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European integration and the problem of the state: universality, particularity, and exemplarity in the crafting of the European Union

Abstract

The European Union is often presented as an entity that has ‘moved beyond’ the model of organising political life along the way of the modern sovereign state. This paper questions this understanding by engaging a set of texts that could be understood as exemplary of the EU's official discourse of Europe: EU's failed Constitutional Treaty and Javier Solana's collected speeches. A paradox is herein identified: the values that are said to sustain Europe's identity and upon which Europe is founded are simultaneously presented as distinctly European and universal. It is suggested that Europe is being crafted in a pendular oscillation between particularising and universalising the values upon which Europe allegedly rests. By drawing on critical International Relations theory, the paper suggests that this very contradictory oscillation between particularising and universalising Europe's values to an important extent mirrors modern statecraft. One should therefore think twice before announcing the construction of the European Union as something qualitatively different from, or ‘gentler’ than, modern statecraft.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For works concerned with various dimensions of European identity, see i.a. Neumann (1998, 1999); Waever (1998); Cederman (2001); Rumelili (2004, 2007); and several of the pieces in Bátora and Mokre (2011).

  2. 2.

    I am throughout the paper using ‘crafting’ instead of ‘writing’, to avoid any confusion about narrowly associating the enactment of Europe only with linguistic practices. In addition, since the texts I examine use ‘Europe’ and ‘the European Union’ interchangeably, so do I.

  3. 3.

    Throughout the paper, ‘Europe’ is textually understood as a contested signifier whose bounds and referents must always be put in quotation marks. However, for stylistic reasons I will not always do so. To place a concept within quotation marks or under erasure means to resist essentialising the concept. It is also to recognise the necessity of provisionally retaining it in order to be able to examine the discursive field in which it is deployed (see Spivak's preface to Of Grammatology in Derrida 1976: xiv).

  4. 4.

    Many contributions to the debate on ‘normative power Europe’ would here qualify. See Manners (2002) and Sjursen (2006). For a critique, see Diez (2005) and Manners’ (2006) response. A more theoretical form of arguing for the novelty of the EU is to argue that the EU's constitutive outside resides solely in its own past, and that the EU does not (any longer) engage in inscribing otherness in spatial entities. For a convincing argument about the impossibility of decoupling spatial and temporal forms of othering, see Prozorov (2011).

  5. 5.

    For pioneering works see Ashley (1987), Campbell (1998), and Doty (1996). In the context of Europe, see Neumann (1999).

  6. 6.

    Reflecting on the achievements of neo-functionalism towards the end of his life, Haas indeed characterised his thought as an attempt to reflect upon ‘how human collectivities can move beyond the nation state’ (Haas 2001: 24).

  7. 7.

    An important exception is found in Bartolini's work, who writes that the EU ‘can be defined as a state-formation attempt that is characterized to date by limited administrative capabilities, by strong regulatory powers in selected fields, by very weak fiscal capabilities, and by strong jurisdictional capabilities that have grown from the early spheres of competences. From the historical point of view, there is nothing exceptional or new in this configuration of subsystemic differentiation’ (2005: xiii, my emphasis).

  8. 8.

    For the following discussion, I am indebted to Rick Ashley and Leo E. Figueroa-Helland.

  9. 9.

    For how the Westphalian international system differs from two Asian systems, see Ringmar (2012).

  10. 10.

    Throughout the text, all emphases in Solana's speeches are inserted by the author.

  11. 11.

    Thanks to Rick Ashley for elaborating on this point.

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Acknowledgements

For extensive comments and discussion, I am indebted to Leonardo E. Figueroa-Helland, Richard K. Ashley, Roxanne L. Doty, Jessica Auchter, Brian Blanchard as well as two anonymous reviewers. On earlier versions of this project, I also acknowledge feedback from discussants and panellists at ISA 2008, ISA-North East 2008, ISA 2010, and members of a workshop on interpretive and relational research methodologies at ISA-North East 2008. Among those, I particularly extend my thanks to William Wolfgram, Jennifer Mitzen, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Rosemary Shinko, Renee Marlin-Bennett, Amy Skonieczny, and Thomas Diez. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Borg, S. European integration and the problem of the state: universality, particularity, and exemplarity in the crafting of the European Union. J Int Relat Dev 17, 339–366 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2013.8

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Keywords

  • deconstruction
  • EU foreign policy
  • European Constitutional Treaty
  • European integration
  • the state