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Re-reading Scharpf

by Philipp Genschel
Joint Chair in European Public Policy RSCAS/Social and Political Sciences Department

25 May 2015


Fritz W. Scharpf is one of the leading scholars of European political science and an old friend of the EUI. In honor of his 80th birthday, the RSCAS held a two-day workshop "Re-reading Scharpf" with long-term collaborators, former students, and Renate Mayntz, Scharpf’s long-time collaborator and co-director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. The workshop organizers, Philipp Genschel (RSCAS), and Susanne K. Schmidt (University of Bremen) had asked the participants to select what they saw as Scharpf’s major writings on six themes of his work – Federalism, European integration, Democracy, actor-centered institutionalism, work and welfare, and the Eurozone crisis.

Short presentations of the readings, briefly summarizing Scharpf's major contribution and highlighting strengths, weaknesses and potential for future research were followed by lively general discussions. Edgar Grande (Munich) and Arthur Benz (Darmstadt) started the workshop with a tribute to Scharpf's early contribution to a theory of federalism. As they highlighted, the thrust of this as of Scharpf’s contributions in other fields, is the possibility of democratic and effective government in advanced Western societies. The joint-decision trap first identified in German federalism is emblematic of this central research interest. Gerda Falkner (Vienna) und Susanne Schmidt (Bremen) carried on, re-considering his work on the joint-decision trap in European integration, and discussing possible exit strategies and bypasses. Steffen Ganghof (Potsdam) and Vivien Schmidt (Boston) commented on Scharpf’s contribution to democratic theory. Ganghof criticized the famous distinction between input- and output-legitimacy as a distraction from the central issue of democratic equality. Vivien Schmidt wanted to keep the distinction but complement it by a through-put perspective.

Ellen Immergut and Tanja Börzel (both Berlin) started the second day of the workshop with a discussion of actor-centered institutionalism. Börzel explored how well the conceptual framework travels to areas of limited statehood. While Renate Manytz highlighted the context- and time-sensitive scope restrictions of the concept, Scharpf stressed its generality that, in principal at least, allows for the wide application of the framework. Anton Hemerijk (Amsterdam) and Martin Höpner (Cologne) turned to the theme of work and welfare. They chose Scharpf’s 1991 book, “Crisis and Choice in European Social Democracy” as their point of departure. As Höpner showed, the book presciently foresaw the causes of the current Euro crisis. Hemerijk argued for a social investment perspective as the way forward, while Genschel asked for how much longer there can be ‘socialism in one class’, when labor’s share in national income is continuously shrinking.

The final session turned to the Euro crisis with presentations by Henrik Enderlein (Berlin) and Adrienne Héritier (EUI). Scharpf defended his recent suggestions for a combination of more extensive majority voting, easier opt-outs and a de-constitutionalization of EU politics as a plausible strategy for coping with the crisis, and avoiding the authoritarian tendencies of the EU’s previous crisis management. The participants left the conference as people usually leave after encounters with Fritz Scharpf: impressed by his intellectual rigour and the wide range of his interests, bridging normative political theory and positive policy analysis. Re-reading his work of over 40 years is a reminder of the enormous intellectual debt political science owes to his work. 


This editorial was written following the Workshop with (and in honor of) Fritz Scharpf (24-25 April 2015, EUI)


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