The discussions of the conference pointed at an ambivalence in the perception of the concept of crisis: on one hand, there are challenges in the EU´s current situation. On the other hand, is it really fitting to term this “crisis”?
What does the concept of crisis mean?
- a decisive turning point in a development,
- the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease,
- an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life.
The inflationary use of crisis.
The first set of presentations highlighted an inflationary use of the concept, especially in the context of the current situation in the EU. These presentations accordingly questioned the usefulness of the concept as an analytical category, since the term crisis implies that every conflict has a terminal character and may potentially be destructive. In that sende the notion of “crisis” is misleading in the current EU situation. What is often called “crisis” rather is an element of the European integration process. In this process, regularly critical moments, pauses, stagnations and conflicts occurred (e.g. the “empty chair crisis” in the 1960s).
Critical moments seem to be a characteristic of EU interaction. The EU in this sense should be considered as a site of conflicts that may also have integrative rather than merely destructive effects. This position also takes a stance against the established and traditional teleological thinking of EU integration theory in which EU integration always and continuously leads to an “ever closer union”.
Crisis symptoms of representative democracy in the EU. The second set of presentations pointed out that the EU and liberal representative democracy indeed face several (severe) problems that need to be taken into account and that might justify the use of the term crisis as an analytical concept. The crucial points mentioned in this respect are:
The EU supports de-democratisation through expertocracy and technocratisation
Wiesner and Macchiarelli highlighted and discussed the legitimacy crisis of the EU embedded in expert decision making as it is to be found for instance within the ECB and the Troika. Yet, Bouza and Schmidt-Wellenburg argued that also new participatory practices settled in and expertise became politicized. Garcia Guitan argued that the perspective of a compound system of representation allows a new assessment of the EU´s democratic deficit .
The populist challenge to the EU-Institutions
Wiesner, Vormann, Schmidt-Gleim and Kauppi referred to the role of populism as a factor of crisis. Populism comes along with illiberal tendencies (Vormann), it transforms political discourse in a de-democratising manner (Schmidt-Gleim) and it is rooted in a crisis of representation and social injustice as we can learn from the example of the Gilet Jaunes movement (Kauppi).
Autocratic leaders in the EU
Vormann reminded the audience that in the EU several member states have political leaders with autocratic tendencies. International trends towards illiberalism have repercussions in Europe.
See presentations Vormann
Declining social cohesion.
Vormann argued that liberal democracies produce tensions rooted in the cleavages between social liberalism and economic liberalism. Kauppi highlighted the social segregation in France. Wiesner referred to the Financial crisis as a motor of social segregation.
Vormann pointed out that the crisis symptoms of representative democracy are transnational and cannot be restricted to being a local phenomenon. Wolf argued that Europe has been and is an international power and should take this role into account. Haapala showed how ideas of supranationalism have changed due to European debates linked with “crisis talk”.
Exclusion and/in discourse
Simon, Palonen, Klemm and Schmidt-Gleim stated that social developments are always related to discourses. Not only crisis talk, but also teleological conceptions of the EU integration (Simon), the production of an “Us” and “them” imaginary through political discourse (Schmidt-Gleim), the crisis as a manipulative political tool (Palonen) and the role of critique as a trigger of social movements (Klemm).
Is crisis an appropriate label?
Regarding these problem fields, it seems worthwile to ask again whether the concept of “crisis” – rather than being used as an analytical category – can it still serve as an appropriate label in some cases, and if so, in which ones?
- Can the concept of crisis illuminate a problematique in a way no other concept can do?
- Is crisis an essentially contested concept that transforms its meaning due to context and history?
- And if so, can it still have an analytical value (like the concept of democracy), in the sense of a decisive turning point that marks the end of the world as we know it?