Polanyi in Brussels: European institutions and the embedding of markets in society
This paper returns to Karl Polanyi and to the logic of his The Great Transformation to understand some otherwise puzzling contradictions in the construction of the European single market. On the one hand, the European project appears to look to the creation of a single market that is detached from national political economies, whether these are liberal or coordinated; on the other, European institutions appear to work towards the embedding of markets in society. Our use of the Polanyian term ‘embed’ may surprise readers who have come to think of the EU as a fundamentally disembedding agency, through the priority it accords to economic efficiency. But although the central rationale for the EU is to foster freedom of movement in goods, services, and productive factors, we see the EU as multivocal, reflecting essentially political logics, and not easily reduced to the institutional expression of market liberalization. We use a series of cases from the European Court of Justice’s treatment of free movement of labour to describe the lineaments of a movement/countermovement interaction at the transnational level not unlike the one that Polanyi discerned in England at the national level in the early 19th century.
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