For years now, party-based Euroscepticism has been broadly conceived – various taxonomies notwithstanding – as either in favour of reforming the EU ‘soft Euroscepticism’ or leaving it altogether ‘hard Euroscepticism’. It has been particularly so in the case of Euroscepticism on the left. However, in a recent article for the Journal of Common Market Studies, I argue that a new type of Euroscepticism, which transcends this dichotomy, emerged in the context of the Eurozone crisis of the previous decade. I call it Disobedient Euroscepticism.
Euroscepticism has been a long-standing feature among radical left parties (RLPs). If in the early stages of European integration, virtually all RLPs opposed it as an inherently capitalist and ‘imperialist’ project, after 1989 most of them softened their position and adopted a fundamental, albeit still critical, commitment to European integration. Thus, today only a handful of parties are ‘hard Eurosceptic’, explicitly advocating the withdrawal of their countries from the EU and the restoration of full national sovereignty. Most RLPs display a ‘soft Eurosceptic’ position: opposing what they deem to be the EU’s neoliberal institutions and policies but aiming to change them from within. Keith further classifies this soft Euroscepticism into ‘Conditional’, which favour a reformation of the EU through the return of some prerogatives to the nation-state, and ‘Expansionist’, which envisions such a reform the other way around – through further integration, including policies such as EU-level taxes or minimum wage.
However, the Eurozone crisis of the early 2010s – which saw levels of Euroscepticism increase particularly in the most affected member states – has had an impact on how RLPs relate to the EU, not the least by enhancing the divisions among them on this issue. As part of these processes, I argue, a new type of Euroscepticism has emerged that does not correspond to any of the taxonomies in the current literature. It came under the form of ‘Plan B for Europe’ – a transnational initiative started in 2016 by several prominent RLPs, including Parti de Gauche (France), Die Linke (Germany), Red-Green Alliance (Denmark), Bloco de Esquerda (Portugal) or Podemos (Spain). It emerged in the wake of the deal between the left-wing government led by SYRIZA in Greece and the so-called ‘Troika’, in July 2015, which saw the former abandon most of the anti-austerity pledges that it had won the elections with. Describing that deal as a ‘financial coup’, the statement of Plan B’s first summit in Paris called on the European left to adopt – when in government – a new, two-fold strategy in relation to the EU: a plan A and a plan B.
The plan A would amount to a comprehensive renegotiation of the European Treaties to make them more compatible with left-wing policies. The latter would include, for example, ECB-funded job creation through public investment, organising a pan-European audit of national debts, or tackling tax competition and social dumping by introducing an EU-wide minimum corporate tax. This renegotiation, however, would be coupled with “a campaign of civil European disobedience towards arbitrary European practices and irrational ‘rules’ until that renegotiation is achieved”.
At the same time, the likelihood for such renegotiation and disobedience to fail is acknowledged, hence the need for a plan B, which would entail preparing for the exit from the Eurozone and the creation of a new monetary system. Indeed, the exit from the EU itself was mentioned as a distinct possibility in Plan B’s subsequent summits – a possibility deemed as preferable to the kind of U-turn performed by the SYRIZA government in 2015. The last summit, held in Lisbon in November 2017, did so most explicitly:
if our conditions are not fulfilled, we will apply it [sic] unilaterally in each of our countries … open the way for a breakup with the Eurozone and the EU Treaties and launch a new system of European cooperation based on the restoration of economic, fiscal and monetary sovereignty, the protection of democracy and social rights and social justice.
Some of the RLPs involved in this initiative tried to convert it into a transnational political movement ahead of the 2019 European elections. Entitled “Now, the people!”, the new project similarly called for a “break from the straitjacket of EU treaties that impose austerity and promote fiscal and social dumping” and “a new organisational project for Europe. A democratic, fair and equitable organisation that respects the sovereignty of peoples”.
However, neither Plan B, nor its spin-off really took off, with the latter’s last recorded activity on its website dating back to July 2019. Indeed, with the partial exception of Podemos in Spain, none of the participating RLPs has yet come into government to test the approach proposed by Plan B. Nevertheless, I argue that this approach is relevant, both conceptually and politically.
Conceptually, it displays two novel features that distinguishes it from any other type of Euroscepticism currently acknowledged by the literature. First, while all existing types oppose certain aspects of how the EU is currently run, this is the first to put forward a strategy of disobedience towards the rules and practices it opposes. Second, this new approach transcends the long-standing dichotomy in the taxonomy of Euroscepticism between calling for a reform of the EU and calling for leaving the EU: Plan B aims for the former while preparing for the latter. Thus, its approach can be best described as Disobedient Euroscepticism and should be added – both as a distinct type and attribute – to Keith’s framework, as suggested in the table below. Furthermore, the explicit internationalist dimension of Plan B’s approach – as illustrated in the quote above – also challenges the tendency among some scholars to virtually conflate RLPs’ opposition to the EU to that of the nationalist right (already challenged by previous research).
Politically, despite its lack of implementation, Disobedient Euroscepticism is displayed by some of the most important RLPs in the EU today, particularly Bloco, La France Insoumise and the Red-Green Alliance. A potential avenue for further research would be to see whether Disobedient Euroscepticism is consistently reflected in the agenda of all the parties that constitute Plan B/Now the People and how that may interact with their internal frictions over programme and strategy, as well as with their transnational co-operation on the left. The latter, in particular, is primarily hampered precisely by divergences over the question of Europe.
Finally, while Disobedient Euroscepticism as formulated by Plan B is decidedly progressive and internationalist, its strategy of disobedience could also be adopted by right-wing parties, particularly those with a rather ambivalent stance towards the EU. Thus, future research could also go beyond the RLP party family and assess Disobedient Euroscepticism’s potential similarities and differences with Euroscepticism on the right. The economic and political repercussions of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and other persistent challenges, may well render Disobedient Euroscepticism as a strategic choice for parties in government over the coming years.
This blog draws on the JCMS article Plan B for Europe: The Birth of ‘Disobedient Euroscepticism’?
Vladimir Bortun earned his PhD in 2019 at the University of Portsmouth with a project on transnational cooperation among left parties. He is currently (2019-2022) a postdoctoral researcher on the ERC project MIGRADEMO, hosted by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, which explores the relation between migration and democratic diffusion.