Revolving doors and the European Commission

Far from being exceptional, the recent hiring of former Commission President José Manuel Barroso and former Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes serve as reminders that Europe is the testing-ground for a new kind of state, where the borders between public and private are structurally porous.

José Manuel Barroso at Goldman Sachs, Nelly Kroes at Uber’s “Public Policy Advisory Board” (sic.)…. These two incidences of headhunting at the very top of the European Union are certainly spectacular. But it would be wrong to see them as simple one-off deviations from the norm, linked respectively to his ideological stance (neoconservative) and her professional orientation (routinely switching between political office and the boards of large corporations). They in fact reveal the ordinary functioning of a European policy that has been flourishing for over two decades, and which we could call the “neoliberal” revolving door.

These two “defectors” are actually doing in “private” exactly the opposite of what they were required to do in “public”, playing on “interpretations”, “exemptions” and “exceptions” to undo what they previously sought to establish: the proper functioning of European rules governing the Single Market, competition and budgetary deficit limits. This is not so far removed from the classic meaning of “revolving doors”, prevalent in 1970s France, which linked high government to industrial and financial groups in strategic sectors or close to public procurement bodies. This powerful collusive network was an extension of the State’s preeminence, appointing high authorities to coordinate France’s “mixed economy”.

This is not the case in the European Union, which has never been a “productive State”, nor an economic actor (its budget is barely worth 1% of Europe’s GDP). The EU has primarily carved out its specific form of statehood and public authority by developing a “liberal interventionism” that favours economic freedoms and “undistorted” competition. The EU has done so by presenting itself as the “chief organiser” of private markets, from DG Competition to the Court of Justice.

And this market-making state forged within EU institutions has quickly spread to European states, which have drastically remodeled their administrative structures.

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