Europe: Backwards or Forwards?

Guest blog by Jaap Hoeksma, Philosopher of Law, Director of Euroknow and Creator of the Boardgame Eurocracy.

In an apocalyptic essay, written at the height of the euro-crisis in 2012, Joseph Weiler predicted that the European Union will turn on its member-states in a similar way as the Golem of Prague persecuted its creators in the 16th century.1 The author paves the way for this conclusion by attributing a dimension of 'political messianism' to the statements of the founding fathers, which turns the Schuman-declaration into a roadmap to 'the Promised Land'. As messianic narratives are doomed to collapse, the European project is set to disappoint and alienate the populace as well. Consequently, the EU creates the conditions for its own destruction.   

A second line of thought which the author develops in his ominous essay, is that the concepts of democracy and the rule of law don't belong to the DNA of the EU. This argument is more familiar to legal scholars as it fits in the semantic field of the Westphalian paradigm of international relations. According to the Westphalian system, states wishing to cooperate in order to achieve peace, must either form a union of states or merge into one new state. In the aftermath of World War II there were consequently two great visions, two competing Grand Designs for Europe. Schuman, Monnet, Spinelli and many others were convinced that Europe had a federal vocation and envisaged the foundation of a United States of Europe. Charles de Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher favoured a confederal 'Europe des Patries' or a Europe of the Nation-States. In the latter option, sovereignty would remain with the participating states, whereas in the first option it would be vested in the new state.

After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, however, it has become clear that this traditional contradistinction has lost relevance. The EU cannot be described as a state or a state-in-the-making, since the sovereignty in the Union rests and will remain with the member-states. They are the 'masters of the treaties'. At the same time it has to be established that the EU is neither a union of states as it is also composed of citizens and has both a directly elected parliament as well as an independent Court of Justice. The conclusion that must be drawn after 'Lisbon' is that the EU can no longer be accounted for in terms of the Westphalian system of international relations.

At the time of the economic and monetary crisis, the EU is therefore also confronted with an existential crisis. Almost sixty years after the foundation of the European Community for Coal and Steel the Union finds itself in a Dantian 'forest dark' and the straightforward pathway seems to have gone lost. In these circumstances the British Prime-Minister Cameron and his continental sympathizers are offering an attractive solution by suggesting a return to the solid vestiges of the nation-state. They share Weiler's view that democracy and the rule of law aren't included in the DNA of the EU. They even argue that these concepts can only flourish within the boundaries of sovereign national states. In their analysis, the present problems originate from the transfer of sovereignty to 'Brussels'. Once these practices have been abandoned, the nation-states will resume full sovereignty and restore order.   

In the run-up to the elections for the European Parliament of May forthcoming, the advocates of this approach are propagating a return to the Westphalian system of international relations. They want to go backwards in order to address tomorrow's challenges. Their ideas are contested by two groups of opponents. The federalists share their desire to reinforce the Westphalian paradigm, albeit that they prefer to proceed in the opposite direction: they envisage a United States of Europe. Proponents of the second concept start by putting beyond doubt that they neither want the EU to become a federal state nor expect it to remain a union of states. Instead, they want the EU to develop its own model of governance beyond the Westphalian system of international relations. In their analysis, the founding fathers have deliberately renounced the Westphalian paradigm as it legitimated the conduct of war. The first goal of the experiment with sharing sovereignty was to create the conditions for lasting peace. Subsequently, it led to the emergence of a common market, at first for coal and steel, then for the entire economy. After completion, the internal market formed the basis for further expansion and democratisation of the EU. In their view it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that, if 28 democratic states decide to share the exercise of sovereignty in order to achieve common goals, the organisation the create for this purpose should be democratic too. In short, they want the EU to comply with similar standards of democracy and the rule of law as its member-states. In order to overcome the present monetary and political problems, they want to move forwards from a common market to a common democracy. 

Seen from the perspective of the Westphalian system of international relations, the upcoming elections for the European Parliament centre around the question as to whether the voters intent to return to the traditional concept of the 'European concert of nations' or move forwards to a common European democracy besides and above the national democracies of the member-states. Without undue references to apocalyptic end games, the question will be asked once more: Quo vadis, Europa?

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1 J.H.H. Weiler, "Deciphering the Political and Legal DNA of European Integration", in J. Dickson and P. Eleftheriadis (eds), Philosophical Foundations of European Union Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

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