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In Search of Europe’s Phantom Public. “Public-ness” and the European Union

Abstract : The notion of "public" is making an unexpected yet impressive comeback. After decades of neo-liberal policies where State failures and public irrationalities were systematically pointed out and the superiority of private management consistently affirmed, public authority and public intervention again appear as the inescapable solution to the most daunting issues of our times, particularly at the EU level. As the environmental emergency is making its way through our minds and the challenge raised by the accumulation of private authority in the hands of a limited number of multinational corporations becomes clearer every day, many call for stronger regulations-in areas of data privacy, tax fraud, environment, health standards, and others-and a staunch relaunch of investments, evidenced by the many versions of the "Green New Deal." With the dys-topia of a fully private vision of the future diffusing in popular culture series and novels, notions of the "common" and the "public good" are making a striking return in our democratic conversation. Interestingly, these calls for the rearmament of Europe's public capacity parallel our increasing sensitivity to the receding "publicness" of EU decision-making under the pressure of intense lobbying and revolving door mechanisms. Documentaries and journalist investigations have diffused a critical vision of an EU deemed incapable of evading the pressure of business stakeholders while providing a solely marginal place to the interests of citizens. Whatever one thinks of the diagnosis , they are proof of a growing awareness, particularly among younger generations, that the dividing line between the public and the private is not any social or professional border, and that its robustness conditions political sovereignty, equality, citizenship, and ultimately, democracy itself. And yet, such a comeback finds us unprepared. The public lexicon that we continue to use routinely is still the same as thirty years ago, as if the realities that this public compass was supposed to capture-public-sphere, good or goods, interest, utilities, service public, and others-had not been profoundly turned around by three decades of neoliberal policies. Short of an overall reassessment of both the map and the territory of the public, we run the risk of using it as an empty signifier, or even a mere buzzword. Strikingly, pseudo-notions of the public interest do, in fact, blossom today, such as corporate social responsibility, pro bono publico, philanthropy, and more.
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https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02736811
Contributor : Antoine Vauchez <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 11:30:42 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - 11:08:48 AM

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Antoine Vauchez. In Search of Europe’s Phantom Public. “Public-ness” and the European Union. German Law Journal, Cambridge University Press, 2020, ⟨10.1017/glj.2019.94⟩. ⟨hal-02736811⟩

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