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What is the legacy of austerity for the enforcement of EU law and policy?

Members of the UACES Research Network on the Effective Enforcement of EU Law and Policy have been attending the UACES 49th Annual Conference in Contemporary European Studies, 1-4th September 2019, which took place this year in Lisbon. It seemed appropriate to be organising a panel on the theme of austerity in one of the EU Member States required to adopt austerity measures by the EU/IMF following the financial crisis of 2008. The aim of this panel was to deepen our understanding of the legacy of austerity and to open up future research paths. Interestingly, two of the panellists referred to the Jean Monnet quote. ‘I have always believed that Europe would be built through crises, and that it would be the sum of their solutions.’

Three papers were presented each exploring different dimensions of austerity on the enforcement of EU law and policy. First, Dr. Despina Christofi (UCLan Cyprus) presented her paper, ‘The Principle of Effectiveness during the EU Financial Crisis: Effective Judicial Protection of Bank Depositors and the Alternative of Arbitration.’ Based on her PhD thesis, Despina’s presentation explored the effectiveness (or non-effectiveness!) of the protection available to bank depositors for their EU rights. She compared the different approaches of the national courts in several Member States, with the European Union’s Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Her main thesis is that bank deposits should be re-conceptualised as ‘investment’ allowing ‘investors’ to benefit from the arguably higher levels of protection provided by international investment law and using arbitration (rather than the courts) as the dispute resolution mechanism. Despina’s paper raises considerable question marks over the EU’s conferral of ‘rights’ and the current levels of judicial protection available in the traditional EU legal order.

The second paper presented by Dr. Susana Muñoz (University of Luxembourg) considered the legacy of austerity and the drive by the EU, particularly President Juncker, to increase the protection of social rights through the introduction of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Susana’s paper, ‘Living up to High Expectations? Effective Enforcement of the European Pillar of Social Rights’ gave us a rich and comprehensive insight into the complexity of protecting the ‘rights’ and ‘principles’ contained in the Pillar through a 'soft law' instrument where much of the action needs to be taken at national level. Susana’s paper raises important questions about the use of the European Semester to drive compliance by the Member States. The final paper was presented by Dr. Gerard Conway (Brunel University, UK) and was entitled, ‘The Evolution of Budgetary Discipline in the Economic and Monetary Union in Light of Current Developments.’ Gerard took us through the different stages in the evolution of EMU and considered the current situation of Italy.

All three panellists should be congratulated for presenting their papers in challenging circumstances. They had to battle through the heat (Lisbon was 34°) and the room was rather noisy being situated very close to the airport. It was perhaps the only time I have wished for Ryanair and Easyjet to cancel their flights!!! The papers drew interesting questions from the audience, and we are grateful to those who attended the panel from other disciplines. This allows legal scholars to consider their work from different angles which is one of the underpinning rationales for the network’s creation.

Our three panellists.

The UACES 49th Annual Conference also gave us a chance to meet as a network, welcome new members, and discuss future activities. We had a productive meeting, thankfully in a much quieter room. One of the main topics of discussion was our workshop to be held in January 2020 in Cardiff, and of course next year’s UACES 50th Annual Conference to be held in Belfast. We also discussed themes for panels to be proposed for the 2020 ComplianceNet and ECPR RegGov conferences. Members also committed to writing blog posts for the website so watch this space!!!

Finally, a huge thanks goes to UACES and the University of Lisbon for organising the conference, and for introducing us all to a wonderful city. The conference dinner was held at the enchanting Jardim Botânico da Ajuda with views of the Tejo Estuary, 25 de Abril Bridge and Cristo Rei, the Christ Statue of Lisbon. It was an opportunity to network with scholars from other fields and universities, and of course, spread the word about the Research Network. Needless to say, Lisbon charmed everyone, and we will certainly be back, if only to eat another pastel nata. Still, I am not sure they beat my Welsh Grandma’s chocolate éclairs, but they come a very close second.

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