The European Commission's Neoliberal Trade Discourse Since the Crisis: Legitimizing Continuity through Subtle Discursive Change


Research Highlights and Abstract

  • Within the European Union (EU), the neoliberal trade policy has not only survived the global financial crisis (GFC) and Eurozone crisis, but has been reinforced throughout these crises.
  • This has been helped by a legitimizing discourse by the European Commission that has continuously depicted free trade in a favourable relationship vis-à-vis the GFC and the Eurozone crisis.
  • Empirically, this article shows how between 2008 and 2012, the EU trade discourse has been subtly adapted to the changing crisis environment: from defensive, over offensive-desirable and offensive-necessary towards necessary-but-not-sufficient at the time of writing. In the tradition of critical discourse analysis, we also point at the problematic assumptions and logics held by the discourse.
  • Theoretically, it is shown how subtly adapting discourse to a fluctuating context can effectively limit policy change and legitimize continuity.

The crisis starting in 2008 has not led to the demise but to the reinforcement of neoliberalism, not least within the European Union (EU). We argue that this can also be observed in the EU's external trade policy, where the European Commission's discourse has continued to legitimize neoliberal trade through subtle re-articulations of the relationship between free trade and the crisis. In this respect four stages can be discerned: defensive, offensive-desirable, offensive-necessary and necessary-but-not-sufficient. These subtle adaptations are articulated as coherent with the internal Eurozone crisis, although we show that their assumptions can be challenged. Theoretically, we engage in a critical analysis of the Commission's trade discourse in the context of the crisis. Empirically, we focus on the different EU Trade Commissioners' discourses between 2008–2012. The article shows how subtly adapting discourse to a fluctuating context can effectively limit change and legitimize continuity.