European Union: A Future of Disillusion (Mika Luoma-Aho)

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After half a dozen years of economic decline and political hardship EU measured its demos in the elections to the European Parliament. The result was just about expected, though probably not at all what the ”Europeans” — whoever they are these days — were eager to see. Given a choice between a commitment towards the globalization of world politics and going home, going home, by and large, won.

After half a dozen years of economic decline and political hardship EU measured its demos in the elections to the European Parliament. The result was just about expected, though probably not at all what the ”Europeans” — whoever they are these days — were eager to see. Given a choice between a commitment towards the globalization of world politics and going home, going home, by and large, won. The future of the EU is perhaps more uncertain now than it has ever been.

More than a decade ago, while working on my doctoral dissertation, I wrote about the ways in which Europe and more recently the EU have been represented politically. What does ”Europe” stand for? What or who is it against? These questions were ever present in the early post war years and had an air of urgency about them. Weapons and means of their manufacture were integrated continentally in the 1950s. An institutional framework to regionalize peace and cooperation in Europe was conceived in the EEC in 1967 and nurtured into an EU in Maastricht. A continent torn by war assumed a new political form, conceived a sui generis entity in the world politics of the post-modern era — or at least this is what we were told.

In my study I found, however, that what the EU represented was hardly anything new. It imagined a 21st century superstate on the continent: one that could move its being, wield economic and political power with other ”giants” of world politics. This is an unfinished task per today, since the grind of further and deeper integration has come to (yet another) halt. The EP-elections made it quite clear that this vision is not on top of the European political agenda.

Notwithstanding all the talk about EU being (or becoming) a new political form beyond Westphalia, it has always had to sit down and negotiate with national sovereignty conventionally understood — a premise member states like France and the UK have historically guarded jealously against European inroads. All the talk about the future of the EU — barely audible these days — seems to be stuck between the dialectic of federalism and intergovernmentalism. In other words: normative order within the EU is under national or supranational sovereignty: it is subject to the sovereignty of its member states, and, some hope, may become a sovereign state in itself one day.

As can be seen, contemporary political imaginary can not represent a political entity unless it be a state of some kind — national or federal. Furthermore: the imaginary used to represent the EU is firmly embedded on the nomos of the respublica Christiana. The root metaphor here is ”natural” unity on ”the continent”, political organism uniting European ”peoples”. The archetype of the organicist political metaphor is body of Christ territorialized: unity by way of delineation. The contemporary social imaginary does not have a template for thinking about deterritorialised political authority. This is an irony, as the corpus mysticum Christi was and is an incorporation where there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither free nor slave. (See my God and International Relations, Bloomsbury, 2012; or William T. Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy, Eerdmans 2011.)

After several years of disillusionment, the ”Europeans” voted for revisionist nationalism against more integration. This is not to say that they voted wrong: the EU is an expansive and expensive bureaucratic juggernaut that runs on little democratic legitimacy. People did not vote for, say, Nigel Farage or Jussi Halla-aho because they want to see a different kind of an EU. They voted because they feel the EU, as it stands, does not stand for them — like the UK stands for the British or Finland for the Finns, allegedly.

While this claim may have its merits, it is not really a solution to anything. Rallying around national sovereignty is a knee-jerk reaction to the globalization of world politics. Wishful thinking in an insecure age. Global interdependence can not be contained by territorializing out — even the EU has struggled trying. EU member states are impotent before today’s problems: civil unrest, global economic crisis, climate change. These are serious problems no single state can manage on its own. A 1648 document penned by some European princes to settle territorial and theological details has limited relevance today.

A nomos premised on the Westphalian state hasn’t held — I am putting my marker on 1823 when it was superseded de facto — and the thin slice of national sovereignty left there is only good for nostalgia. Turning one’s back on a political blue-ocean of a project and going home is not a solution to the globalization of world politics. I am thinking it is the problem.

Mika Luoma-Aho is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Lapland, Finland.  His research interests include Religion and politics, Christian political theology, conservatism and anarchism, and politics in popular culture.  He is the author of God and International Relations: Christian Theology and World Politics (Bloomsbury, 2012).

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