Crisis as a mode of governance

This week I have been engaging in a number of thought-provoking discussions with academic colleagues at the UACES annual conference, held this year in Passau. As well as my main interests in euroscepticism and in learning & teaching, I also found the Euro-crisis as a recurrent theme underlying much of what we all were looking at. In particular, the depth, scope and length of the crisis has been forcing all of us in the European Studies community to reconsider some basics of integration.

Today’s announcement by Mario Draghi of further bond buying is typical of the current situation: a policy initiative that is both substantial and yet ultimately reactive. Actors on all sides of the debate pronounce on the causes of the crisis and the solutions, without the discovery of mutually-acceptable common ground. With the financial markets providing instantaneous feedback on developments, policy makers find themselves severely constrained. This is most obviously the case in the tension between balancing short-term action to reanimate European economies and the moves to build longer-term structures that will avoid the problem happening again.

All of this leads to crisis becoming a mode of governance: the late nights, the harried press conferences, the browbeaten ‘colleagues’, the contagion of problems across policy areas. Perhaps worst of all is that all this effort goes largely unremarked by the average citizen: one colleague in Passau reported that her group of undergraduates had been very sorry not to have solved the crisis in their 2 hour simulation of the Council, not having reflected on what had happened in the real world!

This is not sustainable: too many people are too caught up in trying to find something, anything that will ease the economic, social and political pain of the situation, not taking the time to step back and look up to the wider view. I hesitate to say that academics would be important in this –¬†since they have only recently started to mobilise themselves to researching, analysing and concluding – but they can certainly play a role.

The coming months are unlikely to see a new consensus emerging, for the same reasons that a consensus has not emerged so far: domestic constraints of party politics and economic austerity, European constraints of institutional architectures, and global constraints of the markets. But it is perhaps a good point at which to think hard about how we can move away from the crisis mode to one that is less fraught and more positive.