Performing the Politics of Creditworthiness: The Uncertainty of Rating European Sovereign Debt

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GR:EEN Working Paper Series
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As Member States struggle to retain the investment grades necessary to allow them to finance their governmental operations at a reasonable cost, credit rating agencies (CRAs) have been blamed for exacerbating a procyclicality which only makes this task more difficult. How CRAs contribute to the constitution of the politics of limits underpinning the European sovereign debt crisis is at the core of this article. As a socio-technical device, sovereign ratings are an ‘illocutionary’ statement about budgetary health. An artificial fiscal normality is promoted. Subsequently, this austere politics of creditworthiness has ‘perlocutionary’ effects, which seeks to censure political discretion through normalising risk techniques aligned with the self-systemic, and thereby self-regulating, logic of Anglo-American versions of capitalism. By tracing the performative effects of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) registration process and the regulatory technical standards (RTS) on CRAs, investors and Member States, how sovereign ratings obtain their authority is revealed. The ensuing antagonistic relationship between the programmatic/ expertise and operational/ politics dimensions of fiscal governance leaves the socio-technical agencement vulnerable to misfire and the renegotiation of how the ‘political’ is established in the economy.

Credit Rating Agencies; European Union; Risk and Uncertainty; Sovereign Debt Crisis; Financial Governance