The Rhetoric of Inaction: Failing to Fail Forward in the EU’s Rule of Law Crisis

20 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2021 Last revised: 27 Aug 2021

See all articles by Cassandra Emmons

Cassandra Emmons

Harvard University - Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

Tommaso Pavone

The University of Arizona - School of Government and Public Policy

Date Written: July 19, 2021

Abstract

In the EU, political crises often serve as catalysts for policymaking and ‘failing forward’. Yet as a breakdown of the rule of law has swept some member states, EU institutions have repeatedly failed to react. We argue that this outcome is partly tied to how political elites strategically mobilize rhetoric to legitimate stasis during crises. Building on theories of rhetorical action and discursive institutionalism, we rectify their bias for change and draw on Albert Hirschman’s work to theorize ‘rhetorics of inaction’: A coordinative discourse wielded by national and supranational actors to reconcile divergent preferences and justify stasis by appealing to the very policies and values threatened by crisis. We specify the conditions under which rhetorics of inaction are most likely to pervade EU policymaking and illustrate the theory’s explanatory purchase in a case study of the EU’s (non-)responses to the constitutional breakdowns of Hungary and Poland. By tracing the discursive interactions between EU and government policymakers, we demonstrate that populist and partisan affronts on the EU conceal far more sophisticated and obstructive argumentative strategies behind-the-scenes. We conclude that rhetorical politics are central to understanding the EU’s failure to respond to crises and elaborate avenues for future research.

Keywords: Rule of Law, Democratic Backsliding, European Union, Rhetorical Action, Discursive Institutionalism, Failing Forward

Suggested Citation

Emmons, Cassandra and Pavone, Tommaso, The Rhetoric of Inaction: Failing to Fail Forward in the EU’s Rule of Law Crisis (July 19, 2021). Journal of European Public Policy, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3780011 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3780011

Cassandra Emmons

Harvard University - Weatherhead Center for International Affairs ( email )

61 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Tommaso Pavone (Contact Author)

The University of Arizona - School of Government and Public Policy ( email )

Tucson, AZ
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.tommasopavone.com/

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