No match made in heaven: Parliamentary sovereignty, EU over-constitutionalization and Brexit

Susanna K. Schmidt (University of Bremen, photo credit: Lukas Klose)

The British electorate’s choice to leave the EU has been tied to a lack of European identity among the British public, high unemployment rates in some areas of the United Kingdom, as well as voters’ education and income. In her article “No match made in heaven: Parliamentary sovereignty, EU over-constitutionalization and Brexit” published as part of Journal of European Public Policy’s special issue on “The Brexit Policy Fiasco”, Susanne Schmidt argues that existing accounts explaining the Brexit referendum overlooked an important institutional factor. Susanne argues that the EU’s political system, riding on integration through European law interpreted and enforced by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), has always stood in stark contrast to the United Kingdom’s polity, with strong roots of parliamentary sovereignty and majoritarian decision-making. Focusing on one of the most politicized policy-fields in the context of the Brexit decision, Susanne traces how the CJEU’s case law gradually constitutionalised the EU’s policy-making on intra-EU migration, imposing limits on Member States’ majoritarian decision-making. Ironically, in light of its common-law tradition the United Kingdom’s administration ranked among the most effective compliers with EU law, magnifying the tension between EU law’s constraints on political decision-makers and the United Kingdom’s tradition of parliamentary sovereignty. Susanne’s analysis shows that recognizing the institutional mismatch between the EU’s and British political systems “is necessary to understand why ‘taking back control’ could resonate so easily with British voters.”

The threat of social decline: income inequality and radical right support radical right support

Sarah Engler (University of Zurich) & David Weisstanner (University of Oxford)

Recent research has sought to identify the drivers of the rise of radical right parties (RRPs) across Western democracies. Several observers point out that RRPs appeal to those who feel left behind in the course of globalisation, suggesting a link between rising income inequality and a surge in RRPs’ electoral prowess. In their article “The threat of social decline: income inequality and radical right support radical right support” recognized with the CES/JEPP Political Economy and Welfare Best Paper Prize 2019, Sarah Engler and David Weisstanner offer a novel perspective on the complex relationship between income inequality and voters’ support for RRPs. Increasingly unequal societies not only see a larger share of voters actually experience relative deprivation, voters higher up in the hierarchy also fear a steeper social decline. Sarah and David provide evidence from 14 OECD countries between 1987 and 2017 suggesting that RRPs’ stance against globalisation and rhetoric pitting natives against immigrants resonates particularly with middle-income workers concerned about protecting their status in the social hierarchy. Their analysis emphasizes the importance of looking beyond indicators of voters’ experience of actual decline, as “the voting behaviour of individuals higher up in the social hierarchy is even more crucial to understanding how income inequality fuels RRP support.”

Austerity and the path of least resistance: how fiscal consolidations crowd out long-term investments

Olivier Jacques (McGill University)

In the aftermath of economic crises and recession, fiscal austerity has been the measure of choice across many OECD countries. Against the backdrop of counter-cyclical spending and costly bailouts, governments need to make tough choices to keep their budget sheets balanced. In his article “Austerity and the path of least resistance: how fiscal consolidations crowd out long-term investments” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Olivier Jacques analyses how governments choose which types of state expenditure fall victim to fiscal austerity. Drawing on budget data from 17 OECD countries between 1980 and 2014, Olivier shows that governments implementing fiscal austerity programmes tend to protect policies that enjoy broad support among their constituencies, such as health care expenditures and pensions. On the flipside, expenditures delivering societal benefits exclusively in the future, including investments into infrastructure as well as research and development, are more likely to be scaled back in the course of fiscal austerity programmes. Olivier warns that governments’ tendencies to prioritize short-term benefits over policies producing long-term gains “reduces the proportion of public investments that would benefit future generations, generating concerns about intergenerational equity.”