Date: 27 April 2023
Venue: Faculty of Arts Library, Old Humanities Building, 2nd floor, University of Malta
WIPSS Convenors: Peter Mayo, Michael Briguglio, Francois Zammit
This paper adopts Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s notion of hegemony (1985) and Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality (1978) to analyse the hegemonic and governmental practices utilised by the European Union (EU) in dealing with dissenting member states. This paper looks at two instances where populist political parties in government – Syriza in Greece and the Conservatives in the UK – held referenda on questions of EU governance.
These two case studies are of particular relevance because they do not only represent two instances where populist parties in government took issue with EU governance but, more importantly, they represent instances whereby the EU had to directly engage with populist dissent. While one can find a significant amount of academic literature dealing with how populist portrayed the EU as the enemy of the people around the ‘Grexit’ (Andreadis & Stavrakakis, 2019) and ‘Brexit’ (Mandelbaum, 2020) referenda in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is little literature exploring the discourses governing the practices of the EU in dealing with this form of populist dissent.
This paper directly tackles this issue by offering a comparative study of the way the EU managed and negotiated the Greek and British crises. In doing so, this paper is sensitive to the identifications and affective investments which framed the antagonistic terrain between the respective populist parties and the EU. The methodological approach adopted in this paper follows Jason Glynos’ and David Howarth’s (2007) logics of critical explanation which is sensitive to both Foucault’s work on techniques of government and Lacan’s work on fantasy or jouissance. In doing so, this paper is sensitive to the fantasies which inform the governmental practices at play in the EU in dealing with the populist dissent present in these two case studies.
By engaging with EU public documents and statements emerging from and around the Greek and British negotiations respectively, I suggest that although the political events leading to the fear of Grexit and the eventuality of Brexit, seem to be on completely different planes, we can still trace an underlying governing fantasmatic logic adopted by the EU which informs not only potential and actual forms of dissent, but the very heart of European governance.
Raylene Abdilla is a PhD student with the Department of Sociology at the University of Malta’s Faculty of Arts. Her research interests include poststructuralist discourse theory, and populist parties and hegemonic politics in the European Union.