Euroscepticism and trade unionism: The crisis of social Europe

Susan Milner, Andrew Mathers, Graham Taylor

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


The signing of the Treaty of Maastricht and the transformation from the European Community to the European Union (EU) can be regarded as a turning point after which opposition to integration (now named as ‘Euroscepticism’) became ‘embedded’. The hitherto ‘permissive consensus’, which rendered opposition to integration as marginal and residual began to break down and was replaced by a more contested process in which opposition became a more pervasive and enduring, if not permanent, response to integration (Usherwood and Startin, 2013). However, it can be argued that, for trade unionism, the inclusion of a social chapter in the Maastricht Treaty marked, not the emergence of ‘Euroscepticism’, but its retreat in the face of a new wave of ‘Euro-enthusiasm’. This was based around the new mobilising project of ‘Social Europe’ that filled the ‘vacuum of inspirational ideology’ following the collapse of communism, the crisis of social democracy and the subsequent triumph of neoliberalism (Hyman, 2003: 3–4). This ‘Euro-philic’ turn was epitomised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which has been its elite vanguard. However, even the ETUC began to take a more critical approach to integration as the social dimension stalled in the 2000s, and this has been accompanied by increasing popular dissent amongst workers who have borne the brunt of the Euro crisis (Taylor and Mathers, 2004). In this context, the unions have become increasingly marginalised following the EU's well-documented turn to neoliberalism, the post-Lisbon hardening of ‘ordo-liberalism’, the turn to austerity in the context of the Eurozone crisis and the post-2009 clash of legal hierarchies illustrated in the Laval-Viking-Rüffert cases (Bücker and Warneck, 2010).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism
EditorsBenjamin Leruth, Nicholas Startin, Simon Usherwood
ISBN (Electronic)9781315464015
ISBN (Print)9781138784741
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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