In the wake of the Eurozone Crisis, multiple proposals have emerged to reform the governmental structure of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The EMU is perceived to have failed, not least due to a crisis of public authority. The EMU structure, based on central bank independence and fiscal rules, was unable, among other things, to effect the economic changes in the Member States on which its sustainability was to rest. The stability of the economic order embodied in the EMU framework was thus threatened by the residual political freedom of the Member States to control economic policy. During the crisis, this absence of political authority at the centre was remedied through a series of emergency measures and reforms, which have increased the availability of coercive powers at the European level and thus reduced the political freedom of the Member State governments. The reforms, however, are seen to be incomplete and EU leaders have called for the emergence of ‘European sovereignty’ or ‘a sovereign Europe’ in the context of completing the EMU. At the same time, however, a number of political parties and movements in the Member States are openly hostile this and frame their hostility in the language of ‘popular’ and/or ‘national sovereignty.’ In this paper, I address these two strands of ‘sovereignty discourses’ and how they conceptualize sovereignty. The former, I argue, sees sovereignty primarily as the capacity for effective self-government, thus stressing sovereignty in the global domain as the ability to resist being dominated by foreign powers and other forces. In doing so, however, it emphasizes the internal stability of the European political economic order over the democratic political freedom of the individual Member States in order to ensure the strength and unity of the European whole. Democratic sovereignty, in this discourse, is thereby limited to the founding moment. The discourses of national or popular sovereignty, on the other hand, see democratic sovereignty as the continuous possibility of democratic control over the order and orientation of economic policy, thus privileging political freedom over the stability of the economic order. Given that the EMU is seen to constitute a constraint on this freedom, the EMU must be reformed (or abandoned) in order to allow for democratic sovereignty to be expressed through the possibility of economic experimentation through the ordinary democratic process whether at the European or national level.
Hjalte Lokdam is a PhD Candidate in the European Institute at the LSE. His thesis is on the European Central Bank and the history and political theory of central bank independence and he is interested more broadly in questions of sovereignty in political theory and political discourses.
Robert Basedow is Assistant Professor in International Political Economy at the LSE European Institute.