Wolfgang Streeck: European Union as a Transformative Power? Capitalism, Democracy and Modernization at Europe’s Periphery

The debt problem in European countries reflects a specific relationship between modern states and societies on the periphery of Europe that have become stuck, partly or wholly, in pre-modern social structures and lifeways. In addition, this relationship is furthermore complicated by deep divisions between advanced and backward regions in the same country or, in quasi-feudal areas, huge concentrations of old wealth which coexist with widespread rural poverty and stagnation. What is not so visible is that there is also a lot of oppression by local elites with more or less close connections to the legal and illegal markets offered by modern capitalism, not to mention the political parties of the modern state. To be able to catch up with capitalist modernity, these societies would in the past have needed social revolutions to expropriate the old money and clear the way for the new money of middle-class industrial entrepreneurs. One of the tools of that policy was admission of Greece, Portugal and Spain, first into the European Union, and then into Monetary Union. This puts peripheral countries at the mercy of the national power games and the moral and semantic ethnocentrisms of countries at the centre, which are hard to decipher for. The lecture will address the role of European Union, underlying Germany’s identification of the ‘European idea’ with the single European currency in maintaining countries of Europe’s periphery in the monetary trap in which they have moved themselves when joining the common currency.

Wolfgang Streeck (1946) is Emeritus Director of Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany. He was professor of sociology at the University of Cologne and of sociology and industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has previously held positions in Frankfurt, New York, Münster, Florence, Berlin and many others. Wolfgang Streeck is an Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics and a member of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences as well as the Academia Europaea. He is also Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy since 2016. Among many books, we select recent ones: Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2014), Politics in the Age of Austerity (2013), Re-Forming Capitalism: Institutional Change in the German Political Economy (2009).