The European Union and the End of Politics

The European Union and the End of Politics

by James Heartfield


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Europe is in crisis, but the European Union just gets stronger. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland have all been told that they must submit their budgets to EU-appointed bureaucrats. The 'soft coup' that put EU officials in charge of Greece and Italy shows that the Union is opposed to democracy. Instead of weakening the European Union, the budget crisis of 2012 has ended up with the eurocrats grabbing new powers to dictate terms. Over the years the forward march of the European Union has been widely misunderstood. James Heartfield explains that the rise of the EU is driven by the decline in political participation. Without political contestation national parliaments have become an empty shell. Where once elites drew authority from their own people, today they draw authority from the European Union, and other summits of world leaders. The growth of the European Union runs in tandem with the decline in national politics. As national sovereignty is hollowed out, technocratic administration from Brussels fills the void. This account of the rise of the European Union includes a full survey of the major schools of thought in European studies, and a valuable guide to those who want to take back control.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780999500
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 05/16/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 329
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

James Heartfield has worked as a journalist, for a television company, as a lecturer and an editor. He wrote The 'Death of the Subject' Explained and The Aborigines' Protection Society. James lives in North London with his wife and two daughters.

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The European Union and the End of Politics

By James Heartfield

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2012 James Heartfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78099-950-0



Pathological Nationalism?

In the following we look first at the critique of sovereignty to understand what is at stake. We will argue that the contemporary case for the European Union is bound up with the idea that nationalism in Europe is a pathological condition that needs the European Union to contain it – even though the actual historical record indicates a different origin. We will argue that the antinational claims of the European Union are more contemporary and correspond instead to the ideology of globalisation. And we will take issue with the critique of sovereignty, aiming to show that its real meaning is a retreat from subjectivity.

In the many accounts of the case for the European Union and its predecessors the European Community and the European Economic Community, it is implied that nationalism is a pathological development. The Union exists to constrain pathological nationalism

According to Till Geiger

Many politicians attributed the outbreak of the Second World War to an aggressive political and economic nationalism of the interwar period. Following this logic, the creation of a united Europe would eradicate the root cause of international antagonism by replacing the existing nation states.

Simon Bulmer claims that 'Europe's founding fathers 'sought to avoid the excesses of nationalism and of the nation-state system that had been demonstrated by the Nazi regime'. Gerald Hackett also sees the European Community's motivation coming from a retreat from the war-like nation-state

There was in this period [immediately after the Second World War], a general if ill-defined rejection of nationalism and a belief that organizations standing above the nation-state were essential for peace.... seeking a different approach to the European political system which had produced two world wars in 25 years.

According to Derek Urwin (who attributes these views to federalists like Altiero Spinelli):

nationalism and nationalist rivalries, by culminating in a war had discredited and bankrupted the independent state as the foundation of political organization and international order, and that a replacement for the state had to be found in a comprehensive continental community.

Certainly it was the case that the 'architect of the European Economic Community' Jean Monnet, looking back in 1978, saw the shortcomings of international organisation before the Second World War as arising out of a failure to constrain the nation-state: 'At the root of them all [international crises] was national sovereignty', wrote Monnet of the failure of the League of Nations, which he put down to the 'inability to go beyond national self-interest'. It is a judgement echoed by Monnet's biographer François Duchêne: 'of all the international bodies invented to correct the weakness that led to war, none addressed the fragmentation of authority in the hands of numerous states, which arguably had been one of the greatest flaws.'

Simon Bromley underscores the failure of the nation state in the period before the founding of the European Economic Community, even in its most basic promise of security:

As far as the domestic authority of Western European states was concerned, it is important to recall that most of them (including all the original members of the Union) had failed in their primary task: to guarantee the security of their populations.

Historians Alan Milward and Tony Judt take issue with the argument that the European Economic Community was created to overcome the war-like nation-state on grounds of historical inaccuracy. Milward, and following him Judt argue that far from being a means to overcome the nation-state, the European Economic Community was one of a number of intergovernmental organisations whose great purpose and achievement was to 'rescue the nation state', after the disaster of the Second World War. Milward agrees with Simon Bromley's argument that most European nation states had indeed failed their citizens during the war. And for just that reason, he argues, international cooperation in Europe was the condition for the reconstruction of the nation state.

The post-war years saw an unprecedented extension of the state into domestic life, through the extension of welfare benefits, health services, pension, social services, economic planning, nationalised industries, all of which were widely embraced as the foundations of a new national identity. As Alan Milward rightly says

After 1945 the European nation state rescued itself from collapse, created a new political consensus as the basis of its legitimacy, and through changes in its response to its citizens which meant a sweeping extension of its functions and ambitions reasserted itself as the fundamental unit of political organisation.

The argument that the European Economic Community was created to constrain war-like nation-states after the learning experience of the Second World War, then, is hard to justify, not least because it is a consideration that was by no means important at the time. Rather, the argument that the Community was a reaction against World War is at best a retrospective judgement, or even a post festum construction, an origin myth for the Union today.

Globalisation and the end of the nation

If it is difficult to account for the origins of the European Union as a reaction to the war, there is a more contemporary explanation of what drives it, and that is globalisation – the argument that the Union is necessary to meet the challenges of the more open and competitive world market, and of other global trends that are today rendering the nation-state impotent. In the words of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso 'No nation state can meet the challenges of climate change, mass migration, global competition and terrorism on its own.'

In the first instance the 'globalisation' discussion appears to be about the economy. So even a radical welfare socialist like Oskar Lafontaine argues that 'the instruments of national policy are no longer adequate to deal with the demands of a globalized economy'. Radical economist Kavaljit Singh makes the point that 'the growing globalization of finance has led to the rapid decline in the degree of control and manoeuvrability of national governments which find it increasingly difficult to intervene to reduce the volatility and establish stability in the financial markets.' What is more 'The state and its agencies are no longer the most important actors in the global economic system; they have been replaced by the TNCs [Trans National Corporations].'

Anthony Giddens paraphrases the business guru Keniche Ohmae, 'we live now in a borderless world, in which the nation state has become a "fiction" and where politicians have lost all effective power.' In a Speech to the German Business Federation (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie) in Bonn, on 18 June 1996 the British Labour Party leader Tony Blair drew out the link between global competition and the limits of the nation state: 'good government' is 'minimal government' and it is important to recognise that 'choices are constrained'. Those sentiments found their way into the Blair government's White Paper on Competitiveness and the building of the knowledge economy (drafted by Charles Leadbeater): 'In the increasingly global economy of today, we cannot compete in the old way.'

Linguistics professor Norman Fairclough comments on this passage that the movements of the global economy are 'represented as actions, but without any responsible agents.' Further, Fairclough parses the argument: '"We" are confronted with change as effects without agency, rather than being participants in change able to affect its direction.' Anthony Giddens, an advisor to Blair, argues that 'Globalization "pulls away" from the nation-state in the sense that some powers nations used to possess, including those that underlay Keynesian economic management, have been weakened.' Giddens sees globalisation as not just a matter of impersonal market forces, but the impact of much better informed and less traditionally-minded citizens, who are not shy about taking their custom elsewhere. As he puts it 'Liberal democracy, based on an electoral party system, operating at the level of the nation-state, is not well equipped to meet the demands of a reflexive citizenry in a globalizing world.'

In Germany, the sociologist Ulrich Beck paints what he sees as the limitations of the nation-state:

Territorial states originate in exclusive powers over geographical space. This is the basis for their monopoly of violence, their legislative autonomy, cultural identity and moral autonomy ...

By contrast 'Globalisation threatens national sovereignty'. As we can see, Beck combines the association of the nation state with violence and the argument that globalisation renders the state useless. 'The road to the nation-state is paved with oppression,' he says. 'Its law reads: Either-or.' But 'Owing to global mobility ... the possibilities of a national Either-Or are disappearing ...' Globalisation renders the logic of national sovereignty redundant, and makes the case for post-national institutions like the European Union.

The thesis that globalisation has rendered the nation-state superfluous, or just limited, has its critics. Paul Hirst and Graham Thompson have argued that 'globalisation' is not a real world phenomenon, so much as a subjective retreat from responsibility, in particular the responsibility to construct national policy. The way they tell it, globalisation is an alibi for inactivity, the wish being father to the thought: 'One key effect of the concept of globalization has been to paralyse radical reforming national strategies, to see them as unfeasible in the face of the judgement and sanction of international markets,' argue Hirst and Thompson: 'A truly global economy is claimed to have emerged, or to be in the process of emerging, in which distinct national economies and therefore domestic strategies of national economic management are increasingly irrelevant.' As they detail in their book, the claim that the world market is qualitatively more integrated than it was at the turn of the last century is not justified by the statistics.

Like Hirst and Thompson, Colin Hay thinks that globalisation is something of a myth, at least in so far as it becomes an excuse for a retreat from policy. 'Globalization is seen as the enemy of political deliberation in the sense that it is seen to dictate policy choices while itself being beyond the capacity of domestic political actors to control,' he says. The policy choices that globalisation dictates are in a certain direction, which is to say towards market liberalisation: 'globalization is held to necessitate a certain privatisation and depoliticisation of public policy, rendering it less politically accountable', says Hay. He adds 'Here it is the distinctly public character of political deliberation that is challenged by globalisation.' Hay explains the mechanism by which globalisation is supposed to limit national policy:

To reduce the risks of co-ordinated speculative dynamics being unleashed against one's currency by global financial markets, for instance, it is argued that monetary policy must be removed from political control and rendered both predictable and rules-bounded rather than discretionary.

As we shall, see, this argument is drawn from the European experience, in particular of French and Italian submission to the economic criteria for membership of the European Monetary System. Usefully for the argument we will explore later, Hay explains 'Here globalisation is cast as a powerful agent of depoliticisation.'

Very few people doubt that there has indeed been an increase in cross-border trade since the 1970s (on the long trend) and again since the 1990s (on the shorter trend). Nor do they doubt that technologies favour broader and deeper communications across national boundaries. From the perspective of 2009, though, one might ask whether it was the global financial markets that had proved to be the historically transient mode of social organisation, and the nation-state the enduring one. It might have seemed clear to Keniche Ohmae in 1995 that the state was a fiction, but in 2008 it became clear that it was trillions of dollars invested in over-valued financial assets that was fictitious. Under the United States' Troubled Asset Relief Program (2008) government spent $700 billion buying major shareholdings in Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. (including Merrill Lynch), as did the British government in Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock to prevent their collapse. Further the US government took over General Motors, the German government bought Opel and the Heidelberg print company as the British did British Rail.

Hay, Hirst and Thompson, then, all point to an important part of the debate: The concept 'globalisation' is working too hard in these arguments. The suspicion is that the cart has been put before the horse. The theory of globalisation has been written after the event to justify something that was already happening – a delimitation of the political authority of elected governments over wider society.

Looking at the discussion of globalisation with an eye to the European Union, there is now a second argument on top of the first, that we need the Union to contain nationalist aggression. Not only are states too belligerent, now they are toothless, as well.

The default position in these discussions seems to come back to the same point, that the state is pathologically ill-suited to our times. Over and again we hear an orchestra of arguments against the nation state. Given that the European Union is often represented as a limit or moderating influence upon the nation state, the perception that the state is problematic plainly has a bearing on the argument. Indeed, we will argue that the main driver of the European Union today is a retreat from national sovereignty, and a demobilisation of the nation state.

The critique of sovereignty

The most strident polemics against nationalism and the state today are made to the background of demands for humanitarian intervention against dictatorships in the less developed world (in which there are fewer constraints on forceful expression). In particular, the concept of sovereignty exercises the humanitarian interventionists – because it is the concept that stands in the way of military action in other people's countries.

Queen's Council Geoffrey Robertson, head of the Doughty Street chambers in London, has been a passionate advocate of human rights acting for Tasmanian Aborigines in their case against the British Museum, and as a UN Judge in the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. His book Crimes Against Humanity is a popular rehearsal of the argument over human rights and sovereignty. In fact he says bluntly the 'movement for global justice has been a struggle against sovereignty': 'The great play of sovereignty, with all its pomp and panoply, can now be seen for what it hides: a posturing troupe of human actors, who when off-stage are sometimes prone to rape the chorus'. It was a point made also by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: 'sovereignty cannot be used as an excuse to avoid human rights commitments'. The non-governmental organisation Medicins Sans Frontières 'from the outset, chose to step away from the classical Red Cross approach of a "silent neutrality" and sought to put the interest of victims ahead of sovereignty considerations'. Sovereignty, to its humanitarian critics, is just a 'show', a 'prejudice', a 'convention', a 'legal fiction', behind which, grubby and degraded politicians pursue their own selfish and individual interests. In the Ireland the one-time leaders of physical force nationalism, Sinn Fein the Workers Party repented their excesses and decided to 'stand up against the tom-tom drums' of nationalism – saying 'freedom's just a flag' in their election broadcasts.

Surprisingly, perhaps, even movements for state reform consider the concept of sovereignty to be faulty. Neal Ascherson titled his 1994 lecture for the organisation Charter 88 'Local Government and the Myth of Sovereignty', and dismissed without argument 'the British doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, which I have already suggested to be obsolete and pernicious' (25 February). The Charter 88 supporter and now British Member of Parliament Tony Wright vigorously denounced the concept of the sovereignty of parliament, which he imagined to be dictatorial, in his book Citizens and Subjects.

The growing clamour against the concept of sovereignty focused on its origins in the Treaty of Westphalia, a polemical gambit that rendered sovereignty at once historically transient, and also archaic. Perhaps it is to be expected that a catholic scholar would take issue with the Peace of Westphalia, so when J. Bryan Hehir writes that 'the Westphalian concept of a modern sovereign state ... does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum and "must share the stage of history today with other actors"' it is not that surprising. Hehir goes on to argue that 'Economic interdependence, human rights claims and other factors all work to "limit national sovereignty."' The British democratic reformer Anthony Barnett joined the argument, welcoming the decline of 'Westphalia': 'We are indeed witnessing the decline of the "Westphalian" nation state, with its absolute domestic sovereignty and rejection of external influence over its "internal affairs."'. After the US intervention in Iraq, Norman A. Bailey of the Potomac Foundation and Criton M. Zoakos President of Leto Research thought that 'The 350-year reign of the nation-state system is over' and 'diplomatic niceties aside, the United States of America is the cause of the breakdown of the Westphalian nation-state system'.

Excerpted from The European Union and the End of Politics by James Heartfield. Copyright © 2012 by James Heartfield. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Soft Coup d'État 1

Chapter 1 Pathological Nationalism? 16

Chapter 2 Demobilising the European State 31

Chapter 3 The decline of Nationalism and the Rise of the European Union 58

Chapter 4 The Domestic Allies of European Union 81

Chapter 5 The Developing Institutions of the European Union 104

Chapter 6 European Identity 125

Chapter 7 Positivist Approaches to European Integration 151

Section 2 Europe in the Realistic School 173

Chapter 8 Post-Positivist Theories of European Integration 203

Conclusion 264

Index 317

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