Is neoliberalism ubiquitous? by Risto Heiskala

Q: How many Chicago economists are needed to change a light bulb?
A: None; markets take care of the job!

Q: And how many populists are needed to change a light bulb?
A: None; populist do not appreciate enlightenment!


What is neoliberalism? The simple answer is that it is market fundamentalism according to which markets are the best organizational solution to all societal needs. Thus public sectors should be made as minimal as possible and even the remaining part should be, according to the New Public Management doctrine, run as it were a private firm. Much of the economic theorizing behind that administrative paradigm made politically influential by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations in late 1970 was developed at the University of Chicago Department of Economics by scholars such as Milton Friedman.

The curios thing with neoliberalism is that it tends to co-exist with very different kind of political currents such as value conservatism as well as Clinton’s reformism in the US, right wing dictatorship in Chile, both Thatcher’s conservatism and Blair’s third-way labour in Britain and socialism-based reform movement in China (Harvey 2005). It has even been claimed one of the defining characteristics of neoliberalism is it being incomplete as a political doctrine which cannot, therefore, exist without such versatile unholy alliances as those mentioned above (Brown 2015). Therefore, it sometimes looks like neoliberalism is everywhere. For a social scientist, however, this is the starting point of analysis. Therefore, in this blog I will provide a contextualised analysis of neoliberalism within  a rudimentary scheme with twelve alternative theoretical modes for political governance.

I will start with Michel Foucault’s analysis of the neoliberalist movement (Foucault 2008). In his lecture of 1978-79, he examines old and new models of liberalism. According to Foucault, the difference is that while classical economic liberalism is always haunted by the question of how to govern enough but not too much, new forms of liberalism are no more afraid of extending public administration to various sectors of society as long as this happens with the purpose of creating and consolidating markets in every new area of society. It is this proactive administrative paradigm that we call neoliberalism.

Perceptive as Foucalt’s early analysis is, it may also be misleading because it lumps all forms of pro-market thinking into the same category. This is how it prevents from understanding an important difference between the US and UK type of market fundamentalist neoliberalism, on the one hand, and the German type of ordoliberalism (, which the EU favours as its political paradigm (Dardot & Laval 2013; Heiskala & Aro 2018. Ordoliberalism and market fundamentalism á la Frederic Hayek share the belief that markets are the best support for freedom, liberty and equal opportunities of individuals and the spread of market structures should therefore be promoted. What they do not share, however, is the neoliberal belief that markets are self-sufficient and the only form of collective coordination actually needed in a society. Instead, the ordoliberals think that markets are vulnerable. Left alone markets often yaw to monopolistic or oligopolistic balances or collapse. Therefore, it is the duty of the public authorities to constantly promote and shepherd the markets, and that is what the EU often understands as its principal political task.

In terms of welfare regimes, ordoliberal political thinking has close relationships to what Gøsta Esping-Andersen (1990) has called the Central European conservative welfare regime. Its core idea is to protect people from the turbulences of the labour market by providing publicly financed monetary resources to take care of the families and local communities, and it often ties such benefits to the labour market position of the breadwinner. This differs  from both the Anglo-American market regime, which is based on private insurance, and the Nordic Social-Democrat regime, in which benefits are universal (available for all citizens irrespective of family and labour market position), relatively generous and largely provided by the public authorities themselves.

If we extend the above model to a more general classification of governance paradigms we get a tripartition to the neoliberalist, ordoliberalist and social market economy-based paradigms. Adding state-centred societies such as the former Soviet Union brings the number of available alternative governance paradigms to four. These four can be understood as a continuum from the extreme end of market fundamentalism (neoliberalism) to the extreme end of state fundamentalism (state-centred societies) with ordoliberalism (the EU) and social market economies (the Nordic welfare states) in between. Yet the relationship of the four paradigms is not a static one. During the past forty or so years a neoliberal wave has affected everywhere: neoliberalism has strengthened its grip on the US and, especially, on the UK societies while almost all Soviet type state -centred regimes have collapsed. At the same time, both ordoliberal and social market economy based societies have adopted several market fundamentalist elements.

If the above four paradigms are cross tabulated with the three predominant forms of political hegemony, i.e., democracies, dictatorships and what could be called illiberal democracies, we get is an ideal-typical 12-field model presented below . The two first terms are probably self-explanatory but the third—illiberal democracy—needs some elaboration. It is something you get when a government, although elected legally and enjoying support of the majority of its citizens, starts to restrict the political rights of some citizens. Curiously enough, today there is an increasing number of such governments including Erdogan’s Turkey before the coup, Putin’s Russia, Orbán’s Hungary, Morawiecki’s Polandand possibly also Trump’s US. Their future prospects vary. They may go down in a coup (Egypt), turn to genuine dictatorships (Turkey) or reproduce their power in yet another election (most probably Hungary) but their anomalous nature remains: they are democracies in the sense that the government has been elected through a democratic process and enjoys the support of the majority of citizens. Yet they are not politically liberal democracies but rather dictatorships in the sense that they cruelly restrict the rights of some citizens.

Administrative paradigms Patterns of political hegemony (right or left wing)



Illiberal democracies





The US and the UK Russia Pinochet’s Chile


The EU Hungary, Poland Turkey
Social market economies Finland and other Nordic countries Fascist Italy Nazi Germany
State-centred societies Utopian socialism Cuba North Korea

I leave it for the reader to connect the rise of this curious intermediate form of political hegemony to the rise of populism, which we have seen to happen everywhere as a powerful as well as tragically misplaced popular reaction to the past forty years of neoliberal wave. Answer the question in my title: No, neoliberalism is not ubiquitous. To understand that, we need more sensitive frameworks for analysis. Yet, it seems to be a fact that the consequences of the neoliberal wave today, indeed, are everywhere!


Brown, Wendy (2015) Undoing the Demos. Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zed Books.

Dardot Pierre & Christian Laval (2013) The New Way of the World. On Neo-Liberal Society. London and New York: Verso.

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity.

Foucault, Michel (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harvey, David (2005) A Bruief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heiskala, Risto & Aro, Jari (eds) (2018) Policy Design in the European Union. An Empire of Shopkeepers in the Making? London: Palgrave


heiskala.jpg  Risto Heiskala is Professor and Director of the Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere. He completed his PhD at the University of Helsinki in 1997 and has since been Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki, Professor of Public and Social Policy at the University of Jyväskylä and Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampere. He is Member of the Board of the University of Tampere and Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. In addition to the IASR, he currently leads the Finnish research team in the project Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation (CrESSI, 2014-18, EU Frame Programme 7/Oxford University; see, the project European State Nobility and Fatal Problems (ESN, 2017-21; the Academy of Finland; and chairs the Board of the Research Centre for Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (TaSTI).

Secessions Within Federalism: A Cure for Destructive Nationalism – Catalonia and the EU by Robert Imre

Catalonia is yet another political case that demonstrates the necessity of strengthening a federal construct in the EU. Now that Britain is on the way out, and a major critic of federalism as a viable political option will no longer be present (after all, even with the ‘home nations’ and devolution, the UK never managed to progress to a federal state), it is time for the EU to embrace the politics of unity. Federalism is just such a project and various models demonstrate how multiplicities of language and identity are viable within a politically unified system.

Germany is already such a nation, with proper federal constructs set up while at the same time maintaining regional identities and smaller decision-making capacities in municipalities and city-centred politics. Certainly there are different forms of federalism, and beyond Europe, arguably two of the most successful are Australia and Canada. In both countries, various powers are devolved to the states and provinces at the sub-federal level. For example, if a state such as Western Australia sees the need to set up a trade commission/delegation to a given region or nation, it is free to do so and indeed has done just that. All Australian states have trade commissions around the world. Canadian provinces have power over immigration, and can organise their respective education and health systems at the provincial level. Sections 51 and 52 of the original British North America Act of 1867 ensured that federation would not take away from these decision-making powers, and Australian federation in 1901 kept the same sections of the constitution. Canada’s ‘repatriation’ of the BNA Act in 1982 and the subsequent additions to the original formative constitution kept these legal positions and even when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added, which is a radically progressive addition guaranteeing individual and group rights and freedoms while at the same time curtailing hate speech and incitement to violence, it still placed primacy on balancing the rights of people(s) with local(ized) governing capacities.

In the Canadian case, there have been two recent ‘internal secessions’ and an ongoing debate about Quebec. There is no space here to discuss Quebec in detail, and this is always a process of negotiation. But politics is not only about consensus. It is also about living with dissensus and finding ways to accommodate various forms of difference while, crucially, expending neither blood nor treasure. In the case of Quebec, there was almost a proper secession in which Quebecois voters sought to leave Canada and form some type of ‘sovereignty-association’. The political (and cultural, social, economic) negotiation continues and there are varying degrees of success and failure, accommodation and conflict.

The two ‘internal secessions’ I want to focus on here, can be similar to Catalonia, provided we have a stronger federal construct in the EU. Such federal constructs then manage to take away the large modern problems that nations have difficulty managing individually (the military, and other special resource distributions such as building and maintaining transportation and communication connections, fixing environmental problems, are all massive transnational undertakings). This means that states and provinces have autonomy, like Catalonia would inside a federal construct. On the first of April, 1999, the Northwest Territories split in two parts, one retaining the original name, and the other part became Nunavut, a self-governing territory with an elected legislative assembly. This was the end of a long process around land claims by local Inuit people as well as an eventual referendum. This is an important political realignment recognizing First Nations and Indigenous Peoples capacities for political life. Canada’s tenth province, and last to join confederation in 1949, sought a constitutional amendment for several years, and was successful in a name change to officially change to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001. Again, a political realignment within a federal construct meant that expressions of identity in a political territory could be negotiated with a desired change of the political designation, the actual name, of said territory. Internal negotiations not loss blood and treasure; accommodation by various political powers, not violent reactions to shifting territorial alignments; acceptance of identity claims, not rejection by powerful arms of the state.

There is much to be learned from Australian and Canadian federalism, and much to be gained by the EU, from moving in the direction of creating a type of confederation that both of those countries enjoy. It is in this way that dissensus can be managed, and secessions like Catalonia can then become viable political options without creating more political grievances that destroy nations.

Image result for Dr Robert Imre

Dr Robert Imre is currently Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere and he begins as a researcher at the Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI) later on in 2018.

‘Universal Access’? I think not! – Australia’s Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care by Zsuzsa Millei and Jannelle Gallagher

The expansion of early childhood education in Australia to allow access to a structured and play-based early learning program to all children in the year before they enter school is meant to be a universal access policy. In 2009, the Australian Government finally got involved in early childhood education, which was previously the responsibility of states. It responded to international policy comparisons and research evidence about the economic benefits of early education for later life outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children. One commitment the government made was a non-compulsory opportunity for every child in the year before they enter school to attend a 15 hours per week (or later 600 hours per year) quality learning program. This commitment presented Australia with an enormous task, although it seems comparably small to other countries, such as Finland, where all children have a subjective right to full-time early childhood education should their parents so decide and a pre-primary education program is compulsory for all 6-year-olds before they go to school.

The policy expansion was welcomed by the Australian professional community. The fulfilment of every child’s right to quality early childhood education, a hope the sector held for a long time, felt closer. Due to previous investments, some states achieved universal access relatively easier by the set target date of 2013. In NSW the task of providing the number of hours required and enrolling the targeted children collided with existing program structures and financing of preschools. Being responsible for all costs including staff salaries, covered mainly by fees collected from families, preschools’ and long day care settings’ financial viability depends on filling all available places. Universal access meant changing program structures (that might not fit with families’ schedules and needs) and prioritizing the enrolment of those children who attract subsidies from the Australian Government (4-year-olds and 3-year-olds coming from disadvantaged backgrounds). Other children’s enrolment, such as 3year-olds (from non-disadvantaged backgrounds) ceased to attract state subsidies, thus their families became full-fee payers. Questions began to arise: Where should those ‘subsidized’ children come from when early education is recognised mostly as care for working mothers’ children?; what to do when families already have accommodated their working hours around the operating hours in the context of a general shortage of places?; and how to attract families when woman often give up work due to salaries earned that are equal to child care costs?

Initially, the state government laid out its strategy to reach universal access mostly in financial terms. It offered subsidies to the enrolment of targeted children, so services enrolling them could make great differences in their budget balances. Some services (those that better understood the shifting and complicated changes required and had the financial skills to respond) more intentionally restructured provisions and enrolments to follow state policy initiatives. With these changes they hoped to increase their own viability, the security of work arrangements for staff, and to expand the number of available places. They were also worried that this extra funding will soon disappear since funding for the sector is in continuous ebb and flow, therefore sought to benefit as long as they could from it. Some directors also realised that this boost in funding makes early education accessible for those who benefit the most from it: disadvantaged children. Despite these laudable reasons and when calculations were made on the budget sheets, the situation looked less equitable and desirable. It seemed that the most beneficial budget for all concerned could only be reached through the denial of access for three-year-olds. This result, however, directly contradicts with the sector’s quest for quality early education for all. The ad-hoc enactment of federal initiatives by state agents, and their reactive rather than visionary policy-making, has worked against the very goal they set to themselves: universal access, in the general meaning of children’s rights to early education.

Hasty policy initiatives for universal access have dramatically shaped services’ everyday decision making. In the process, ethical dilemmas arose in a context where numbers – subsidies, budget sheets, balances – became important considerations. Addressing universal access through budgets put directors, perhaps unknown to them, in a more powerful position in policy making. By implementing state initiatives, they trialled possible ways of achieving universal access and kept the state bureaucracy informed about best solutions, that the state in turn followed. Thus, directors became policy formers, instead of being only adaptors.

Through the implementation of universal access, the state government acted with cynicism and lack of real commitment and vision, only to be seen that they were doing something. However, in this context, preschools have gained some unprecedented powers. In the spaces opened, their activism and lobbying for the right to young children’s quality early education can continue to strengthen. For example, with the launch of the new online reporting system, after hours can be reported, especially those weekend hours that filling out the universal access forms occupy. While the bureaucracy might respond that these are invalid numbers, if the sector keeps inputting them, the government might start to recognise them. Also working hours of sessional staff required to replace permanent staff members while they are engaged in professional development need to be inputted. These hours have to be seen by the government, since they must know what it costs to run a quality service. If the sector does not want to run services as the government runs its policy, the sector must now include these hours in budgets and let the government know.

The stories about the implementation of universal access in a NSW preschool is accessible through this link:

Our article intends to provoke further discussion, challenge settled processes, and illuminate ethical impasses so that international readers might also recognise similarities and synergies related to their own educational contexts. It also prompts Australian early childhood educators to act in this changed policy environment.

Zsuzsa Millei is a Senior Research Fellow at the IASR University of Tampere working on rethinking education theory and practice. See in detail:

Jannelle Gallagher is associated with Kurri Kurri Preschool, NSW, Australia.

Rational journalism?


Rational argumentation
s t r i k e s   b a c k

by Esa Reunanen

On 12 December 2015, a Finnish current affairs television talk show, Press Club (Pressiklubi), published on their Facebook page a parody of a comment from a viewer:

My dear producers of the talk show,

In your show, you often express opinions that differ from mine. These opinions are often also substantiated with many kinds of arguments. I don’t like this way of doing a program at all. I hope that in the future you would focus on presenting me only opinions that I already have. If you give arguments, these also should support opinions that I already have. I am especially worried because I know that everybody else except me and my friends are completely carried away by the media and they take everything said there at face value.

With best wishes, pseudonym ‘I don’t watch your program because it sucks’

P.S. One friend of mine would like you to publish more such opinions that are not supported by any evidence. Presenting this kind of opinions would be the best way to challenge the propaganda of the hegemonic media. I hope you take my friend’s wishes into consideration.

P.P.S. I know that you aren’t able to accept any kind of criticism and this is why you greet all criticism with scorn. I don’t accept any explanations for why some criticism is not sensible and why criticism should also be criticized. This has all been for your information – you poor slaves of despicable masters!

This parody, in all likelihood, resembles comments the producers have received from the viewers. It also bears semblance to social media discussions on heated topics like immigration or economic policy. People circulate texts supporting their own prejudices, and they show no interest in deviant reasoning.

On my interpretation, this parody mocks the kind of discussion just described, rather celebrating rational debate in which different opinions are evaluated by critical argumentation, and intellectual shortcomings are revealed by ironic provocation.

On a theoretical level, a similar debate takes place between supporters of the so-called deliberative (Jürgen Habermas) and agonistic (Chantal Mouffe) politics. Deliberative politics is based on rational criticism. All relevant arguments should be included in the discussion, and the relevance of the arguments should also be critically debated. Arguments can be criticized by questioning their truth and normative rightness, and the truthfulness (sincerity) of the arguer can also be criticized rationally.

Of course, criticism is a process and the outcomes are, in many ways, distorted. However, the deliberative view insists that the ideal of rationality is needed for solid criticism and democracy.

The agonistic (or constructionist) view on politics seems to deny the epistemic grounds of rational reasoning. Rationality is a rhetoric figure in the use of power. Politics is about different values and identities, and it is not possible to rationally say which opinions, values and identities are more true or right than others. What is essential in politics is disagreement, which can never be settled. People have their own truth, as exemplified in Press Club’s parody.


Professional journalism, in its ethos, largely subscribes to the idea of rational deliberative politics. It checks the facts if there is suspicion of their veracity, and it tries to bring out the different viewpoints related to the issues at hand. But journalism is not perfect. It may be cynical regarding the extent to which politics itself is rational or deliberative, and it may exaggerate political conflicts and scandals.

Journalists may also hesitate to challenge dominant beliefs because collecting the evidence might be too arduous. Alternatively, an individual journalist may want to avoid the hassle created by this type of challenge.

Regardless of these shortcomings, journalism still represents the ideals of rational public debate and deliberation. In the midst of clearly propagandist and misleading information in the Internet, people seem to have recognized the value of professional journalistic effort. In a recent survey by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), the share of those trusting in Yle news increased from last year’s 88% to 92%. For the biggest daily, Helsingin Sanomat, the share increased from 64% to 72%.*

It seems that agonistic politics is not enough for citizens. Rational argumentation and the deliberative search for common good is striking back.



Happy holidays!

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Happy holidays!
by Jessica de Bloom

The end of the year is approaching and most of us are eager to start the Christmas holiday in order to recover from busy working weeks. Deadlines at work, Christmas shopping and numerous “pikkujoulut” may leave one desperate for some rest and relaxation. We may want to believe that Christmas holidays do wonders, making us return to work with new energy and inspiration. But is this thought actually grounded in scientific evidence? Or can we compare the idea to children’s belief in Santa Claus?

According to research, there are two mechanism that explain why vacations can positively affect people’s well-being and health: an active and a passive mechanism (Geurts & Sonnentag, 2006; De Bloom, 2012). According to the effort-recovery model (Meijman & Mulder, 1998) and the allostatic load theory (McEwen, 1998), a vacation from work reflects a direct release from daily exposure to job demands.

Removal of the demands previously put on an individual’s psychobiological systems is a necessary prerequisite for recovery to occur (Sonnentag, 2001). In other words, a holiday is salutary, because we do not have to work or experience common stressors at work, such as high work load, time pressure or minor conflicts of interests with colleagues, clients or supervisors.

But holidays do much more than removing strain. According to the conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll & Shirom, 2001), self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and broaden- and -build theory (Fredrickson, 2001), humans are ‘masters of their own fate’ who can actively and freely pursue their own interests and intentionally strive for desirable outcomes. Vacations provide working people with an opportunity to build and maintain social relationships, and engage in pleasant activities of their own choice.

So much about theory. How about practice?

In general, empirical research has shown that vacations positively affect employee health and well-being (De Bloom, 2009). For instance, diverse studies following employees before, during and after different types of vacations demonstrated that levels of self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, health, mood and energy improve during holidays. At the same time, levels of tension, fatigue and stress hormone secretion decrease (e.g., Chen & Petrick, 2013; Etzion, 2003; Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006; Gretz & Stick, 1993; Toda et al., 2004).

In addition, couples report higher quality conversations with each other and families feel that their communication and family cohesion improves (Durko & Petrick, 2015; Lehto, Lin, Chen & Choi, 2012). However, these effects are generally short-lived and often fade out within the first week after returning to work (De Bloom et al., 2009).

phd092809s_for Jessica blog

*   *

Given what we have said above, some people may wonder whether it makes sense to take vacations if the effects disappear so rapidly. Should we stop sleeping, because we will get tired again? Should we stop eating, because we get hungry again? You get the point.

There is, however, scientific evidence that not taking regular vacations is harmful to your health. For instance, two epidemiological studies following healthy people for several years found that not taking vacations for a prolonged period of time is associated with an enhanced risk to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and even die prematurely (Eaker, Pinsky & Castelli, 1992; Gump & Matthews, 2000).

In addition, studies have shown that recovered workers are more eager to engage in organizational citizenship behavior (i.e., behaviors that benefit an organization such as helping co-workers or volunteering for additional tasks; e.g., Binnewies, Sonnentag & Mojza, 2009). Furthermore, an experimental study using an idea generation task before and after a vacation period suggests that vacations increase cognitive flexibility (De Bloom et al., 2014). Consequently, employees who return to work after a vacation are more likely to consider different aspects of a problem and avoid relying on conventional ideas and routine solutions.

With this in mind, enjoy your Christmas holiday, good company and delicious food! Speaking about food and holidays: it is normal to return to work after the holiday with a few pounds extra on your hips (Roberts & Mayer, 2000).

I’m looking forward to seeing you after the holidays relaxed, with new, creative ideas in mind.

Merry Christmas and a “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” (which literally translates into: a good glide into the next year) as we say in German!

Migrant Crisis & Germany


Reflections on German Nationalism and the ‘Migrant Crisis’ in Europe
Text by Robert Imre, Photos by Heikki A. Kovalainen

Editor’s Note: In the article, Robert Imre, Senior Researcher at IASR, takes up the case of Germany with regard to the potential avenues of multiculturalism. A brief discussion is offered as to how Germany distinguishes itself from other European nation states in its response to the global “Migrant crisis.” A further question is raised as to whether Germany’s incipient success with multiculturalism may be seen to share parallels with the liberal-pluralist migrant societies of Australia and Canada.

One of the most interesting aspects of the recent European summer has been that so many migrants and asylum seekers have publicly stated that Germany is their country of destination.

Creating a pathology of migration has made it quite easy for government officials all over the continent to revert to paranoias of the ‘other’, rebuild borders long-forgotten, and ignore real and more serious policy problems. In the midst of all this stands Angela Merkel, a serious political persona opposed to the populists, and making concerted attempts to convince those around her to take in comparatively large numbers of migrants.

There are a number of related problems political, social and economic here, and I can only deal with a very small aspect of this, and one of the things I find most interesting is the changing nature of Germany.

For example, as in successful multicultural countries such as Australia and Canada, it is rare to find ‘ghettoes’ in Germany. Certainly there are areas that appear more affluent, and those areas where co-ethnics have grouped together, but there is nothing like the collapse of living standards we see in certain places in Belgium and France. Even Sweden – the only European country with an official multicultural policy – has areas that are approaching the infamous banlieues of Paris. This is quite rare in Germany and in many of the cities and suburban areas there is much more mixing of peoples going on.

Is Germany, then, a ‘proper’ multicultural nation like Australia and Canada? Our experience in multicultural nations tells us that social mobility is the key to breaking down barriers among pre-determined ethnic and religious groups. Once the social mobility is achieved, the dynamics of the society become quite different. And this is precisely where Germany might well be moving away from other European countries.


There is of course still the question of the German far-right. A key point to remember about Germany is that conservative parties have been very careful to dissociate themselves from far-right nationalists. This is unlike what has happened in a variety of countries such as France, UK, Hungary, and even Australia. In those countries, among others, far-right nationalists have been able to influence conservative politicians and even policy-makers, to shift political agendas into this right-wing territory. This is not happening in Germany and the far-right remains isolated and very small.

Recent events might even point to the dynamic that many such social movements have experienced: the violent dying stages of a single-issue protest group. In almost every case, their rallies are ridiculed and outnumbered, and with almost no connection to any electoral success, they will not be anywhere near political decision-making processes.

Thriving multicultural nations with official multicultural policies such as Australia and Canada are always able to deal with the fact that wealthy countries will have birthrates below replacement level coupled with the need to increase tax revenues. This is achieved, in part, by having a regular migration intake that has immediate permanent residency, and very short timeframes for citizenship applications. A number of small cities throughout Germany have mayors who have claimed outright that they wish to have more people join their cities and are happy to have migrants from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, Germany already has people from these parts of the world living there, and depopulated German cities are set up with available housing and infrastructure – they need workers and taxpayers, families and individuals, to move in and work, pay taxes, and get on with their lives.

This is the same problem throughout Europe and migration would be a solution, both long-term and short-term, as evidenced by the migrant societies of Australia and Canada. A vast majority of German denizens seem to agree with this and can see the sense in the progressive move of finally shedding the 19th Century view of a mono-lingual, mono-cultural, mono-ethnic, nation-state, that so many European political leaders are trying to force their polities back in to.

So is ‘German nationalism’ starting to look like the liberal pluralism of Australia and Canada? Are we seeing a Germany that will leave the rest of Europe behind, shedding the repressive cloak of ethno-nationalism for the progressive liberal-pluralism of other successful migrant societies? Perhaps this current ‘crisis’ of migration will be the test for the ‘German’ population and policy-makers and political leaders of the German state.

Sep ’15: Can the EU Survive?


Can the European Union survive?
Text by Risto Heiskala, (based on the
IASR Lecture in September, 2015)
Brussels Photos by Mika Kukkonen

Editor’s note: In the article, the Director of the Institute for Advanced Social Research, Professor Risto Heiskala, discusses the current standing of the European Union from four perspectives: ideology, economy, military and political organization. First, the values of the EU are briefly analyzed vis-à-vis the key treaties of the Union. A discussion of the Union’s chief challenges is then preceded by a few observations on its achievements. While no clear stance is taken on whether the EU will survive or not, an alternate discussion of both the achievements and the challenges facing the EU creates an image not entirely pessimistic.

Following its origins in a coal and steel union of six countries in 1952, a succession of international treaties and waves of enlargement have transformed The European Union into its present form. Now the Union has 28 member states and 508 million inhabitants – which can be regarded as a noteworthy expansion not least because of the violent history of the continent. Following the collapse of European empires at the end of World War II, the establishment and consolidation of the union has finally brought peace to Europe, which is a major achievement in itself.

Insofar as the EU was originally initiated as a peace plan for Europe, this plan has worked. But there are other difficult challenges the EU is committed to tackle. According to the Europe 2020 Strategy, the union promotes smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. The Treaty of Nice (2001) stresses that the internal workings and trade policy with third parties of the union are guided by the values of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

The union’s original trade union roots have left an abiding trace on the EU. It still rings correct to describe the EU with the words of Mark Eyskens (the former foreign minister of Belgium) from 1991: Europe is an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm. To tackle its ambitious objectives, however, the EU must develop its capabilities of coordinating the joint efforts of the member states in several sectors.

It is all but clear whether the union is capable of doing this. The considerable economic tensions may shift the union towards a federal state but may equally well break it up – or erode it into something less significant. The challenges need to be met at least in the sectors of ideology, economy, military force, political organization, infrastructures and environment.

Ideologically, the values codified in the Treaty of Nice are widely shared among the EU citizens. They are also enforced inside the union and its trade negotiations with third parties. However, enforcement of the values is incomplete both internally (Austria went through the process a few years ago, but Hungary has avoided all sanctions) and with third parties (the recent negotiations with Turkey being an example). There also remain challenges among the citizens regarding the values of nationalist populism, racism and fundamentalism, whether Muslim or Christian.


Economically, the EU is a giant, the economies of the member states being already deeply intermingled – and the integration process still goes on. Austerity policies on the union level and in the member states, however, have deepened the European recession, and the inability of the member states to share burdens has created unnecessary tragedy in the Mediterranean member states.

The Euro, a joint project of 19 of the member states, is still an incomplete currency, which limits the benefits that would be available in the wake of the strengthening of its position as a global reserve currency alongside or even instead of the US dollar.

But the most important problem is that the EU still follows the path chosen in its birth that was characterized by the German ordoliberal understanding that all social matters can and should be treated as economic. Thus the Union treats inequality, for instance, primarily as a matter of limited possibilities to participate in the labor market – and education is understood in a similar vein.

Surely, participation in the labor market does play a role in questions of education and inequality, but that is not all there is to them. In order to be able to face the future mega-challenges in regard to the problems of inequality and environmental hazards, the economic closure needs to be gradually replaced with a more openly political and ideological framework.

Militarily, the joint expenditure of the member states was USD 275 billion in 2014. This is a high figure, making up about half (i.e. 45 %) of the comparative expenditure of the US and more than three times (i.e. 327 %) that of Russia. Yet the key difference is that the EU army comes in 28 packages (the most important of these being the armies of the nuclear arm states of France and the UK). There is great need, then, for better military coordination.

Geopolitically, the last three waves of expansion of the union (in 1995–2013) amount to an invasion into the peripheral areas of the former Soviet empire, and Russia is reacting accordingly in Ukraine and elsewhere. Therefore, the EU would need an army of its own – which is not, however, currently in sight. Instead, the EU does what it has always done since the World War II: it leans on the US through NATO. This reduces costs but is dangerous because the US may have different interests in Europe than most of the EU member states.


In terms of political organization, the EU could be more integrated than it is. The Commission, the Parliament, the European Council and the European Central Bank form a relatively coherent decision making system through which it is possible to promote joint projects, but the major problem is the establishment of joint projects. In difficult situations, these take on the shape of ad hoc negotiations, which have recently been increasingly run by Germany.

Another problem is the small size of the central bureaucracy consisting of only about 1% of the GNP of the EU area and some 30,000 eurocrats located mainly in Brussels. But this bureaucracy, which is about the same size of the French Ministry of Agriculture, is a relatively efficient machinery to coordinate national bureaucracies. In these attempts, it is supported by the fact that membership negotiations with the EU make the new membership candidates to reformulate some two thirds of their national legislation according to the union’s directives and, therefore, there is a relatively unified legal code in all of the EU countries.

Yet another problem results from the weak mass support for the union. The EU is changing the national political environments, and as a consequence a division of citizens to Euro winners and Euro losers is taking place all over Europe. This is reflected in the fact that roughly one third of the MPs making it to the European Parliament in the last election were Eurosceptic, and this happened in a situation in which the voter turnout was as low as 42.5%.

In contrast, it is important to note that two thirds of the MPs still stand for European integration, and in comparison, the turnout percentage is not much higher in the federal elections of the US. Minimal conditions of the legitimacy of the union are, therefore, still met but the margin is not wide and one can ask how long this will be the case.

In regard to infrastructures and environment, the EU has problems with the aging population – and whether these can be solved with greater migration remains to be seen. There are further shortcomings in the lack of self-sufficiency of energy sources, a great deal of which come from Russia – and the transportation system, which would need great investments in the future. An overall problem, in addition, is that the European innovation system still lags behind the US both in regard to knowledge production and the availability of venture capital for new business ideas.

The biggest problems, in the end, have to do with the climate change and other environmental issues. The problems are global and the EU is by no means the worst villain in this issue, but the actual fact is that actions taken are by far insufficient in regard to the seriousness of the problems.

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If these are the challenges, can the EU meet them or will it break up or erode into something insignificant? The stakes are high and nobody knows the answer, but what we do know is that the challenges of increasing inequality and the emerging environmental crisis give us reason to anticipate some kind of improvement. An EU that would be stronger and more united than the current one would provide one solution. We need to hope that this or some other respective form of policy coordination will emerge. This is the case simply because the problems we are facing are such that no nation state is a unit big and strong enough to be able to solve them alone.