Frits Bolkestein en het neoliberalisme

Frits Bolkestein is wereldwijd een van boegbeelden van het neoliberalisme. Weliswaar speelt Bolkestein intellectueel verstoppertje en ontkent hij op plagerige wijze dat het neoliberalisme bestaat, maar daar is makkelijk doorheen te prikken. Volgens zowel Patrick van Schie (directeur Teldersstichting, wetenschappelijk bureau van de VVD) als Andreas Kinneging (voormalige speechschrijver van Bolkestein) is het Duitse ordoliberalisme een vorm van neoliberalisme. En Bolkestein laat er geen misverstanden over bestaan dat hij een aanhanger en voorganger van het ordoliberalisme is, zoals we weldra zullen zien. Volgens de eigen definities van de VVD mogen we Bolkestein dus een neoliberaal noemen.

Voor de volledigheid, Bolkestein zit in de raad van toezicht van Duitse neoliberale denktanks als de Friedrich Hayek Stiftung en de Stiftung Ordnungspolitik en in de raad van advies van de Brusselse neoliberale denktank New Direction, waar hij recent een prijs ontving en mocht spreken over de noodzaak van harde bezuinigingen. Bolkestein is tevens lid van de Mont Pelerin Society, kraamkamer van het neoliberalisme. En Bolkestein is naar eigen zeggen een trouw lezer van de publicaties van het Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), de beroemde neoliberale denktank waar het Tatcherisme werd uitgedacht. In een lezing georganiseerd door het IEA op 19 november 2001, stelde de toenmalige eurocommissaris Bolkestein dat the “Institute and its authors, many of them Nobel laureates, have equipped people such as myself with the intellectual tools to fight, and win, the great political debates of the eighties and nineties”.

Maar goed, in het jaar 2000 gaf Bolkestein in zijn hoedanigheid als Eurocommissaris een lezing aan het ordoliberale Walter Eucken instituut in Freiburg, waarin hij stelde te streven naar een ordo-liberaal Europa. Hieronder een bespreking van deze lezing, uit het boek van de Franse sociologen Dardot en Laval (2014), The new way of the world: on neoliberal society:

“Ordo-liberalism provided the basis of the doctrinal foundation of current European construction, before it became subject to the new global rationality. For avowed European neo-liberals, the filiation between ordo-liberalism and the spirit that informed the establishment of the Common Market and then the European Union is not in doubt. It is even invoked by some of them. One of the most convincing testimonies in this regard is the lecture given by Frits Bolkestein at the Walter-Eucken Institute in Freiburg on 10 July 2000. The speaker, who was presented as the member of the Commission ‘responsible for the internal market and taxation’, entitled his lecture ‘Building a Liberal Europe in the 21st Century’. Having recalled the role of ordo-liberals in the economic and monetary policy of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and, more particularly, Walter Eucken’s eminent role in the doctrine, Bolkestein asserted: ‘Eucken’s idea of freedom in security should surely, therefore, be central to a view of the Europe of the future. In European practice, the ideal of freedom is embodied in the Four Freedoms of the Internal Market: freedom of movement of persons, goods, services and capital.’ And he added:

“there is no getting away from the fact that anchoring these freedoms in certainties is going to demand a great deal of work. The European Commission and the Council have recognised this challenge and have reacted with an ambitious programme of deregulation and increased flexibility, as summed up in the final declaration of the Lisbon Summit of March this year. If it proves possible to introduce the entire package proposed in Lisbon, this will be a major step in the direction of an ordo-liberal Europe.”

The sequel is even more explicit: ‘A particular challenge is Economic and Monetary union. This ambitious project not only aims at increasing the freedom of citizens; it is also one of the most important policy instruments for stabilising the vast free-market economy that Europe constitutes and, as such, is a typical product of ordo-liberal thinking.’ Bolkestein spelt out the programme of reforms that would make it possible to attain this ‘ordo-liberal’ Europe in full. Four points were stressed:

1. Making wages and prices flexible by reforming labour markets. (‘It is absolutely vital that … [we increase] the flexibility of the labour market’; ‘One of the major challenges facing us therefore is to increase the flexibility of both the labour market and the capital market.’)

2. Reforming pensions by encouraging individual saving. (‘If we are to prevent the pensions time-bomb from actually going off, we will have to seriously set about reforming pension legislation. Pension funds must be free to take advantage of the new scope for investment offered by the euro.’)

3. Promoting the spirit of enterprise. (‘Europeans are clearly lacking in the spirit of enterprise. The problem of Europe is not so much a shortage of venture capital for new business projects. The money is there, but not enough people are prepared to take the plunge and set up a business of their own. Structural reforms will therefore need to go hand-in-hand with a change of outlook on the part of citizens.’)

4. Defending the civilizational ideal of a free society against ‘nihilism’. (‘Moral and epistemological relativism is threatening to undermine the central values of the liberal movement – things such as a critical and rational approach and the belief in the fundamental dignity of the free individual’; ‘The shaping of the liberal Europe of the future is under threat from the way in which the Europeans of the future are being shaped by their schools or universities … The role of the teachers is to promote in their work the values on which this free society is built, or at least to oppose views that aim to undermine a free society.’)

Bolkestein did not conceal the fact that in his view the construction of Europe had been an anti-socialist project from the outset, and even a project directed against the social state. Thus, he recalled that ‘socialism for Eucken was a disturbing model not only of inefficiency but also, and above all, of denial of freedom’. ‘Liberal Europe’ is therefore a clearly delineated programme, as Bolkestein had the great merit to recall. He was also right to stress that its construction pertained to the tradition of German ordo-liberalism, thus countering the idea that Europe represents a ‘social model’ opposed to Anglo-American ‘ultra-liberal’ globalization.” (Dardot & Laval 2014, p480-484)