de l’emploi). These agreements would complement a more ‘defensive’ version (accord de maintien dans l’emploi) created in 2013, which has only been available to large firms running into difficulties. If no agreement can be reached, any trade union representing more than 30 per cent of the employees could request the organisation of a referendum within the firm.

Continue reading “French labour market reform: good intentions, poor delivery”

Three reality checks for leavers and remainers


Both camps must understand there is a difference between Europe and EU institutions if they are to mount effective referendum campaigns. (Article first published by openDemocracy on 07/03/2016)

Ahead of Britain’s in/out referendum, there is much to ponder about looking at past referendum episodes and dissecting ongoing public ambivalence vis-à-vis the EU. The history of European integration has been a bumpy and risky journey but, deep down, Europeans have never really stopped questioning the EU’s existence. Since the EU is not a state supported by a constituting demos– it never had its ‘we, the people’ moment – it has only survived by being given the benefit of the doubt. Still, the EU has proven very resilient. French and Dutch voters may have voted down the constitutional treaty in 2005, and the Greeks may have recently experienced the irony of sending a resounding ‘no’ to Brussels – but the EU continues to stand on its feet, even in the current “polycrisis”, to use Jean-Claude Juncker’s words.

Three important lessons can be drawn from the intrinsically fragile yet enduring character of the EU, which campaigners from both sides need to integrate into their campaign narratives. Continue reading “Three reality checks for leavers and remainers”

The left needs a better conversation on national sovereignty

This piece was first published by Policy Network on 22 October, and republished by Social Europe on 6 November.

Gone are the days when talking about national sovereignty was associated with backwardness and narrow-minded conservatism. Everywhere in Europe, a section of the left is standing up to reclaim this concept and explain that regaining control over one’s own country’s destiny is a priority. The debate is particularly vivid in the UK and France.

In the UK, Owen Jones popularised the idea of ‘Lexit’ (the left version of Brexit) in July, which prompted reactions by Caroline Lucas and Philip Cunliffe on the Current Moment blog. More recently, Paul Mason dubbed the EU an “undemocratic semi-superstate”. On the account of Greece’s acceptance of a third bailout package and the sidelining of Yanis Varoufakis, Jones argued that the EU was killing national democracy and that there was no space within the EU for progressive solutions. Over the summer, Jones supported Jeremy Corbyn, whose initial ambiguity over EU membership can be seen as another element of the renewed yearning for sovereignty on the left. Since then, the new Labour leader made clear he would fight for a more social Europe from within. Continue reading “The left needs a better conversation on national sovereignty”

Du bon usage de Corbyn : leçons pour la gauche française

Jeremy Corbyn a remporté une victoire éclatante, nette et sans bavure, au Parti travailliste. La page du blairisme semble définitivement tournée. La gauche de la gauche et les « frondeurs » du PS applaudissent, et il n’est pas jusqu’à certains représentants  de la gauche dite « réformiste » pour se réjouir. On a en effet pu lire un ministre du gouvernement signataire de la motion A et chargé de superviser les négociations sur le TAFTA se réjouir ouvertement sur Twitter. Pour la gauche française, tirer de cet événement historique les bons enseignements est crucial en vue de la campagne présidentielle de 2017.

Il s’agit d’abord d’éviter les conclusions hâtives.

Premièrement, sur les valeurs de gauche. Pour beaucoup, la victoire de Corbyn porte un coup mérité à la gauche de gouvernement, qui a fait passer son potentiel électoral avant la défense des idées et valeurs de gauche. Or les sociaux-démocrates et socialistes modérés n’ont jamais prétendu abandonner les idéaux et valeurs de gauche. Ils ont toujours défendu une morale combinant la justice sociale, la générosité, l’ouverture avec des valeurs de travail, d’autorité, de respect de la loi qu’ils pensent également en phase avec les préoccupations de l’électorat populaire. David Cameron a compris l’angle par lequel il attaquerait Corbyn avec beaucoup de succès: celui de la défense des travailleurs, de la « sécurité économique ». Il serait suicidaire pour la gauche d’abandonner ce terrain aux conservateurs.

Continue reading “Du bon usage de Corbyn : leçons pour la gauche française”

Voyage dans le passé ? La tentation Corbyn et la gauche européenne

Version légèrement amendée de l’article paru dans l’édition papier du Monde en date du dimanche 30 août, sous le titre “Au Labour, le phénomène Corbyn est un test pour la gauche démocratique européenne”. Jacques Munier y fait référence dans son Journal des Idées sur France Culture lundi 31 août. 

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Il n’a échappé à personne qu’un vent de révolte souffle sur la gauche depuis quelque temps. Dans la plupart des pays d’Europe occidentale, la veille garde social-démocrate est confrontée à l’émergence d’une nouvelle gauche radicale, comme si le populisme longtemps cantonné à droite avait enfin trouvé la clé du succès à gauche. La percée spectaculaire de Syriza (Grèce) et de Podemos (Espagne) pourrait laisser penser que le phénomène est limité aux pays d’Europe du Sud enfoncés dans la crise économique et sociale. Or en Allemagne, Die Linke est désormais à la tête du land de Thuringe. Au Danemark, les partis de gauche alternative ont enregistré plus de 16 % des voix aux élections législatives de juin  2015. La dernière manifestation de ce vent nouveau s’appelle Jeremy Corbyn, un parlementaire anglais de 66  ans, qui pourrait s’emparer du Parti travailliste (Labour Party) à la surprise générale.

Continue reading “Voyage dans le passé ? La tentation Corbyn et la gauche européenne”

Brexit ou réforme? L’avenir du Royaume-Uni en Europe

A l’invitation de Landry Charrier, maître de conférence à l’Université Blaise Pascal de Clermont-Ferrand, j’ai eu la chance de donner cette vidéo-conférence sur les relations entre le Royaume-Uni et l’Europe jeudi 12 mars.

La video de la conférence est disponible ici.

Parce que vous n’aurez sans doute pas la patience de m’écouter jusqu’au bout, voici les principales réflexions que je développe dans ma présentation. Les étudiants me posent aussi quelques bonnes questions a partir de 1’09’20.

1/ le rapport ambigu de Londres à la construction européenne depuis la Seconde guerre mondiale, par contraste au leadership et au sens de la “co-propriété” franco-allemande: adhésion tardive, Suez, renégociation et référendum de 1974-75, rabais budgétaire, “opt-outs” obtenus à Maastricht… Continue reading “Brexit ou réforme? L’avenir du Royaume-Uni en Europe”

Beyond the national electorate: reflections on the Greek-German stand-off

[Article first published on Policy Network’s website on 13 February 2015 and co-authored by Daniel Innerarity, professor of political philosophy and Ikerbasque researcher at the University of the Basque Country]

The EU’s legitimacy stems from the ability to intervene in national democracies when they have a negative impact on ‘outsiders’ and future generations. This principle should guide thinking over the future of European integration Continue reading “Beyond the national electorate: reflections on the Greek-German stand-off”