As the authors Magnus Ryner and Alan Cafruny state in The European Union and Global Capitalism, ‘this book offers the first synthetic introduction to perspectives on the EU from a critical political economy [CPE] viewpoint’ (p. 3). It does so brilliantly. It uses the multiple crises facing the EU – the annexation of Crimea in the Ukraine, the euro debt crisis, and the refugee/migrant crisis – to examine the deeper ‘limitations, contradictions, and crisis tendencies’ of EU integration. Ryner and Cafruny have produced a text which should be at the forefront of shaping debates on the future of Europe’s political economy.
The book is essentially constituted by three sections. The first focuses on the key theoretical debates surrounding EU integration. Critiquing the ‘sanitised, idealised, and teleological assumptions’ that shape liberal and realist (and their more contemporary variants) analysis, Ryner and Cafruny shift attention to the possibilities offered by neo-Marxism and neo-Gramscian perspectives. The second section of the book then applies this critique and their alternative. There is a focus on a range of key topics, both important in their own right, but also developed in a complementary manner to create a coherent whole. These include: the origins and development of European Monetary Union (EMU) and how this shaped trajectories towards the euro crisis; the history and role of welfare state capitalism(s) and the future of the ‘social dimension’ of EU policy; and the cohering of an EU ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ as integration has deepened and widened. The third section then shifts attention to a global scale. It analyses how EU integration and European capitalism has been, and continues to be, shaped under the ‘shadow’ of U.S. hegemony, and the EU’s interaction with the global south, both in its near eastern and southern neighbourhood and beyond when focusing on the ‘question of China’.
The text ends on a pessimistic note about the possibility of pursuing more socially equitable and just routes out of the crises identified. Given the analysis which precedes it, this is a legitimate conclusion. However, there is no systematic engagement with debates about the role of various ‘transnational protest groups’. Through a greater engagement with actors and actions that both resist and develop alternatives, the argument that such groups face an almost insurmountable set of ‘structural limitations’ would be more convincing. Without it, we are left with a domination-oriented analysis which has been well critiqued in recent years, but is not recognised, for example see Nikolai Huke, Mònica Clua-Losada and David Bailey on ‘Disrupting the European Crisis: A Critical Political Economy of Contestation, Subversion and Escape’.
This post was previously posted in Political Studies Review