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New Left Review I/174, March-April 1989

John Grahl and Paul Teague

The Cost of Neo-Liberal Europe

Throughout the present decade, neo-liberal economic strategies—interacting with intense competitive pressures on world markets—have sought to remodel the capitalisms of Western Europe. [*] This article is a slightly revised version of a paper presented to the International Conference on Regulation Theory, in Barcelona, in June 1988. In the context of mass unemployment the drive towards a renewed subordination of workforces has found unity and direction in the demand for labour flexibility, while deregulation, trade union reform, tax reductions, have worked to widen the field of action for business enterprises, now revalued socially and culturally to become not only indispensable instruments of economic progress but even privileged sources of value and meaning. [1] See R. Boyer, ed., La Flexibilité du travail en Europe, Paris 1986; B. Cassen, ‘Un Nouveau maître `penser: L’entreprise’, Le Monde Diplomatique, August 1987. The culmination of this neoliberal advance is surely the European Community’s project to complete a single market in the twelve member states by the magical date of 1992. In concrete administrative terms, market completion brings a series of some three hundred detailed directives aimed at levelling the legal, technical and fiscal barriers to thoroughgoing competition on a continental scale. [2] For an official view, P. Cecchini, The European Challenge, 1992: The Benefits of a Single Market, Wildwood House, Aldershot 1988. Though most of these measures seem dry and bureaucratic in themselves, their cumulative impact will be a major liberalization of economic activity. In most cases, the intention is not to substitute Community versions for existing national regulatory systems but merely to outlaw any impact of the latter on the free movement of commodities, services and factors of production: a veritable ‘bonfire of controls’ which will eclipse the minor relaxations first covered by that slogan.

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