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Olaf Cramme: Politics in the Austerity State

Europe’s mainstream political parties are fighting a grand ideological battle between growth and austerity which they believe will define the post-crisis political era. However, electorates largely reject these new dividing lines which parties on the Left and Right seek to draw. They appear to mistrust the level of influence that policymakers claim to have over economic outcomes in the globally integrated austerity state. This paper considers the extent to which political choices are still feasible in today’s Europe. Firstly, it considers the policy ‘straitjackets’ policymakers are locked into – brought about by pressures arising from globalisation, EU monetary union, and the heavy legacy of debt accumulation. Secondly, it discusses why a majority of European populations appear to have accommodated themselves with this new settlement, voting for pragmatism and credibility over big ideological promises related to small state free market capitalism or one nation socialism. Finally, it offers some ideas on how sharper political dividing lines can be drawn within the narrow policy space available.

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