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Legal rights and the political economy of debt and austerity in Europe

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The role of law, economic narratives, and Europe’s social crisis

Law is not merely a tool for resolving disputes and protecting some people’s human rights; it is a mediator and an enabler. The researcher explored the workings of legal rights in the political economy of austerity through studies on odious debt and social rights against the backdrop of the Greek austerity crisis.


The EU-funded project JUSECON, with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship grant, has determined the influence of the European political economy on the principles and practices of legal rights. As Prof. Margot Salomon, the project coordinator, explains: “The term legal rights includes human rights as well as the international rights of states and these underpin the two component parts of this study, state debt and social rights.” The doctrine of ‘odious debt’ Inspired by the idea of economic self-determination, sovereignty and democratic governance, part of the research considered the animating principles behind the concept of odious debt. This work explored the faults in the political economy of debt and austerity in Europe today, and particularly the role of international creditors in undermining democracy and its implications. “The sanctity of democratic governance and the related principles that animate the doctrine of odious debt are important for our understanding of what is wrong with sovereign debt today,” points out Prof. Salomon. Applied in the context of the recent Greek debt and human rights crisis, the research shows how the concept of odious debt is applicable to debt incurred not only by dictators but also by democracies where international creditors are implicated in ‘hostile’ acts against the demos, or people. A joint paper with Professor Robert Howse on the topic is just out with the Oxford University Press in a volume on Sovereign Debt and Human Rights, Ilias Bantekas and Cephas Lumina (eds). The paper concludes with suggestions on the remediation of odious debt today. Welfare policy and crisis Prof. Salomon’s research efforts also looked at social rights and, specifically, how welfare policy in a crisis becomes an indispensable aspect of sustaining capitalist exploitation and dispossession. Moreover, she examined how international human rights law in the area of socioeconomic rights aids this enterprise. This study will be out in 2019. The work reflects new modes of inquiry when thinking about social rights, applied to the recent events in Greece and Europe. This approach was critical to exploring contemporary theoretical and practical problems that are implicated in the quest for justice in Europe. As part of JUSECON, Prof. Salomon along with Professor Bruno de Witte organised a workshop on ‘Legal Trajectories of Neoliberalism: Critical Inquiries on Law in Europe’. The workshop drew together academics to consider the impact of neoliberalism as ideology and practice at multiple sites of legal governance. A working paper on the findings of the workshop will be released in coming weeks. Prof. Salomon summarises the significance of the JUSECON study. “This is a multidisciplinary study that explores the role of law as a means of advancing the cause of justice, while recognising that it is shaped in important ways by dominant economic narratives. This study is an exploration of that clash of narratives and its effects on justice in Europe.” Prof. Salomon, from the Law Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was hosted by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute for the duration of the research project.


JUSECON, odious debt, law, human rights, democracy, austerity, social rights, international creditors, capitalist

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