Contesting Austerity – A Socio-Legal Inquiry into Resistance to Austerity
Coordinators: Anuscheh Farahat (Director of the Emmy-Noether-Research Group (DFG) "Transnational Solidarity Conflicts", Goethe- University Frankfurt a.M), Xabier Arzoz (Tribunal Constitucional)
Description of the meeting
The workshop will focus on the different types of contesting austerity measures and the interaction between institutional and civil society actors. We seek to better understand the aims, dynamics and forms of contestation. We are interested in how the various actors framed not only their goal, but also the underlying social conflict to contest austerity. We see these varieties of contestation as expressing a deeper dissatisfaction with the prevailing modes of decision-making in the era of globalization which are aptly criticized for their technocratic, managerial or post-democratic nature.
We take austerity as a working concept claiming that economic adjustment should be achieved through strictly balanced state budgets and to the detriment of public welfare and investment. Under the paradigm of austerity, economic adjustment may be achieved through public reductions in expenditure, raise in taxation, deregulation, privatization or decrease in rights and entitlements. Austerity politics aims at enhancing effectiveness, life-long learning and creativity by means of fostering precariousness.
During the Eurozone crisis major political measures announced to be transitory and exceptional have crystallized into “new normalities” enshrining a sense of persistent insecurity and lack of protection against budgetary commands. Against these policies, anti-austerity discourses started to flourish. Contestation of austerity included not only traditional activism strategies such as human rights litigation and direct democracy instruments, but also new forms of collective action and collaborative resistance. Most importantly, many of the new anti-austerity initiatives also aimed at renovating existing modes of democratic decision-making on the European and on the national, regional and local levels.
The workshop will approach three crucial fields of austerity policies to be dealt with in three panels: (1) cuts in payment and pensions; (2) labour law reform; (3) new poverty (housing and energy). In each field, we intend to trace the process of decision-making and contestation by analyzing the development in the respective field in the course of the crisis. We want to analyze these processes and their impact for the further development of democratic decision-making from three perspectives.
The first perspective will focus on institutions and their respective role in contesting austerity. While austerity has largely been predetermined at the European level, most of the concrete austerity measures have been implemented on the national level. We are interested in how far such measures have been openly contested in parliamentary debates. As the crisis continued, national courts as well as international and supranational jurisdictions have successively been called to assess the validity of austerity policies particularly as concerning minorities and vulnerable communities. We will discuss, in how far strategic litigation has been used to contest austerity. Also we want to discuss, in how far courts are appropriate to contest austerity: What can be achieved through court decisions? How do the underlying conflicts change by being articulated in the language of the law? Are there limits to the jurisdiction regarding judicial review of austerity policies, particularly when it comes to budgetary decisions? Finally, the institutional perspective also includes the role of legislators at the local and regional level. Did regions or municipalities take part in contesting austerity? Could they mitigate some of its effects and who were the relevant actors on these levels?
The second perspective focuses on democratic theory. The changing role of legislators, executives and the judiciary during the crisis provoke the question how this affects the quality of the new European polity that we are living in? The entrenchment of austerity, the mechanisms by which it is institutionalized and the discourses by which these policies are justified challenge the concept of rule of law, democratic government and political opposition. Contesting the narrative of austerity and resisting the TINA (there is no alternative) rhetoric connected to it, political representatives, activists as well as theorists expressed their dissatisfaction with how governance has developed in the era of globalization. The democratic theory perspective therefore seeks to identify how the recourse to apodictic necessity structured the debates in the three crucial fields of austerity measures and how various political and civil society actors reacted to that. Based on these observations we will discuss some more general questions: What does it mean for democratic will formation when apodictic necessities supplant political left-right-cleavages? How do accelerated, technocratic decision-making processes impact on democratic forms of conflict resolution? How can we grasp the simultaneity of politicization of the European polity on the one hand and further technocratization of its decision-making structures on the other? Do we need to further decentralize, i.e. renationalize or even regionalize decision-making to enhance effective participation under the conditions of highly contested economic policies? Or can we think of more democratic forms of transnational decision-making?
Our third perspective will focus on societal means to challenge and resist austerity. Challenges to austerity have been made by campaigners, grass-root activists, unions, charities and new social movements. These movements have in certain circumstances accomplished transformative changes. In others, they signaled popular resistance against precariousness that requires effective public attention both by national and supranational authorities. In Spain, the PAH set forth legislative changes to prevent evictions and guarantee the effective protection of the right to housing of individuals and families. Our interest here is to understand which institutional or extra-institutional mechanisms and routes social movements chose during the Eurozone crisis as well as their impact on how political agendas and conflicts have been framed in public discourse. Moreover, we want to learn how new techniques and strategies of social movements relate to established core actors of democratic politics, such as political parties and unions and why the latter experience difficulties in representing and bundling the multiple grievances and conflicts related to the crisis and the political paradigm of austerity.
All three perspectives will be taken into account in the three thematic panels. Our fourth and last panel will synthesize the three other panels, consolidating the discussions and settling on a comprehensive framework for the analysis of contestation of austerity in its different shapes and instances and the perspectives of democratic decision-making. Conclusions will be drawn, and future lines of research will be put forward.
Our experience in Oñati
Over twenty European scholars met in Oñati on 6 and 7 June 2019, at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law, for an interdisciplinary workshop on the different forms of austerity contestation and resistance. The group included legal scholars, political theorists and sociologists who together explored the political, societal and judicial implications of the Eurozone crisis and the diverse modes of contesting austerity. The coordinators of the workshop were professors Anuscheh Farahat, from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and Xabier Arzoz, from the University of the Basque Country, Spain. The workshop also counted with the support of the TSC-project, a research project on Transnational Solidarity Conflicts funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through its Emmy-Noether-Programme and led by professor Farahat.
In these two days we discussed the different ways by which contestation of austerity unfolded in different countries as well as the interaction between institutional and civil society actors. By focusing on cuts in payments and pensions, labour law reforms and news forms of poverty, we debated the different processes of decision-making and contestation of and to austerity policies. Institutional fora of resistance such as national and European courts, and other protection mechanisms were discussed, as well as civil society actors, including unions and new social movements. The prevailing modes of decision-making adopted to cope with the Eurozone crisis, featuring technocratization and depoliticization of political processes were also reflected upon.
Scholars engaged in vivid and enriching discussions, inspired by the unique academic atmosphere that Oñati exhales. The Institute offered their invaluable support in the organization of the workshop and took care of all the logistical needs. Their professionalism and dedication made our stay and discussions in Oñati a true memorable experience for which we feel very privileged.