It is now a year since Britain left the EU, and less than a month since the terms of its separation were sealed, on Christmas Eve. What explains its departure from the Union half a century after joining it, and what light does this cast on the future of Europe itself? An answer to either of these questions requires a longer view than the vote on Brexit and the brief period since. In 1950, convinced of the superiority of its own economy and the strength of its ties with the US, the UK showed scant interest in the Schuman Plan, and little more in the preparations for the Treaty of Rome at Messina five years later. The future of the world, so it believed, lay in Anglo-American hegemony. It was not until after the shock of American desertion at Suez and the re-election in 1959 of a Conservative government under Harold Macmillan that this stance changed. By 1960, the poor performance of the British economy compared with those of the six countries that had created the European Economic Community (EEC) was plain and, strongly encouraged by the Kennedy administration in Washington, which saw Britain as a useful bridgehead into the Community, Macmillan applied for membership in 1962. Explaining that Britain would be little better than a Trojan horse for American domination of Europe, de Gaulle vetoed the application in January 1963.
The following year, Labour came to power in London. Before his death, Hugh Gaitskell had rallied the party to vigorous opposition to British entry into the EEC, arguing that it would mean the end of a thousand years as an independent nation. Harold Wilson could not make a speedy break with this position, but by 1967 British economic decline was so pronounced that he was able to renew an application for events with all-party support, in a motion carried in the Commons by 487 to 26 votes – a high-water mark of enthusiasm for Europe. No dice: six months later de Gaulle reissued his fin de non recevoir. It would take two events to alter the situation. In the summer of 1969, de Gaulle was succeeded by his prime minister, Georges Pompidou, who had played no role in the Resistance and made a postwar career in Rothschilds before rising through the ranks of the Gaullist administration. A year later, Edward Heath succeeded Wilson, heading a Conservative government in a time of decolonisation. Unlike any other British prime minister of the postwar epoch, Heath was overwhelmingly oriented to Europe, where he had fought during the Second World War, rather than to America. It did not, on the other hand, take him long to hit it off with Pompidou, who did not share Gaullist reservations about the US, to which he paid an official visit in 1970.
Pressing Britain's application for entry to the Common Market as soon as he was in Downing Street, Heath took eighteen months to negotiate terms that were satisfactory to him and to Pompidou, a period probably extended by the need for Ireland and Denmark to do the same (Norway having opted out). The arithmetic in the Commons was not unfavourable. The Tories had 330 MPs to 288 Labour, six Liberals and six others. But although at least forty Conservative MPs were against joining the EEC, 69 Labour MPs led by Roy Jenkins were in favour. There was thus never any real risk of the government being defeated on the issue. When the decisive third reading of the European Communities Bill came in July 1972, it passed by 301 to 284 votes. Britain had finally made it into Europe. But there was a substantial catch. While still in opposition, Heath had promised that he would not take the country into the EEC without 'the full-hearted consent' of the Parliament and people of Britain. That was never tested. He flatly rejected any question of a referendum to ascertain the popular will, though there was little risk of him losing one. More important, the government systematically avoided the fact that its terms of entry instituted the supremacy of European law over British law – that they meant, in short, a derogation of national sovereignty. Not a single minister candidly admitted what the documents they were urging into law meant constitutionally. For Heath, Europe would be a substitute for empire, and that was sufficient; likewise his colleagues. As the journalist Hugo Young put it, 'the deep, existential meaning, for Britain, of getting into "Europe" was not considered.' No serious thought was given to the implications of accession. In his judgment, 'ministers did not lie, but they avoided telling the full truth,' leaving subsequent Conservatives to feel that 'British entry was originally approved on false, even fraudulent pretences.' To get the country into the Common Market, the government opted for obfuscation rather than openness.
From the opposition benches, Wilson had been obliged to denounce the treaty, while ensuring that Jenkins and others suffered no penalty for ensuring its passage. Restored to government in 1974, Labour went through the motions of renegotiating the terms Heath had secured from Pompidou, then staging a referendum on the revision. Wilson allowed his ministers to take whatever side they preferred in the ensuing campaign, in which Tony Benn from Labour and Enoch Powell from the opposition – he had by then left the Tories and joined the Ulster Unionists – campaigned for a No vote. In June 1975, on a turnout of 64 per cent, two-thirds of those who voted – 67 per cent – approved the deal Wilson had obtained. British membership of the Common Market looked rock solid. When Thatcher took over four years later, and promptly abolished exchange controls, releasing the City for further European deals, it strengthened again. By the mid-1980s, the British economy was outperforming its counterparts on the Continent, even as the long general downturn of the period cut growth rates across the world capitalist economy. In confident mood, Thatcher recovered two-thirds of the UK's (disproportionately high) net contribution to the EEC budget, before helping to propel the next major stage of market integration – the Single European Act of 1987 under the president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors – from which she expected British financial services in particular to benefit.
It was not long before any such linear prospect was in trouble. At the Treasury, Nigel Lawson had pressed for British entry into the Community's Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1985, and when Thatcher vetoed this, shadowed it nonetheless. By 1989 the economy – pumped up by Lawson to secure Thatcher's third electoral victory in 1987 – was visibly overheating, with a record balance of payments deficit, rising inflation and higher interest rates. For her part, Thatcher, sensing the direction in which Delors was heading with his committee on monetary union, dug in her heels over demands from her colleagues that she follow Brussels and Frankfurt, which were visibly gearing up for a single currency. By the end of 1989 Lawson was gone, and within a year Thatcher had followed him, toppled by her deputy, Geoffrey Howe, on account of her growing hostility to the Community. She was still strong enough to ensure that her favoured successor, John Major, took over, but it soon became clear that he had no more intention than Lawson or Howe of hewing to her vision of Europe. With scarcely over a year in office behind him, Major signed the Treaty of Maastricht, after negotiating an opt-out from the single currency. On his return to London, the government press release crowed that the upshot of the conference in the Netherlands was 'game, set and match' to Britain.
In the wake of this ostensible triumph, Major called an election in April 1992 and won it easily. Less than two months later, the Danes voted on the package their government had brought back from Maastricht, and rejected it. The Danish revolt sparked a British one, with dissident Tories and Liberal Democrats demanding a referendum on the treaty, the Telegraph, Sun and Spectator backing them, and polls showing public support for one. From the wings, Thatcher had become an increasingly vocal critic of Brussels. Just at this point, British membership of the ERM – which the country had entered in 1990 at too high an exchange rate – collapsed, destroying the credibility of the government. Limping through successive divisions over Maastricht without ever recovering politically, Major finally got ratification through in May 1993, a couple of days after the Danes were forced into holding a second referendum. At the Treasury, Kenneth Clarke presided over a return to growth, but it was of no electoral avail. The Conservatives were comprehensively thrashed in the elections of May 1997, leaving Tony Blair with the largest Commons majority of any government since 1945.
Dramatic though the overthrow of Major proved to be, it did not substantially alter the position of Britain in Europe. Once he was gone, however, the Euroscepticism he had just managed to keep in check broke loose, electing three Conservative leaders in succession – Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard – who were sworn opponents of Maastricht, none with any hope of winning an election. In government, Blair's initial doubts about the single currency, prompted by the hostility to the euro of the Murdoch press that had helped elect him, soon faded. But Gordon Brown's firm refusal to abandon sterling, made from his position of strength at the Exchequer, maintained the status quo bequeathed by Major. London would sign up to the Social Chapter that Major had sidestepped, but despite increasingly frantic pressure from Blair, the UK would respect the rest of the package negotiated at Maastricht, retaining its opt-out from the single currency. Brown was emboldened in this course by the continuing success, as it appeared, of Britain's splendid isolation from the Eurozone. Here is Blair, addressing the Labour Party Conference at Brighton as prime minister in 1997:
We are one of the great innovative peoples. From the Magna Carta to the first Parliament to the industrial revolution to an empire that covered the world, most of the great inventions of modern times have Britain stamped on them: the telephone; the television; the computer; penicillin; the hovercraft; radar. Change is in the blood and bones of the British – we are by our nature and tradition innovators, adventurers, pioneers. As our great poet of renewal and recovery, John Milton, put it, we are 'a nation not slow or dull, but of quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point that human capacity can soar to'. Even today, we lead the world in design, pharmaceuticals, financial services, telecommunications. We have the world's first language. Britain today is an exciting, inspiring place to be.
Captivated by the 'rare brilliance' of Blair's speech to the National Assembly in Paris the following year, and the 'effortless aplomb' of his handling of questions about Europe, Young saluted his skill in leading the country out of the 'darkness' of the past, even if he was 'not yet ready to name the day or the hour when the old world would end'. In the view of the real architect at Maastricht, the Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers, the pro-European British elite had been unable to represent the realities of integration to their compatriots. 'It was if as the makers did not dare to tell the truth.' Blair was braver, Young believed: it was plainly his intention to call a referendum on British entry into the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) before it came into effect in January 2002. He was 'unlikely to miss his opportunity to reposition the national mind' on Europe: 'now there was a prime minister prepared to align the island with the natural hinterland beyond.'
No such luck. Young, starstruck by Blair in 1997, was cruelly disappointed by the time of his death in autumn 2003, when the consequences not only of the war on Iraq, against which he had warned, but of the rift between Blair and Brown on Europe, were already plain.1 Blair lacked the courage to tackle the issue until he had won re-election in 2001, when he began pressing for entry to the EMU. Brown, however, master of the briefs the Treasury had produced for him, dug his heels in, and when the two clashed head-on in spring 2003 had no difficulty prevailing. Britain was star performer in the G8, with no reason to truckle to the wishes of others. In the autumn, Brown told the party that
While America and Japan have been in recession – while half of Europe is still in recession, Britain with a Labour government pursuing Labour policies has achieved economic growth in every year, indeed in every quarter of every year, for the whole six and a half years of this Labour government ... Britain can be more than a bridge between Europe and America: our British values – what we say and do marrying enterprise and fairness, and about public services and the need to relieve poverty – can and should in time make Britain a model, a beacon for Europe, America and the rest of the world.
Brown's relationship with Blair, as he would later report, never recovered from the rebuff he dealt his premier. So long as he stayed chancellor, his own political reputation remained intact. No sooner did he become prime minister in 2007, however, than the wheels fell off the triumphal chariot he thought he was riding. By the summer subprime mortgages in the US were in trouble, and were soon taking down with them the British banks that had plunged recklessly into the American housing market. By the autumn of 2008, the Royal Bank of Scotland – at the beginning of the year the flushest in the world, with nominal assets of £2.3 trillion, larger than Britain's GDP – was effectively bankrupt, saved only by a last-minute government takeover. Amid the ruins of its braggadocio, New Labour was left with the worst fiscal deficit of the G7. Few were surprised when it was trounced at the polls in 2010.
Three years before the financial crisis, David Cameron had been elected to lead the Conservatives, promising to make them a more appealing alternative to Labour after the serial fiascos of his predecessors. Unlike them, he was not a Eurosceptic and made sure he got into office without damaging commitments of the kind that had helped sink them. But the party he led had shifted steadily further away from the positions of Heath and Howe. To the small group of bone-dry sceptics of 1972-75 were now added those who had broken with the party leadership over Maastricht, and yet more recently those who saw nothing positive in the arrangements of the Treaty of Lisbon, which succeeded it. All were on their guard against further concessions to Brussels, and in early 2011 forced the European Union Act through Parliament, making a referendum obligatory in the event that any further treaty revision was proposed. They were fortified in their position by the strength that Ukip had revealed in the European elections of 2009, when it came second with 16 per cent of the vote, behind the Tories with 27.4 per cent, but ahead of Labour with 15.2 per cent.
Helping Cameron, on the other hand, were the Liberal Democrats, who had taken nearly a quarter of the vote in 2010, and provided the coalition with enough seats for a comfortable majority of 76 in the Commons. Under Nick Clegg, who promptly scuttled his party's pledge to scrap tuition fees for higher education, the Lib Dems were at one with the Tories in forcing harsh austerity on the country, but as a party remained unconditionally pro-European. The first test of the coalition's mettle came when Angela Merkel decided, shortly before the 2010 British election, that it was essential the EU revise its treaties, adding a Fiscal Compact that would bind every government to rigid budgetary discipline, to check the danger of the Union unravelling amid tensions over the fallout of the Wall Street crisis. By November 2011, the regimes in Dublin, Lisbon, Athens, Rome and Madrid had all been toppled, helped along not infrequently by the demands of Berlin and Frankfurt. In December the European Council met in Brussels to vote on the German package to save the euro. Cameron vetoed its adoption, whereupon Merkel pushed it through as an inter-governmental treaty outside the framework of the Union. The compact was sealed early in 2012, making clear how ineffectual British opposition proved in practice to be.
Undaunted, Cameron called an election in May 2015. By now, Clegg's role as a parliamentary footstool for the Tories had discredited the Lib Dems, and the party's vote collapsed by nearly two-thirds, giving Cameron a small but workable Tory majority in the Commons. Buoyed by victory in the Scottish independence referendum a few months earlier, when warning of the economic dangers of a break with England had yielded comfortable support for the status quo, Cameron announced a referendum on membership of the EU the following spring, expecting that with leeway from the Union on migration, which had become a running source of complaint in domestic politics, he could carry the day without much difficulty. His insouciance was wrong. The footling concessions he secured in Europe won him no friends at home, and the timing and terms of the referendum were set, not by him nor his cabinet, but by the astute and clear-sighted strategists of the European Research Group (ERG) in the Commons, implacable adversaries of what the EU had become. Once the campaign began, two of his leading cabinet ministers – Michael Gove the slyest and Boris Johnson the most popular of his colleagues, neither of them close to the ERG, both actuated by career rather than conviction – declared themselves for Leave.
In parliamentary terms, Remain still had a winning hand, since Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens were all theoretically with Cameron, who also retained the support of 53 per cent of the Tory delegation in the Commons, giving him the backing of 73 per cent of the House. Such proportions, however, were detached from the politics of the time. When Ed Miliband resigned as Labour leader after defeat in the 2015 general election, the first leadership poll in the party's history to be decided on a simple one-person-one-vote basis, rather than by the block union and parliamentary quotas of the past, produced a landslide victory for Jeremy Corbyn, an outsider from the left. Corbyn soon made it clear he did not intend to repeat Miliband's performance in the Scottish referendum – he had lined up with Cameron – but would argue for British retention of EU membership on his own terms, giving no support to the Tory government. Nor did the parliamentary statistics reflect the balance of opinion in the country, as would shortly become clear.
After a referendum campaign of ten weeks, 58 per cent of Tory, 37 per cent of Labour and 96 per cent of Ukip voters opted for Leave, yielding an overall majority of 52 per cent for Brexit, rising to 64 per cent in the poorest three categories of the population, C2DE. The only socioeconomic group where a majority voted to Remain was the most affluent stratum of the population, composed of members of categories A and B. All others preferred Leave. But if voters were divided not by income but by age and education, the result looked very different. Of those between 18 and 24 who voted, 73 per cent chose Remain; between 25 and 34, 62 per cent; between 35 and 44, 52 per cent; the majority of those over 44 voted for Leave. Similarly, 57 per cent of those with university degrees opted to Remain, 64 per cent with higher degrees, and 81 per cent in full-time education. Geographically, in England it was in university towns alone that Remain won handsomely.
Politically, the two camps were divided by contrasting perceptions of what was at stake in the referendum. The Remainers consisted essentially of two groups, those who were moved principally by cultural issues and those principally by economic issues. For the first group, composed of the young and most of the well-educated, the driving force was overwhelmingly a hostility to chauvinism – a rejection of the blind xenophobia and racism that threatened, they believed, to make Britain a suffocating prison of reaction. For the second group, leaving the EU threatened living standards, which were bound to drop cruelly on exit. Leavers were also divided into two groups. For the first, overwhelmingly located in the plebeian categories C2DE, the key issue was control over their own, and the country's, destiny, something that could only be secured by departure from the EU. For the second, it was recovery of the independence that had been the basis of Britain's prowess in the past. To these more general considerations, control of immigration and borders came second. Close to three-quarters of Remainers thought Britain a better country than thirty years earlier; nearly three-fifths of Leavers thought it worse.
Behind the clash of arguments and identities in June 2016 lay two critical legacies of New Labour. The first derived from Blair's decision in 2004 to reward his Eastern European allies for their staunch role in the Iraq War. Poland, which had taken part in the US-UK led invasion and hosted a CIA torture chamber, received pride of place in the reception of immigrants to UK. Some 700,000 Poles eventually came, many more than Blair had bargained for. No other European country knew an influx of comparable size and speed so early on. By 2017, 400,000 Romanians and Bulgarians had joined them. The Cameron government, though acutely aware of the potential danger this cumulative influx represented to Tory stability, could do nothing to halt or mitigate it. When the referendum came, Ukip under Farage and Banks pulled no punches in the nativist operation it ran independently of Dominic Cummings's Vote Leave, along a parallel track but at some distance from it.
The second legacy of New Labour, unlike the first, attracted virtually no public attention, but was probably more decisive. Had Blair pushed through accession to the EMU after 2001, or even after 2005, the outcome of the referendum would have been very different. It was his failure to override Brown, and lock Britain into the single currency when the economic going was still good for the country, that handed victory to Leave. For one lesson of the Monetary Union is crystal clear. Ceteris paribus, once a country is inside it, fear of the consequences of departure trumps all else if the issue is tested at the polls. The nearest a people came to leaving the single currency despite this was the Greek rejection of the Troika's terms for a bailout in the referendum of 2015. That vote, however, was a simple negative: 'Ochi'. The referendum lacked any positive proposal, and as soon as the Syriza government led by Alexis Tsipras capitulated, resistance to the worse terms he accepted dissolved virtually overnight. The reason was the one that had made Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord in Italy and Marine Le Pen of the renamed Rassemblement National in France ultimately back away from any talk of exit from the EMU. Once the single currency was in force, people's savings were held in euros. To leave the Monetary Union when this was an accomplished fact was to destroy their value. No party with a popular base dared risk such a prospect.
It was the complete absence of this danger which secured the victory of Leave in Britain. The masses who voted for Brexit believed they were striking a blow at Brussels and the neoliberalism under which they had suffered for a quarter of a century. In reality, that neoliberalism – harsher than anything on the Continent – was British in origin, and could be overthrown without any of the instant penalties that would have been incurred if the UK had been a loyal member of the EMU. As for those who voted against Brexit, their warnings of disaster were for all immediate purposes irrelevant. In the longer run, Claus Offe's verdict – though imposition of the single currency was a huge mistake for Europe, unwinding it risks even greater harm to ordinary citizens – might hold good. But in 2016, such a risk was an abstraction. In their different ways, the two sides in the referendum battle shared the same illusion: in the world at large, defeat for their position would mean a loss of standing for Britain that was bound to be fatal to its prosperity. Neither of them paid the slightest attention to the obvious fact that (if we exclude toy-states like Liechtenstein, Monaco or Luxembourg) the two richest countries in Europe, with the most advanced welfare systems, do not belong to the EU: Switzerland and Norway. Both societies rejected integration with the Union in popular referendums and have flourished since doing so. In Britain, the cry from both camps says enough about their common motivation: what, be reduced to the rank of the Swiss or the Norwegians! Suppressed or blurted, nostalgia for Great Power status united the combatants in the referendum, compulsively grappling with each other in the dark.
On the morning after the vote, Cameron announced his resignation as prime minister, and was succeeded by Theresa May, his home secretary, who had also been a Remainer, if a more cautious one. Anger at the result of the referendum in the Parliamentary Labour Party was such that – even before May was installed as premier – it voted by 172 to 40 to evict Corbyn, who was held responsible for Remain's defeat. In September a second leadership election returned him with an even larger majority. Buoyed by her success in local elections the following spring, and enjoying a large lead in the opinion polls, May called a snap election in June 2017, counting on a much enlarged majority. It did not materialise. Though she increased the Tory vote by just over two million, raising its share from 37 to 42 per cent – its highest level since Thatcher – and did significantly better than her predecessor in Scotland, the total number of seats she won fell, whereas Labour increased its vote by double the Tory margin, hitting 40 per cent of the total for the first time since 2001. With just 317 seats, May put together a minority government dependent on the ten Democratic Unionist MPs from Ulster.
May soldiered on in the hope of a Chequers deal with the EU, trading concessions over Northern Ireland, where opinion was overwhelmingly against a hard border with the South, for an otherwise smooth path to withdrawal from the Union. Small chance. In the summer of 2018, Johnson, her foreign secretary, resigned from the cabinet over the proposed arrangement, followed in the autumn by the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab. Successive attempts to get Chequers-lite arrangements through the Commons floundered in the face of opposition from the ERG, which could muster up to eighty votes. The Tory ranks looked in complete disarray. Worse, however, had overtaken Labour. As May struggled to persuade her own party to support her, the Labour right, which had always commanded a huge majority in the PLP, regrouped behind the broad front for a 'People's Vote' that took shape in the spring of 2018, campaigning for a second referendum to reverse the result of the first along standard EU lines, as pulled off in Denmark and Ireland. Recovering its spirits, the Guardian was soon baying in support. The campaign was internally divided, with formal ownership of the assets of Open Britain, the original impetus behind People's Vote, resting with the millionaire public relations tycoon Roland Rudd, while most of the organisational work came from Blair's former aide Alastair Campbell and other veterans of New Labour, who unlike Rudd were chary of committing the campaign to cancelling the result of the referendum, preferring the pretence of simply asking voters what they now thought. Tensions between the two wings boiled over in the autumn of 2019, when Rudd staged a coup, dismissing the Blairite operatives from their common offices in Millbank.
Distinct from these shenanigans, but within their general mouvance, the youthful cadres of Momentum that had formed the shock troops of Corbynism shifted to an increasingly militant pro-Europeanism. This development, however, made clear a substantial gap between aspirations and abilities. That a passionate internationalism moved the new recruits to the idea of a second referendum was clear. But what kind of internationalism was it? Under New Labour, foreign languages ceased to be compulsory in schools after the age of 14, with command of any foreign language among 14 and 15-year-olds soon falling to less than a quarter of the EU average. A decade later, the number of pupils taking German at GCSE had plummeted by half, those taking French by two-fifths. At A level, where drop-out rates are very high, the number taking French had by 2019 fallen to a third of that in 1996, and Spanish – chosen by just 1.1 per cent of candidates, about two-thirds of them female – had overtaken French as the most popular language. At university level, fewer than 5 per cent of undergraduates now study a foreign language, a decline of a fifth since 2015. Among the young, an internationalism that is so largely sentimental yields solidarity with other Anglophones, of Commonwealth or other backgrounds. But in any wider or more lasting sense, sympathies without skills lack depth and staying power.
In the background, the LRB entered the fray, from February 2016 onwards, publishing 210 pieces invoking Brexit in 114 issues of the paper, with a further 55 letters and 167 items on its blog. In these conditions, under pressure from the PLP, the Guardian, the BBC and its own youth, the Labour leadership drifted towards a generic obstructionism in the Commons, as May's base in the Conservative Party disintegrated. When she finally threw in her hand, and Johnson romped home in the contest to succeed her, then quickly reached agreement with Dublin and Brussels on withdrawal terms, Labour was caught off guard, and bounced by the Lib Dems and the SNP into accepting the Tory demand for an early election, for which it had long clamoured but now had every reason to fear. Taking full advantage of popular exasperation at three years of political deadlock, and campaigning on a relentless refrain of 'Get Brexit Done', Johnson swept to an easy victory, coming close to Thatcher's electoral score in 1979 and comfortably exceeding her majority in the Commons. Labour collapsed by nearly eight points, to a level only just ahead of its debacle of 1987. When Corbyn stood down, Keir Starmer secured a majority among the party membership virtually as large as Corbyn's had been, and wasted no time in purging the shadow cabinet and NEC of holdovers from the previous regime, restoring the traditional status quo of a right-wing Labourism indistinguishable from the good sense of a mainstream establishment.
Leaving Blair's initial fumbling over Europe well behind (campaigning in 1983 against membership of the EEC, rallying to it in 1987) in a somersault of scarcely a year between passionate calls for a second referendum and resolute enforcement of submission to the pact clinching Brexit, Starmer would show a clean pair of heels to New Labour itself. The EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement was bundled through the Commons on 30 December in four hours, amid a bien pensant consensus that while far from desirable – it multiplies red tape on goods and excludes the financial services at which Britain excels – it's at least better than no deal. If the cost will be a 4 per cent, rather than a 6 per cent loss of GDP, what else could be expected, given the disparity – the EU more than six times the size of the UK in output and population – in the bargaining power of the two sides?
Macroeconomic predictions extending over a period of years are rarely foolproof; deviations cannot be discounted in either direction. In this case, perhaps more significant is what such predictions generally overlook. The Lisbon Treaty, copied from the draft constitution of the EU that was thwarted by French and Dutch voters, proclaims the commitment of the Union to a 'highly competitive market economy', if naturally a 'social' one, not to speak of 'peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and respect among peoples, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights'. Among these worthy objectives comes 'free and fair trade'. Why the first adjective requires the second, or how exactly it consorts with it, is not explained. But that the first is coaxed by the second, in much the same way that the addition of 'social' soothes 'market', is clear. The drafters' delicate sense of words does not end there. Whereas the Union 'shall establish' a highly competitive economy, it will merely 'contribute' to free trade. The reality so nicely captured in this distinction is that, not unlike the US or China, the EU is a mercantilist bloc, replete with subsidies (think only of the Common Agricultural Policy) and protections (think only of services) of many kinds, aimed at barricading outsiders from the privileges afforded insiders. That its neoliberal admirers in Britain should burn so much incense in honour of its internationalist calling is not the least irony of the hour, only underlined by the contrast between its practices and the purer free trade dispositions, proceeding to unilateral abolition of tariffs, of mid-Victorian Britain.
The honeymoon enjoyed by the Johnson government after its triumph at the polls was brief. Elected on 12 December 2019, it celebrated the British exit from the EU on 31 January 2020. By then Covid-19 was already circulating in the country. But it was not until 23 March that the government ordered a lockdown. Criticism of its performance, bungling by any measure, came from all sides, not least from papers like the Guardian and the Mirror. But as organs of the Labour establishment, these could be discounted. More telling attacks came from writers once close to the Tories. Three stood out as authors of far the most effective critiques of recent British developments; all had a past at the Spectator: Ferdinand Mount, former aide to Thatcher, whose The New Few had appeared in 2012; Peter Oborne, whose Triumph of the Political Class was published five years earlier; and Geoffrey Wheatcroft, whose Yo, Blair! came out in 2007. The first looked at the structure of wealth that had emerged in the new century, the second at the character of its ruling elite, the third at the role played by the architect of New Labour in the decline of the traditional political order.
In this trio, Mount was in some ways a figure apart, having transferred his allegiance from Thatcher to Blair by the time of the wars on Yugoslavia and Iraq, adventures that he supported. In Mind the Gap (2004), he could write with unalloyed admiration of 'progressive reformers' like the New Labour politicians Mandelson, Milburn and Byers, and of late has made a robust defence of the 'constitutional and administrative reforms of the Blair years'. In a similar mood, he would greet the 'thrilling' early episodes of the Cameron-Clegg coalition with enthusiasm. But when he came to write The New Few, an assault on Britain's fall into the grip of self-seeking oligarchies of one kind or another, he made it clear that the EU was a still more extreme case of the same disease, in a chapter entitled 'Stuck on the Eurostar'. These European symptoms didn't leave Britain unaffected. 'Belonging to the EU brings us under a system of law that is new to us, both in kind and in degree. It is far more abundant, much less responsive to public opinion, more or less irreversible, and within its spheres of competence, unlimited,' Mount wrote. The Union, advancing with a vast and virtually untouchable acquis, and a decreasing connection to public feeling, was expanding its powers at the expense of national parliaments. The truth was that 'the EU began as an oligarchy, it continues oligarchic, and the oligarchs see no reason to alter their practices or their ambitions. No previous empire I can think of, certainly not that of the Romans or the British, not even the French, carried centralisation quite so far'; and no project revealed its nature so starkly as the single currency. The euro was 'the oligarch project to end all oligarch projects', a design careless in its hubris and heedless of its casualties, from which countries like Portugal, Greece and Italy would do well to exit. Though Mount had always supported British membership of the EU, in the hope that 'over the years the EU would gradually cast off its elitist oligarchic origins and engage with the people, I have to confess that no such casting-off or engaging has been observable to date.'
That was in 2012. Since 2016, he has adopted a very different note in a series of impassioned philippics against Brexit. Britain is now said to be in the grip of an unpleasant and unscrupulous regime, populated by venomous paranoids determined to obstruct decent relations with Europe, whose vainglorious Duce has not only scrapped Thatcher's commitment to the free market and deregulation, but tolerates no equals. To denounce the misgovernment of Johnson is not, Mount writes, 'to defend the ramshackle and blatantly imperfect institutions of the EU'. But what has Europe ever had to do with our domestic problems? Virtually all the changes which have occurred in the UK since it entered Europe were locally derived, with the partial exception of immigration. Had Britain joined the Eurozone, its sovereignty would have been impaired, but since it did not, we had never lost control of our destiny. Under Johnson, Edward Luttwak's prediction that in conditions of massive middle-class job loss capitalism could generate a soft variant of fascism, now seemed far-sighted.2 There was indeed a new puzzlement at the workings of capitalism, Mount confessed. But timely measures to help farmers, small businesses, human rights and ordinary families, and a revival of our links with European institutions were perfectly capable of resolving it. In this threnody, forgotten or repressed are the charges once laid against not only the character of the Union, but its impact on this country – here too Remainer passion obliterating the Europe of its attachment.
Oborne, unlike Mount, welcomed the referendum on Europe and voted for Brexit. But looking back in the spring of 2019, after May had signalled that she was stepping down but before her successor was chosen, he was seized with regret. 'Part of me, therefore, still feels proud of Brexit. Well done Britain for challenging remote oligarchs based in Brussels,' he wrote. But nearly three years of angry and bitter debate had cut him in two. It was clear that Nissan, Sony and Panasonic were shifting their investments to the Continent, and Japanese financial firms might well follow, while even the Brexiteer James Dyson was moving his vacuum-cleaner manufacture to Singapore. Nor was there any widespread support for Brexit in Northern Ireland or Scotland, risking the unity of Great Britain. He had changed his mind, and urged others to do the same. But where, he asked, is 'the ringing declaration of love for the European Union? We have seen the passionate beliefs of the Brexiteers. Where's your own positivity? Where your matching passion for Remain?' To which he could only reply: 'I have none. Only a deep, gnawing worry that we are making a significant mistake: a worry that is growing by the hour. Call that negative, if you like, but precaution is negative – yet it is part of our kit for survival.' In December 2019, Oborne announced that to stop Johnson he would vote Labour.
Describing himself as 'a somewhat tepid or critical Remainer', who had long viewed the notion of a United States of Europe as misguided and foredoomed, Wheatcroft attacked the 2016 referendum just before it took place as a demagogic distraction. Maastricht had combined two mistakes, premature enlargement of the EU to the East before it had achieved sufficient economic convergence with Western Europe and imposition of a disastrously misjudged single currency on Southern Europe. The Union needed drastic reform if it was to survive. But Brexiteers offered none. Later, when Cameron produced an apologia after losing the referendum, Wheatcroft compared it to 'Blair's gruesome memoir, A Journey', as 'one more apology that doesn't apologise'. Cameron was refusing to admit that the referendum could never have had a good outcome, although 'by trying to appease the unappeasable, he was on a hiding to nothing: if the Europhobes had lost, they would simply have come back another time.' It was as if Cameron had told the Spaniards in the summer of 1936: 'We are a sadly divided nation. Let us clear the air and bring the country together, by fighting a Civil War.' As for the foreign policy of those who won the referendum, the Tories, defiant of the EU and subservient to the White House, had become 'résistants towards Brussels, but pétainistes towards Washington'. Johnson, aptly depicted by Mount as 'a seedy, treacherous character', was both ruthlessly ambitious and totally unprincipled. For Wheatcroft, as a writer for the Spectator when Johnson was its editor, 'our dealings were perfectly cordial, but then I've dealt with plenty of affable rascals in my time.'
Vengeful, remorseful, critical: such was the gamut of these one-time Tories' reflections on Brexit. Striking in every case is the weakness of the eventual stance adopted. Although all three writers are well versed in European matters, none pays any sustained attention to the institutions of the EU, or the direction they have been taking in the decades since Maastricht. Europe is scarcely even a sideshow. What matters is what has happened in Blighty. Mount's lone proviso – if Britain had entered the Eurozone, the issue wouldn't be the same – scarcely affects the upshot. Central to these positions and their wistful retellings of the downfall of the UK is the same contradiction. Europe matters to the prosperity and liberty of Britain, without which it would have withered in isolation: Europe is marginal to the life of the country, which has never submitted to the Caudine Forks of Frankfurt. The reality, of course, is that the country and these patriots cannot have it both ways. If Britain has never joined the single currency or the Fiscal Compact, and in the most intense heat of the battle over the referendum, no one any longer dared – as they might have done a decade earlier – suggest that it should do so, it is pointless to imagine that the UK could ever play a significant role in the construction of a more integrated Union. Insularity is always in the eye of the other. Without any referendum, Britain long ago locked itself out of the arena where such questions are decided.
The antidote to anguished Remainer ruminations lay close at hand, all but universally ignored. The world's two leading authorities on Thomas Hobbes, the foremost modern theorist of sovereignty, are at different ends of the political spectrum: Noel Malcolm of All Souls, editor of Leviathan for Oxford, on the right; Richard Tuck of Harvard, author of the finest contextualisation of Hobbes's thought, on the left. Differing in outlook in so many ways, their convergence on Brexit is all the more arresting. For Malcolm, who intervened in 1991 before the Treaty of Maastricht was signed, sovereignty was being systematically confused with power by those, from Heath onward, who hoped to consign it to an irrelevant past. In fact, sovereignty was a question of authority, not of power, and could be described as a set of rules – in Britain, statutes passed by Parliament – for the legitimate exercise of government. Such authority could not be delegated, though its exercise might for limited purposes be devolved (for example, collective defence by Nato). But it could be abolished, as British sovereignty would be if its attributes were transferred upwards to a federal Europe, reducing Westminster to a mere regional assembly.
Returning to the charge four years later – Maastricht was now in force, and there was a question whether Britain should enter the EMU – Malcolm identified the project of Europe as the creation of just such a federal union. Could it yield any economic advantages to a state participating in it? The fate of the CAP and its costs was clear: it could not. Nor would the EMU be any better, acceptance of its exchange rate rigidity spelling economic regression – either collapse of industries under competitive pressure, or mass migration of the labour force to lands with less depressed wages. It was an illusion to think that the nation-state was obsolete: the most successful economic models of the time were all classic nation-states – the US, Japan, West Germany. What the European Union stood for was the decaffeinated ideal of a Eurocratic class, bent on extricating politics from the management of economic affairs in a fashion incompatible with both inevitable national divergences of situation and interest, and popular politics of any kind. What the EU offered instead was a prospect of log-rolling by the Council of Ministers behind closed doors, elite corruption – witness the then recent prosecution, flight or suicide of premiers in Italy, Greece and France – and popular impotence. Such a combination was bound to boil over in outbursts of aggressive nationalism.
Two decades later, Tuck broke his silence on Europe as Britain prepared to vote on Brexit. Facing the referendum of 2016, the left risked throwing away democracy, the one instrument for popular sovereignty available to it rather than to global capitalism and managerial power. In considering the options before the country, he argued, it should never forget the lesson of the National Health Service, when Labour had been able to override all medical and sectional opposition to the nationalisation without compensation of private 'charity' hospitals because it had the authority of Parliament, an action inconceivable in today's EU, whose rules forbid any such expropriation. In stark contrast, the EU was an essentially technocratic construct, designed much like central banks or constitutional courts to give immense power to select bodies whose prejudices were inevitably those of the class from which they were recruited. Varoufakis was proposing sweeping institutional changes to the EU, which were nowhere on the agenda, while Labour risked quietus because of its decline in Scotland, whose independence could only be halted if Brexit prevailed. Rapidly rising immigration was a symptom of a more general loss of power by the masses, and could only be controlled by its recovery. The left was in disarray, if not despair, believing that Britain was a country of such ingrained conservatism that Europe could act as a safeguard against it, despite the EU's lack of democracy and bias towards capitalism. Belief that it was too late to change any of this was an advance rationalisation of defeat.
A year later, in the wake of Leave's unexpected victory, Tuck adopted a more theoretical position. In the 18th century, theorists – most conspicuously, Rousseau – established a critical distinction between government and sovereignty. The former could be exercised by a small group of persons, whereas the latter was inherently a prerogative of the people. Identification of the two, still to be found in Bodin and Hobbes, was indefensible. The European Union, he argued, is not a superstate, but a set of states that enacted a constitutional order between themselves which cannot be amended in the same way it was introduced, by conventional – that is to say, governmental – legislation. Only a process subject to veto, issuing virtually per impossibile in inter-governmental unanimity, could alter this constitutional structure. As such, the idea of an unamendable constitution was new in Europe, even if the German Grundgesetz comes closest to it. The British left would do well to reflect that even Bernie Sanders's three basic demands – reject or modify Nafta and the TPP; raise taxes on Wall Street; free university tuition – would be out of reach if the country were in the EU. From its own point of view correctly, the Labour right had always supported membership of the Community as a prophylactic against proposals of this kind. Were the Labour left to be tempted to join it in blocking May's attempts to implement the referendum, Tuck went on, the result would only be the restoration of a Blairite or Macronesque neoliberal regime in Britain. Brexit was the greatest prize for Labour in two generations; among other things, he repeated, it made Scottish independence less, not more, likely. The left should not let go of it.
Finally, joining forces with Christopher Bickerton, Tuck warned against any reversal or suspension of Brexit as hardening the pathological divisions in British society and convincing millions that democracy in the UK was a sham. Having been told there was nothing they could do about immigration because of the EU, the masses had demonstrated that they no longer wanted to play a secondary role, but to become sovereign once again and put government back where it belonged – this was, he held, not a quixotic or esoteric position to take. The old left was in irreversible decline in Europe, and neither Syriza nor Podemos could revive it, since the EU did not represent an attack on the old nation-states of Europe in the name of a new one, but an assault by capitalism on politics as such. The European treaties radically diminished the power of national legislatures while expanding the power of national executives. The British, as the only people whose legislature was the sole source of authority in their country, were not used to this kind of arrangement. The left viewed the constitution and Supreme Court in America as formidable barriers to political democracy, without realising that the EU was far worse in this respect – a judgment of the European Court of Justice being for all practical purposes unalterable. The 52 per cent who voted for Brexit still lacked any common identity or coherent will, as the British political class intended they should. But they ought not to be intimidated by threats of violence in Northern Ireland or job losses in England if Brexit was ratified. The first had raged after Britain joined the Common Market, the second had jumped after 9/11. What was holding back the implementation of Brexit was something else – the lack of a political vision capable of giving effect to the popular longing to regain control of society.
To proceed from Mount, Oborne and Wheatcroft to Malcolm and Tuck is to move from surface to substance – from emotional reaction to critical reflection on the gulf that had opened up between Britain and the EU by 2016. But, addressing essentially the same audience, the two sets of responses share a negative premise that is unspoken. Which is? Essentially, avoidance of any direct comparison between the political structures of Westminster and the complex of institutions centred in Brussels, with its flanks in Luxembourg and Frankfurt, as two patently different systems of representation. Neither, it should go without saying, is remotely matter for idealisation: the vices of each are without number. But that a stark contrast exists between them is plain. It can be put most simply like this. In design, Westminster is a pre-modern construction that has survived long past its due date; Brussels is a post-modern fabrication that is determined to outlive every alternative to it.
Much of the anger aroused by Brexit in once Tory circles comes from an acute sense of the anachronism of leading advocates of departure, the ostentatious fogeyism of Rees-Mogg, Bone, Baker and others, defenders of the indefensible in the age of climate change, crowd-sourcing and correct speech. What is the order they uphold? A first-past-the-post electoral system dating back to the 16th century, before most constituencies were even contested, which regularly produces results that bear no resemblance to the divisions of opinion in the country; an unelected upper chamber crammed with flunkies and friends of the two dominant parties; an honours system devised to reward bagmen and sycophants; a Parliament that can be bundled into a poll at a day's notice; a judiciary capable of covering any administrative enormity. Little wonder its admirers quote Latin statutes from the time of Richard II or Henry VIII in praise of its workings.
Yet through all this, the fact remains that British governments can only survive if they enjoy a majority in the Commons – something that can be eroded by dissension within a party, as in 1940, or defection of an ally, as in 1979, or sheer attrition at by-elections, as in 1996 – and if they fall, elections to replace them must ensue. In the EU, by contrast, executives are appointed by governments, not put in office by the votes of citizens; legislative elections yield neither a government nor an opposition; proceedings at every institutional level, including the judicial and financial arms, are shrouded in secrecy; decisions of the supreme court are immutable. In postmodern style, all this is presented as the last word in an up-to-date polity: in practice, it is the simulacrum of a sentient democracy. It may grate that, for all its woeful shortcomings – think only, beyond England, of the place of Scotland or Northern Ireland in the composite realm – Westminster is vastly superior to this lacquered synarchy. The difference can be regarded as a historical fluke. But it is the indisputable bedrock of the quarrel between London and Brussels.
The European Union, as it has come to take shape, speaks continuously of democracy and the rule of law, even as it negates them. No ill intention need be ascribed to it. What it has become was inscribed in the minds of those who took possession of the project: a unification of the Continent from above, by stealth where possible, by diktat where necessary. Europe was ultimately too large and too various for the results to be otherwise. With a population of 446 million, the third largest polity on the planet, the EU is divided by some 24 official languages (another five lie waiting with the 17.5 million people queuing to join in the Balkans), more than India (22) or China (one), each vastly bigger in population. Of the 27 countries currently comprising the Union, none has a continuous parliamentary history comparable to the record in England, which with the exception of the eleven years of Charles I's personal rule avoided the absolutism that snuffed out representative assemblies across most of the Continent from the 16th century onwards. For quite a few of them, indeed, their modern experience of constitutional politics dates no further back than a quarter of a century. In these conditions, the extension of internally representative political systems into a quasi-confederation of continental dimensions was virtually bound to produce a structure of power fundamentally oligarchic in nature, whose only lingua franca is that of the country that has abandoned it. 'The most hopeful sustained trend in Europe today,' writes Philippe Von Parijs, a commentator on the left of the political spectrum, 'is the rapid spread of English as the lingua franca of its younger generation,' which promises a wider 'linguistic justice' to come. That there is nothing specific to Europe about such second-order Anglicisation, in a continent where half the population knows only its own native language, is no objection in the view of the champions of a global transnational democracy in which nostalgic attachments to national linguistic diversity wither away.
For the foreseeable future, however, the layer of the population that is fluent in two or three of the official languages of the EU, or even in its unofficial lingua franca, is necessarily restricted. Those from the EU actually living and working outside their country of birth in the Union form a number smaller still, less than 4 per cent of its total population in 2015, of whom the large majority were manual labourers of one kind or another. As late as 2008, they made up less than 2 per cent of the population of Western Europe. Such expatriates, however, include what can be described as the European political class stricto sensu, executives and professionals from the centre-right-to-centre-left continuum of parties comfortable in the institutions of the EU and accustomed to running its affairs. It would be a mistake either to demonise or to idealise this stratum.
That its top ranks have long been corrupted by immunity in their occupance of power is plain. It is enough to make a roll-call of its leading ornaments. Christine Lagarde, current president of the European Central Bank: suspected of complicity in fraud and malversation of public funds in covering for the crook Bernard Tapie, improperly paid €404 million by Crédit Lyonnais in 2008, when she was minister of the economy in France; in 2016 discharged by the state for 'negligence' with no penalty, in view of her 'personality' and (no doubt especially) her 'international reputation'. By that time she was head of the IMF – where her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had had to resign on charges of sexual assault and attempted rape and his predecessor, Rodrigo Rato, had been imprisoned on charges of embezzlement. Ursula von der Leyen, current president of the European Commission: charged in 2015 with plagiarism on 43 per cent of the pages of her 1990 doctorate at Hannover Medical School; the university commission that absolved her, headed by an old acquaintance from the alumni association at the institution, was heavily criticised in the media, but after the fall of two previous ministers in Merkel's government, both on charges of plagiarism, exhaustion had set in and she was allowed to keep her doctorate.
Von der Leyen's predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg: survived repeated exposure of his involvement in the tax avoidance and policies facilitating money-laundering for which his country is famous. Her vice-president and high representative for foreign affairs and security, the Spaniard Josep Borrell: forced to resign as president of the European University Institute in Florence for concealing the annual salary of €300,000 he had been receiving from a Spanish energy company. Michel Barnier, EU commissioner in charge of Brexit negotiations with Britain: showered with 'donations' amounting to more than 300,000 francs – more than seven times the total received by his seven rivals – when running as a Gaullist candidate for Haute-Savoie in the legislative elections of 1993. Olaf Scholz, finance minister and vice-chancellor of Germany, hoping to succeed Merkel next year: caught in the media headlights after appointing – a first in the country – the co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs in Germany and Austria, Jörg Kukies, as his deputy for financial market and European policy, only to have to admit that he knew Kukies had been on intimate terms with Markus Braun, fraudster boss of the now bankrupt Wirecard company (assets once valued at $28 billion), the largest financial scandal in the history of Germany. Scholz's chances of surviving parliamentary investigation intact: slim.
Tawdry episodes of this kind, routine at the top levels of the EU establishment, should not be generalised to the whole European political class, let alone to expatriates without official positions.3 What unites this layer is not so much the prebends its representatives extract from office as the interests and passions invested by it in the European project. In the UK, the mass demonstrations and media outcry over Brexit – in scale more impressive than any counterpart on the Continent, not out of a greater depth of conviction, but of greater proximity to danger – are a good gauge of this class's degree of commitment to the development of a united Europe. Identification with the cause of the Union need involve no immediate material stake, even if in the case, say, of university lecturers, employers may be dependent on Brussels for research funding. Where Europe is concerned, there is rarely a contradiction between self-interest and genuine idealism.
Of necessity, the premise of both is the passivity of the population below the political class and its adherents. Has the course of events since the global financial crisis of 2008 seriously shaken this? With the exception of Britain, it would be difficult to hold that it has had any sustained or consequential effect. Of the populist revolts in Southern Europe, Syriza – a fully establishment party once Tsipras signed up to the conditions of the Troika – gained less than a quarter of the vote in the European elections of 2019, before being routed at the national election in Greece shortly afterwards. In Italy, M5S scored just 17 per cent in the European elections, before joining its hitherto execrated adversary the Democratic Party in a coalition in Rome. In Spain, Podemos took 10 per cent in the European polls, before joining the Socialist Party in an unsteady minority government in Madrid. Of the populist revolts on the right, Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National achieved less than a quarter of the vote in those European elections, Salvini's Lega Nord just over a third. To the east, the parties led by Kaczyński and Orbán are still in a class by themselves, capturing respectively 45 and 53 per cent of votes in the Euro-elections, though each lost the mayoralty of his capital city to a mainstream liberal opponent, Law and Justice also falling short of a majority in the upper chamber of the Sejm, but narrowly retaining the Polish presidency.
Viewed soberly: nowhere do prospects look particularly favourable to populist forces in Europe, of whatever complexion. Where they remain outsiders in the political system, the risk they represent to it tends to strengthen the status quo. Where they enter the political system, as supports or partners of the establishment, they tend to become assimilated to the dominant consensus. The fears on which they play, while often radical in form, easily become conservative in effect where issues of identity or immigration arise. Overarching them is the reality that the centrist bloc of opinion encompassing moderate conservatives, temperate liberals, pragmatic social democrats and self-satisfied Greens – acronymically in Brussels, the EPP, RE, S&D and Greens/EFA – is much larger than its opponents on right or left, and remains overwhelmingly dominant in the Union. In the spreadeagled, distended space of today's Europe, control of the media landscape and lavish funding from the Commission make this force fully as capable, to use Michael Mann's phrasing, of outflanking symptoms of disgruntlement from below as its homologues in India, China or America. It would take another and altogether more seismic 2008 to shake these political co-ordinates.
Amid the pandemic, are we now living through something like this? Not according to today's Friedrich Gentz. Luuk Van Middelaar has consistently taken a dual view of the postwar history of Europe. On the one hand, each step forward has been the product of forces external to the Community and its successor. From the Schuman Plan to the victories in the ECJ of Robert Lecourt, integration was preceded and accompanied by the attentions, and often the initiatives, of the US. So too when Giscard founded the European Council, the impulse came from the breakdown of Bretton Woods and the diminution of American interest in the Old World during the 1970s. Maastricht and Monetary Union arrived as a reaction to the collapse of Soviet control of Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany. The global financial crisis of 2008 triggered the Fiscal Compact and the European Stability Mechanism. Now, the Covid blows of 2020 have forced through a 'Next Generation EU' package of €750 billion, to be raised by the Commission borrowing on the strength of mutualised bonds, something hitherto forbidden by Northern members of the Union, and hailed as a breakthrough by van Middelaar.4 At maturities extending to 2028, more than half of this – €390 billion – is to be distributed as grants rather than loans to member states in need. Given the scale of the likely economic contraction in the Eurozone – 7 per cent of its GDP in 2020 or in the region of €1.3 trillion – the support the package offers is modest enough. Under pressure, it can no doubt be increased. Plain, however, is that once again the momentum behind 'ever closer union' is not self-generated, but exogenous.
Does that matter? For both admirers and adversaries of the direction of Union politics since Maastricht, the answer appears essentially negative. In surveying the scene, it is striking that such disparate figures as the complaisant van Middelaar and critical Bickerton, the sceptical Giandomenico Majone and starry-eyed Sergio Fabbrini, converge in description and overlap in prescription. For this spectrum of writers, power has tended to pass from the supranational manifestations of the Union that nourished dreams of federalism to more inter-governmental examples, concentrated at the top in the European Council – where member states have proved perfectly capable of defending their national interests – and relayed below in variants of informal co-ordination and pursuit of consensus across areas like diplomacy, security or migration.
Common to this range of opinion is the rejection of the idea that the future of the Union lies in a federalist superstate, accompanied by the belief in a powerful forward motion that is still at work in the EU. The Covid package is not a prodrome of the United States of Europe to which Helmut Kohl looked forward on the morrow of Maastricht. Nor has it resolved the tensions and incongruities of the Union. For Majone, these require its conversion into a true confederation along Swiss lines, though one limited to foreign and security policy. For his compatriot Fabbrini, unlike him a paladin of the 'European values' proclaimed by Brussels, more is needed: division of the Union into a single economic community covering the whole of continental Europe, and a separate political union (not a state) of federal character, grouping only those countries prepared to accept a common currency, fiscal authority and budgetary policy, a common security and military system, border control and immigration policy, even if retaining domestic versions of some of these attributes. Majone admits his proposal is not currently feasible, while Fabbrini puts his hopes – shades of van Middelaar – in a 'coup', along the lines of that carried out by the American founders. Bickerton, by contrast, simply registers the paradox of further integration without significant supranational advance, while van Middelaar concedes that Macron's announcement of France's return to planning, which was followed by Germany, sets the course for a new European dirigisme to which even the Netherlands will have to adapt.
What these differing prospects – coming from writers convinced that the ideas of Monnet and Hallstein, Delors or Kohl are dead – overlook is the cumulative direction and impact of successive advances towards closer union, which are not in any simple way under the control of the powers steering the European Council. From the beginning there have always been significant forces with another agenda, committed to federal union, who have been entrenched in the Commission and the Court of Justice, and latterly too in the Central Bank and the Parliament. They have never achieved their goal. But nor, since the defeat of the European Defence Community in 1954, has incremental progress towards that end ever been stopped or reversed. Is it credible that it has now reached its limit?
It does not take a great deal of imagination to wonder how faithful Middelaar and others who have generally agreed with him – his teacher Frank Ankersmit might be a case in point – would remain to their traditional preferences if geopolitical conditions change. In 2018, observing the way the US and China were wrenching themselves away from the world order that took shape after the Cold War ended, van Middelaar asked himself what place Europe might occupy in the ensuing disorder. His answer was quite modest. 'The EU is an experiment in multilateralism on a continental scale,' he wrote, 'born to break power politics, but not to make power politics.' In that faint note of exogenous resignation, might there lie the germ of some endogenous adaptation to come, as steps towards yet closer union inch forward to meet mounting challenges from the superpowers of America and Asia? Or is the current formula of the EU – dilute sovereignty without meaningful democracy, compulsory unanimity without participant equality, cult of free markets without care of free trade – likely all the same to last indefinitely?
Quantitatively speaking, the shift in the centre of gravity of work on the EU from America to Europe itself has been a product of a now vast academic industry: some five hundred Jean Monnet chairs are currently planted across the Union. In the midst of a sea of conformity, a cluster of thinkers has emerged whose writing represents a qualitative advance in critical understanding of the Union. In independence of spirit closer in type to Gramsci's 'traditional' intellectuals, as distinct from the 'organic' variant represented by Luuk van Middelaar, these are not to be found nestling in official positions; form no collective school of thought; and are of diverse national and generational backgrounds. A short list would include Giandomenico Majone (Italy), theorist of regulation; the jurists Dieter Grimm (Germany) and Thomas Horsley (Britain); the sociologists Claus Offe and Wolfgang Streeck (Germany); the political scientists Christopher Bickerton (Britain), Morten Rasmussen (Denmark) and Antoine Vauchez (France); the historians Kiran Klaus Patel (Germany) and Vera Fritz (Luxembourg). In the work of these and other scholars, the dynamics of European integration emerge in a cooler, more searching light than in van Middelaar's panegyrics, revealing what these omit and scrutinising what they don't with a finer lens.
The Union, as we know it today, is a complex composed of five principal institutions: the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Central Bank. A consideration of these can begin with the term conventionally encompassing the story of their development, 'European integration'. This came from America, as Patel has shown, and was adopted to avoid another term too pointed for tactical purposes in the politics of the 1950s. The word it replaced was 'federation', rejected by governments and what interested opinion then existed, if ardently espoused by a small but committed minority of activists. For them and their academic sympathisers, 'integration' supplied a more neutral term for progress towards an ideal best kept, for time being, in petto. Nowhere was it more helpful than in characterising the work of the Court of Justice, which was, as van Middelaar emphasises, the first mover in the 'passage to Europe' after the Treaty of Rome.
Today the court remains, of all Union institutions, the most withdrawn from the public. Discreetly situated in Luxembourg, not exactly a European crossroads, and composed of judges appointed – one per country – by member states, its proceedings are hidden from public scrutiny; its decisions permit no admission of dissent; its archives grant minimal access to researchers. In modus operandi, the ECJ is the antithesis of the US Supreme Court, whose emoluments it comfortably tops – its president receives a salary worth $400,000, plus many allowances; the chief justice in Washington a measly $277,000. Its origins date back to the first stage of integration: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) born of the Schuman Plan was endowed with a Court of Justice that was rolled forward into the European Economic Community set up by the Treaty of Rome five years later, and then into the European Union created at Maastricht.
Thanks to the pioneering work of a young historian from Luxembourg, Vera Fritz, we now have a detailed scholarly study of the composition of the court in the first twenty years of its existence. Her findings are illuminating. There were seven founding judges and two advocates-general. Who were they? The Italian president of the court, Massimo Pilotti, had been deputy secretary-general of the League of Nations in the 1930s. There he acted as the long arm of the fascist regime in Rome, advising Mussolini on what counter-measures to take to shield Italy from condemnation by the League for its actions in Ethiopia. On resigning his post in 1937, Pilotti took part in the celebrations in Genoa of the conquest of Ethiopia; and during the Second World War headed the high court of occupied Ljubljana after Italy's annexation of Slovenia, where resistance was met with mass deportations, concentration camps, and police and military repression. The German judge on the court, Otto Riese, was so devoted a Nazi that without any duress – he spent the war as an academic in Switzerland – he retained his membership of the NSDAP until 1945. His compatriot Karl Roemer, an advocate-general to the court, spent the war in occupied Paris managing French companies and banks for the Third Reich; after the war, he married Adenauer's niece, and acted as defence lawyer for the Waffen SS charged with responsibility for the massacre of the occupants of the French village of Oradour. The other advocate-general, Maurice Lagrange, was a senior functionary in the Vichy government, fully committed to the ideology of a 'National Revolution' to sweep away the legacy of the Third Republic. Acting as link-man between the judicial apparatus of the Conseil d'État and the political apparatus of the Council of Ministers, Lagrange was in charge of co-ordinating the first wave of persecution of French Jews. When Laval took over the reins of Vichy in 1942, transferring Lagrange back to the Conseil d'État, Pétain thanked him for his 'rare perseverance' in the regime's legislative and administrative work, to which Lagrange replied that 'for me it has been a great privilege to be so closely associated with the enterprise of national renovation you have undertaken for the salvation of our country. I am convinced that every Frenchman can and should take part in this work.' After the war he was chosen by the Americans to help democratise the civil service in Germany, and by Monnet to help draft the treaty establishing the Coal and Steel Community.
That figures like these were the ornaments of Europe's first Court of Justice reflected, of course, the closing of political ranks after the Cold War set in, when what mattered was not the misdeeds of the fascist past but the menace of communist present. It was a time when the last commander of the Charlemagne Division of the SS, fighting to the last bullet to defend Hitler in his bunker, could emerge as best choice for the Robert Schuman Prize for services to European unity.* Why should European justice too not let bygones be bygones? More generally, appointments to the court had little or nothing to do with juridical qualifications. Nearly all were political. The Belgian judge was a leading figure in the Catholic Party of his country; one of the Dutch judges was the brother of a prewar foreign minister; the French judge, Jacques Rueff, a former deputy governor of the Banque de France, was one of the founders of the Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans; a Catholic trade unionist from the Netherlands and a socialist magistrate from Luxembourg rounded out the set.
Among the next levy of judges were a founder of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin, later a deputy for the party in the Bundestag; the son of a leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party (Calvinist) in the Netherlands; a former aide to Dino Grandi, minister of justice for the Duce, and brother of the then finance minister in Italy; a co-founder of the Christian Social Party in Belgium; a one-time Nazi and stalwart of the SA (1933 vintage), latterly a Social Democrat in Germany; a long-time functionary in the Italian colonisation of Rhodes; a former chef de cabinet to the civil and military governor of Algeria. Justice à l'européenne was never blindfold: its eyes were wide open, and round its head was a bandana gaudy with the colours of the establishment parties of the time.
The second wave of appointees also included one who was, in the words of an admirer, Europe's equivalent of John Marshall, the patriarch of the Supreme Court in the US, responsible for establishing its authority across the land. Robert Lecourt was a leading politician in the French version of the Christian Democratic parties of Italy and Germany, the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), which formed part of every government of the Fourth Republic, for which it supplied the second and second to last prime ministers. The most significant difference between the MRP and its equivalents in Rome and Bonn was that France possessed a large colonial empire of which the party was a zealous defender, resolute in prosecuting the country's wars in Indochina and Algeria. Joining de Gaulle's government with the arrival of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the MRP split over his announcement of a referendum on self-determination in Algeria. The party's long-standing leader, Georges Bidault, joined the paramilitary OAS, which launched armed resistance against de Gaulle in the name of Algérie française and narrowly failed to assassinate him, while his colleagues in the party hewed to de Gaulle. Lecourt, who like Bidault and others in the party had been active in the Resistance, had a doctorate in law and served as minister of justice in 1948, 1949 and 1957. Under de Gaulle, he held portfolios for France's colonies in Africa and elsewhere. In May 1962, he was appointed to the European Court of Justice.
Lecourt came to Luxembourg with a particular set of associations and convictions. Alongside his role as a deputy and minister for the MRP, he had been active since the late 1940s in the Nouvelles Équipes Internationales (NEI), the undeclared international of Christian Democracy in Europe, participating in annual congresses devoted to such themes as 'firmness of Christian Democracy in the face of communism in crisis', and in due course becoming head of its French section. He continued without compunction to lead it at the 1962 NEI congress in Vienna, held after he had taken up his post at the Court of Justice. The NEI was in favour of European unity, and Lecourt was himself a member of Monnet's Action for a United States of Europe, formed in 1955. He was an ardent federalist.
With this background, Lecourt's arrival in Luxembourg could not have been more happily timed. For on the docket of the court lay the case that would produce its first landmark decision, Van Gend en Loos, a suit brought by a small transport firm against the Dutch government for imposing a customs charge on its import of an adhesive from West Germany. To all appearances, a dispute of minor significance. In the shadows, however, powerful forces had been gathering around it. One was the European Commission in Brussels. There, heading its Legal Service, was the Frenchman Michel Gaudet. When working in the same capacity for the ECSC before the Treaty of Rome, he had already been determined to ensure that the future ECJ would not be an international court along conventional lines, but a federal supreme court on the American model. Corresponding in 1957 with Donald Swatland, a Wall Street lawyer who had been a wartime associate of Monnet, Gaudet explained that 'federal ideas are still very new in continental Europe', and sought guidance in promoting them. He also developed a close relationship with the American legal scholar Eric Stein, the first person anywhere to hail the promising judicial future of the Luxembourg court. In 1959 Stein invited Gaudet for a six-week trip to the US to learn about federalism first-hand. In return, while Stein was on sabbatical in 1962, Gaudet planted him in the offices of the Legal Service with a desk of his own, and invited him to sit in on briefings with lawyers preparing the Commission's case on Van Gend en Loos for the ECJ. Stein, proponent of a set of fundamental axioms for a constitutional order in Europe, could be counted on as a transatlantic zealot of federalism for the Old World.
Meanwhile, associations of jurists concerned to promote European law had been springing up in each of the countries of the Six, of which the German Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Europarecht (WGE) was the largest and most important, followed by the Association Française des Juristes Européens. In close touch with these organisations, the Commission supplied financial support for their meetings, and in 1961 Gaudet created an umbrella group, the Fédération Internationale pour le Droit Européen (FIDE), 'with the explicit aim of facilitating exchanges across political, bureaucratic and scholarly boundaries'. In the words of its first president, FIDE acted as 'a private army of the European communities'. 'In Europe around 1950,' a member of its German branch recalled, 'the idea of European unification was capable of evoking almost religious enthusiasm among young lawyers. We believed in the United States of Europe.' The Dutch section of FIDE was particularly active. One of its members acted as counsel for Van Gend en Loos and it can be surmised with some confidence that the case was set up by this lobby. However that might be, supported by the Commission it found the right rapporteur in Luxembourg, where Lecourt, hotfoot from Paris, wrote the historic verdict overturning a national law.
A year later, in 1964, came the second decisive act. In Italy, two lawyers outraged by the nationalisation of the electricity industry set up a challenge to the constitutionality of its issuance of a 1925 lire utility bill. When the Italian constitutional court ruled that nationalisation was not a constitutional issue and couldn't be challenged by reference to the Treaty of Rome, as passed subsequent to it, they appealed to the European court. Two weeks after its advocate-general argued that the Italian court could not be overridden, though it should be encouraged to seek ways of integrating European law into national law, the WGE held a meeting in Hesse at which three ECJ judges were present. There, a participant recorded, they sat with 'red ears' as a leading authority of the WGE, Hans Peter Ipsen, instructed them on the supremacy of European law over the national law of any member state. Ipsen's opinion would prevail: five days later Lecourt issued the ECJ's ruling on Costa v. Enel to the same effect. The cornerstone of European justice was laid.
Who was Ipsen? A jurist from Hamburg who joined the SA in 1933 and the NSDAP in 1937, becoming a full professor at the age of 32 on the strength of a doctorate subsequently published as a book under the title Politik und Justiz, which dealt with 'sovereign acts' by the state that dispensed with considerations of justice. Exalting the German version of these based on the 'Führergewalt' of Nazi power – which had found expression since 1933 in arrests, purges, expropriations, the Gleichschaltung of trade unions – as superior to earlier merely 'governmental' legislation in France, and to the fascist variant in Italy, which was based on legislative authority in a division of powers system, the book understandably attracted the interest of the Nazi Party's central Chancellery. During the war, Ipsen served as a commissar for Hitler, dealing with universities in occupied Belgium. There in 1943 he extolled the 'external administration' of the Third Reich, which now covered Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the Ukraine, the Baltic states, the General-gouvernement of Poland, occupied areas of Serbia and Greece, not to speak of Alsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, Southern Styria and the protectorates of Bohemia and Moravia – an area comprising some 2,865,000 square kilometres and 154 million inhabitants, in addition to the nearly 700,000 square kilometres and 90 million inhabitants of the enlarged 'inner Reich', and amounting in all to 46 per cent of the population of the continent. These lands held the promise of a future Grossraumordnung of Europe under Nazi command. Before the war was out, Ipsen became dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Hamburg and adviser to the Ministry of Justice in Berlin. In 1945 he was briefly deprived of his chair, but soon recovered it. A better than average Nazi career was capped with postwar honours as he became the doyen of European law, in 1972 authoring a monumental summum on the subject in the Federal Republic.
In 1967 Lecourt became president of the court. In this position, he wooed national judges with regular invitations to learn from Luxembourg: a systematic 'campaign of seduction' assorted with champagne brunches, aimed at disarming resistance to the supremacy it claimed. By the end of his tenure, some 2500 magistrates from across the member states had enjoyed his hospitality. In the other direction, judges of the court were encouraged to pay ceremonial visits to the governments of the Community, where they were typically received, an assistant could report, 'like emperors'. Since so many of them had come from political backgrounds, or were scions of well-placed family dynasties, they could take these visits as opportunities for insider exchange of news and views of an informal kind, oiling the wheels of ECJ presence and influence. Lecourt, with long experience of journalism and politics, also encouraged his colleagues to give lectures and write articles for the cognoscenti to spread the glad word of the court, setting an energetic example himself.
In all this he was seconded from 1967 onwards by Pierre Pescatore, another kin appointment, brother-in-law of the prime minister of Luxembourg and a more outspoken and prolific champion of federalism even than Lecourt – his legal opinions serving in the words of one witness as the 'shock troops' of supranational advance. Together they propelled European justice forward in what would later be seen as its heroic age: one bold judgment after another sealing the court's authority over successive aspects of the life of the Community. Lecourt's record as its president, Pescatore declared after his chief had retired, was nothing less than 'a jurisprudential miracle'. His own contribution was to uphold still more firmly a 'teleological', rather than a merely literal reading of the Treaty of Rome. Whatever its clauses might or might not say, it was inspired by ideals inherent in 'the common liberal and democratic traditions of the peoples of Western Europe', and these should acquire legal force. After Lecourt had gone, it was Pescatore who delivered the last key judgment of the court as a driver of European unity, the market-levelling verdict of Cassis de Dijon in 1979, ruling that any product on legal sale in one country of the Community was vendible in any other. Lecourt's strategy had always been to move gradually, avoiding any blatant provocation of national governments, deflecting their attention from momentous juridical pronouncements by attaching them to matters of seemingly minimal commercial importance. In this case, the commodity was a blackcurrant liqueur.
After Cassis de Dijon, strategic initiative passed to the European Council which gradually took shape after its creation by Giscard d'Estaing in the mid-1970s, and to the Commission after it came under the command of Jacques Delors in the mid-1980s. The court handled an increasing number of cases and its judicial activism scarcely abated. But it now reinforced rather than led the Hayekian turn in the Community, which crystallised in the Single European Act that came into force in 1987. In the new century, it has enjoyed an extra shot of neoliberal adrenalin with the arrival in Luxembourg of converts to free-market principles from Eastern Europe, resulting in two judgments – Viking and Laval of 2007, pitting Baltic freebooters against Nordic trade unions – that undermined labour rights. These were a departure from the tactical precepts of Lecourt, arousing adverse public attention of the kind the court had always sought to elude, and conspicuous further steps did not ensue. After Maastricht an important task would still fall to the court, but of a different character. Its pioneering work – celebrated by van Middelaar as the coup that essentially founded today's Union – had been accomplished.
Where did this achievement lie? The two jurists who have spelled it out with greatest clarity are Dieter Grimm, for twelve years a judge on the German constitutional court, and Thomas Horsley, two generations younger, a senior lecturer at Liverpool University. The decisions of the court in the 1960s, Grimm has observed, were 'revolutionary because the principles they announced were not agreed on in the treaties' that created the ECSC and the EEC, and 'almost certainly would not have been agreed on had the issues been raised'. It was a court with an agenda that did not correspond to the intentions of its founders, seeing itself 'neither as the guardian of the rights of the signatory states, nor as a neutral arbiter between the states and the Community, but rather the driving force of integration'. Its assertion of the supremacy of Community over domestic, let alone constitutional laws, Horsley remarks, had no basis in the Treaty of Rome, which granted it rights of judicial review only 'with respect to acts of the Union institutions', not those of member states. 'Yet, in effect, this is exactly what the court now undertakes on a routine basis', proceeding as if 'the treaty framework, as touchstone on the internal constitutionality of all EU institutional activity, has never actually meant what it so clearly states'.
But is there anything particularly unusual about this? Isn't creative interpretation of laws by judges almost as familiar as of figures by accountants? On an alternative and less cynical view, isn't the outcome what matters? Ankersmit or van Middelaar would see this as an instance of the judicial sublime. Without going that far, it is reasonable to inquire what's wrong with the upshot. The answer lies at the level of both principles and consequences. As to the first, Horsley opens his study with the following grave statement: 'Among EU institutions, the court remains uniquely distinguished as an actor in the integration process. It is the only Union institution whose activities are not routinely scrutinised (by itself or by others) for compliance with the EU treaties.' Yet the 'treaty framework provides no basis whatsoever to justify differentiating between the court and the Union's administrative and political institutions with regard to compliance with its demands. The court is formally designated an institution of the Union under Article 13 TEU. As such, along with the Union's political institutions, it is irrefutably subject to compliance with EU treaties.' But once, from the moment of its coup, the court had authorised itself as the guardian of a constitution which had no basis in the treaties, but supposedly corresponded to their 'ultimate purpose', what other institution could bring it to book? Its circular self-validation ruled out any such challenge.
The court thus became not just a unique institution within the Community, but unique within supreme or constitutional courts, endowed with powers that no analogue in a democracy has ever possessed. In all other cases, the rulings of such courts are subject to alteration or abrogation by elected legislatures. Those of the ECJ are not. They are irreversible. Short of amendment of the treaties themselves, requiring the unanimous agreement of all member states, 'which, as everyone knows, is all but out of the question', as Grimm writes, there is no recourse against them. They are set not in stone, but in granite, and are far from neutral in effect. Written in 'a technical language that is often opaque', the court's decisions often cloak highly political issues in an apolitical fashion; they fall 'below the threshold of public attention', rendering their effects difficult ex ante to perceive; but should they subsequently be protested, they are treated as accomplished facts that citizens are told it is too late to do anything about – 'there is now no alternative.' Since these rulings have constitutional force, much of what would be ordinary legislation at national level has been built into successive sequels to the original Treaty of Rome – Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, Lisbon – resulting in documents of such 'epic length' that the Ireland's EU commissioner declared of the last that 'no sane and sensible person' could read it, after his prime minister admitted, after signing it, he had not done so: they amount, in effect, to enormous cryptograms beyond the patience or grasp of any democratic public.
The effect of 'constitutionalising' (the apostrophes are needed, because the treaties remain international pacts, not federal charters) issues like the permissibility of state aid to industries, or subsidies to public services, is to immunise judicial ukases on them against any ordinary exercise of the popular will. As Grimm writes, 'the stronger the substantive content of the constitution, the narrower the leeway for politics.' Typically, 'whatever is governed in the constitution is removed from the realm of political decision-making. It is no longer an object, but a premise of politics.' In the EU, 'it cannot be influenced even by the outcome of an election.' That the judges who deliver the decisions of the ECJ are themselves unelected is, of course, common though not invariable practice in constitutional courts. What is not, is the European court's 'insatiable jurisdictional appetite'. Its current president, the Belgian Koen Lenaerts, has spelled out the extent of that hunger. In his words: 'There is simply no nucleus of sovereignty that the member states can invoke, as such, against the Community.' The court aims at 'the same practical outcome as the one that would be obtained through a direct invalidation of member state law'.
To such self-aggrandising presumption corresponds neither judicial nor political competence. Even setting aside its systematic disregard for the limits to its scope in the treaties, Horsley writes, 'the court fares poorly in comparison to its counterparts on the classic measures of comparative institutional analysis: democratic legitimacy and technical expertise. Its judges are not elected, its deliberations are secret and, as a court of general jurisdiction, it enjoys no special expertise in the wide range of policy fields over which it intercedes to adjudicate.' But if it has no special expertise, it had from the start a particular orientation, 'a settled and consistent policy of promoting European federalism', and after the turn of the 1980s, a decided social inclination, which it has pursued, in Grimm's view, with 'missionary zeal'. Interpreting 'prohibitions of discrimination against foreign companies so widely' that 'almost any national regulation could be understood as a market access obstacle', and pushing 'privatisation regardless of the motives for entrusting certain tasks to public services', the court effectively deprived member states of 'the power to determine the borderline between the private and public sector, market and state'.
Such judgments come not from a eurosceptic standpoint, but from authorities committed to what they see as the achievements of European integration. For Grimm, what is needed to restore legitimacy to the process is essentially the de-constitutionalisation of political decisions to allow their discussion by voters and revision by legislatures. Horsley, after explaining what in his opinion have been the benefits of judicial intervention along with its costs, assures readers that he does not seek to undermine the Court of Justice, let alone add to 'denigration of the Union', but to enhance the legitimacy of its lawmaking. Yet if their accounts of the ECJ are those of friends of the court, it is not clear what its enemies would have left to say. The truth is that, on any reasonable reckoning, it would be difficult to conceive of a judicial institution in the West that, from its tenebrous origins onwards, was purer of any trace of democratic accountability.
The European Commission, whose evolution has been more winding, was in its early years the crucial partner of the court. Its history can roughly be divided into three phases, corresponding to the three figures who would hold its presidency for a full decade across two terms: Walter Hallstein (1958-67), Jacques Delors (1985-95) and José Manuel Barroso (2004-14). Hallstein, a German lawyer and diplomat – a Christian Democrat best known for the Cold War doctrine to which he gave his name, which made West German recognition of any state dependent on its refusal to recognise East Germany – was an outspoken federalist, who conceived the Commission as a proto-government of the Community, declaring national sovereignty a 'doctrine of yesterday', and awarding himself the status of 'prime minister of Europe'. De Gaulle put a brusque end to his pretensions in 1965, and he left Brussels a mocked and deflated figure. However, in his heyday, between 1958 and 1964, Hallstein presided over a Commission that was a dynamo of energy in finding ways and means to circumvent the Treaty of Rome in the higher interests of European unity.
As the French scholar Antoine Vauchez has shown, Brussels quickly became a magnet for corporate lawyers and investors from America, on the lookout for market opportunities and bringing with them the expectations and practices of a powerful federation. They soon formed close relations with the substantial number of high-flying Belgian commercial jurists, and this common milieu offered smooth intermediation between arriving multinationals and the Commission, and a propitious setting for exchange of ideas with key departments, such as Competition and the Legal Service. The European Economic Community created by the Treaty of Rome was not conceived as a free-fire zone for the market, and gave birth to a heavily subsidised and regulated Common Agricultural Policy that was anathema to liberal economists, prompting Hayek's fellow thinker Wilhelm Röpke, taking aim at its Belgian founder, to denounce it as nothing more than a miserable 'Spaakistan'. From the outset, however, the Competition Service of the Commission was a fortress populated by German ordo-liberals, whose devotion to market principles and determination they should not be impeded by improper meddling on the part of any state made them natural proponents of federalism, as Hayek had been before the war. In this cause, the Legal Service led the way, supplying the Court of Justice with the overwhelming majority of cases on which its verdicts could build an ever more extensive edifice of European law trumping the rights of national legislatures. Between 1954 and 1978 the ten most frequent plaintiffs before the court brought a total of 1381 cases before it: of these 1082 came from the Commission or its adjuncts – just under 80 per cent. The loop of collusion was tightly woven. By 1964, Hallstein could announce triumphantly that Europe had achieved 'the beginnings of a real and full "political union"'.
A year later he was a busted flush, and it took another twenty years for the Commission to recover its dynamism. When it did so, it came under other colours. Delors, whose youthful background was in the Catholic trade-union confederation in France, in due course joined the Socialist Party, and there advocated a 'social Europe'. But when there was a conflict between the adjective and the noun, the noun came first. As finance minister under Mitterrand, it was Delors who made sure that the socialist programme on which Mitterrand had been elected and had at first implemented, was ditched in the famous U-turn of 1983 to austerity, in order to keep the franc in the European Monetary System. At the head of the Commission, Delors was profuse with declarations of the need for social solidarity, and did in the end secure cohesion funds to help less advantaged regions in the Community. His main achievements, however, were to pass the Single European Act – crafted under him by an emissary of Thatcher – unifying and deregulating markets across the Community, and to drive through the Monetary Union that became the centrepiece of the Treaty of Maastricht. In his mind, these were the necessary preambles to European-wide social solidarity. Not only were they economically efficient in themselves, promoting growth that would eventually lift all boats; without them, governments could not be persuaded of the need to redistribute wealth across classes and regions, essential if Europe was to win the full adhesion of its citizens. A far more charismatic and commanding figure than Hallstein, a politician who dealt on equal terms with all the national leaders of the day, Delors led them to the single currency, but failed to achieve the social objectives he had thought he could buy with it. All governments save Britain and Denmark signed up to the first. Few wanted much of the second. Delors did get cohesion funds – help for disadvantaged regions, not classes – out of Maastricht, but these were the crumbs of solidarity, not the loaf: compared with the subsequent impact of the single currency, little more than the alms of an instrumental charity.
Barroso, installed four years before the global financial crisis of 2008 and exiting late in 2014, just before Syriza came to office, was the second sitting prime minister of a member state to become president of the Commission. A politician of the Portuguese right, whose main previous claim to fame was hosting the Azores Summit, attended by Bush, Blair and Aznar, which launched the Iraq War, his appointment to Brussels the following year demonstrated how hollow was the nominal opposition of France and Germany to Operation Iraqi Freedom. An usher of austerity in his own country, his tenure marked the apogee of the neoliberal drive that followed the introduction of the single currency, with the promulgation of Bolkestein's Services Directive in 2004 and the arrival of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2010. But though personally as ambitious for his role as Hallstein or Delors, the ideas he represented were conventional wisdom by the new century, while since Maastricht the power of the European Council had grown significantly at the expense of the Commission, and in Barroso's second term it enjoyed its own president in Van Rompuy, a rival for the limelight with whom his relations were never good. His tenure was less consequential than that of his predecessors.
Today, 27 commissioners, one per member state, each allocated a portfolio – naturally, of vastly differing importance: Competition long since became the top prize – formally enjoy equal status under the president, currently the CDU politician Ursula von der Leyen. In reality, as the former director-general of the Legal Service, the all-purpose Brussels fixer Jean-Claude Piris (22 years in the saddle) pointed out in 2012, since this would mean that the fourteen commissioners from the Union's smallest countries, representing a mere 12.65 per cent of the population of the Union, could easily outvote the six commissioners from its biggest countries, representing 70 per cent of its population, decisions are always taken by 'consensus' – that is, behind a façade of unanimity, under the impulsion or veto of the six major states. Similarly, the president of the Commission, responsible for liaison with the heads of government of member states, normally confers only with those in that select group, or perhaps just with Berlin and Paris at the top of it: to do otherwise would be 'too time-consuming'. So composed, the Commission is formally vested with the sole power to propose legislation for the Union, but here the reality differs: more than two-thirds of its proposals are now hatched jointly with representatives of the member states in the dense undergrowth at Brussels, in which COREPER – which brings together permanent envoys to the EU – holds pride of place, and then rubber-stamped by the relevant Council of Ministers when passed up to it.
Below the commissioners, appointed for five-year terms, sits the permanent bureaucracy of the EU, some 33,000 strong – the 'Eurocrats', as coined by the Economist in 1961 and popularised with no pejorative intent by a book of Altiero Spinelli in 1966. In its higher echelons, where heads and assistants of the Commission's 32 directorates-general are to be found, recruitment was until the mid-1980s heavily weighted towards functionaries with a legal background; below them, in the body of the administration, a general humanistic orientation was encouraged, an MA in European studies an advantage, preferably from the College of Europe in Bruges. Thereafter, and with the subsequent enlargement of the Union to the East, the pattern changed. Under Romano Prodi (president 1999-2004), Neil Kinnock was entrusted with the task of modernising the system of pay and recruitment, bringing the tidings of New Labour to Brussels, with predictable outcomes. By 2014, two-thirds of the directors-general were trained in economics, receiving commensurately higher salaries to compete with the private sector; lower down, in the name of democratising future intakes, knowledge of foreign languages or of any general culture faded as requirements, giving way to MBAs.
For observers of the course of the EU since Maastricht, such changes might be logical enough – neoliberals were being neoliberalised – but they were not appreciated by many of those affected by them, their Anglo-Saxon origin rubbing post-Brexit salt in the wounds. 'After having broken Europe from the inside for years, they're breaking it from the outside by destroying its political legitimacy,' Didier Georgakakis quotes one as saying. Another, not as angry: 'It's insane when you think about it. They are leaving after having imposed their administrative model on us?' Yet another: 'The new model is the Procter & Gamble one.' Barroso's elevation, from presidency of the Commission to chairman of the international division of Goldman Sachs, was a natural sequel to these reforms. But the alteration of outlooks and mores in the Commission also has to be understood in terms of its surroundings. There are now around 30,000 registered lobbyists in Brussels. That is more than double the number infesting Washington, reckoned at a mere 12,000. In Brussels, 63% are corporate and consultant lobbyists, 26% are from NGOs, 7% from think tanks and 5% municipal. That Europe's executive could resist infection from the vapours of this swamp is implausible.
Since Delors, the Commission has had to play second fiddle to the European Council, which is unlikely to appoint a figure of his political stature to lead it again. Contemporary popular suspicion of the Commission as the bureaucratic demiurge of the Union is in that sense misplaced. But it remains a considerable power within the complex machinery of the EU, by reason of three attributes peculiar to it. The first is simply its size as a corps of permanent functionaries compared with that of any of the Union's other institutions, and the closed citadel of its workings – 34 different 'procedures' that no lay person is equipped to understand. The second lies in the sheer size of the rulebook that it wields as an instrument of power within the Union – the acquis communitaire, impenetrable to its citizens, but inescapable for its states, forming the primary means of the Gleichschaltung of Eastern Europe to EU norms, over which commissioners presided as proconsuls from Brussels. Originally put together as a codification of EEC regulations to which the UK, Denmark and Ireland would have to adapt on entry into the Community in 1973, when it already came to 2800 pages, the acquis now runs to 90,000 pages, the longest and most formidable written monument of bureaucratic expansion in human history (the notorious US tax code is a mere 6500). Foucault's overblown identification of knowledge with power here finds literal embodiment.
'This technical and cognitive equipment', Vauchez writes, going on to quote Joseph Weiler,
is not only the instrument that officially defines and authenticates that 'Europe' to which candidates are applying in phases of enlargement; it equally inserts itself into the most routine operations of the EU, turning into Europe's 'constitutional operating system ... axiomatic, beyond discussion, above debate, like the rules of democratic discourse, or even the very rules of rationality themselves, which seem to condition debate but not be part of it'.
Nor, of course, is it institutionally neutral.
As it formalises a stable figure of Europe (its foundations, its missions) and of its value objects (its body of law), the acquis implicitly locates the ability and responsibility for the 'rational guidance' of European affairs in particular institutions (here: the Commission and the court) and professional groups (Euro-lawyers and EU civil servants), while dispossessing others (here: member states, constitutional courts, national diplomats, bureaucrats etc).
At the same time, along with the acquis as a disciplinary instrument, the Commission possesses a mollifying implement of power in the apportionment and disbursement of its cohesion funds, the annona of van Middelaar's latter-day Roman strategy for securing clients. These form a significant source of patronage, a means of inducing compliance or rewarding loyalty, whose promise could be critical in winning local elites to the will of the Union, if conditions were also bent where it was politic to overlook corruption in the interests of ideological subsumption, as in Romania and other candidates for membership. Little noticed at the time, the geographical enlargement of the Union to the East also produced the greatest operational enlargement of the Commission since Hallstein's time, as it took charge of the task. That some of its fruits have since become thorns in its side, as the more advanced states of Eastern Europe, once their elites were safely inside the Union, became less submissive to it, is another of the unintended consequences, or counter-finalities, of which there have been so many in the history of integration.
What of the European Parliament? Composed now of 705 deputies, apportioned between the Union's 27 countries to reduce somewhat the weight of the largest (Germany in particular), and shuttling monthly between Brussels and Strasbourg, it has historically been an ally of the Commission and the court in its aspirations to a federalist future for Europe. The Commission would have liked to become what Hallstein expected it to be, the governing executive of Europe, and the Assembly – it only came to be officially styled a Parliament in the 1980s – sought to become the legislature of Europe to which this executive would be responsible: hopes that did not materialise. Nevertheless, over time the Parliament has acquired a substantial bureaucratic infrastructure of its own – presently, some seven thousand functionaries service it – and a limited number of powers, of which the three most significant are the right to 'co-decision' with the Council on legislation proposed by the Commission; to reject – but not to amend – the budget proposed by the Commission; and to reject – but not to elect – commissioners chosen by the president of the Commission. What it does not possess are the rights to elect a government, to initiate legislation, to levy taxes, to shape welfare, or determine a foreign policy. In short, it is a semblance of a parliament, as ordinarily understood, that falls far short of the reality of one.
Voters are aware of this, and have shown scant interest in it. Turnout at European elections is notoriously poor, falling steadily across four decades to a point where its recovery to just over 50 per cent in 2018 could be hailed as the sign at last of a robust European democracy, though this was still ten points below the figure in 1979, when the first such election was held. Nor are most of the citizens who do take the trouble to go to the polls voting on European issues. Rather, in casting their ballots for or against local parties, they are expressing their views on the performance of their national governments. The result is an assembly composed of some two hundred heteroclite parties, which then group themselves into six or seven blocs, whose unity does not run deep – ties between deputies in national delegations are often closer than with their pan-European affiliates. No division between government and opposition can emerge, because there is no government to be formed or opposed. The pattern instead is for grand coalitions along German lines, bringing together centre-right and centre-left blocs to control the proceedings, and electing the chief officers and key committee chairs of the assembly from their ranks, with variable input from Liberal and Green auxiliaries. The political difference between the two main blocs, in general faded enough at national level, becomes all but completely invisible in the successive GroKo combinations at Brussels and Strasbourg.
As might be expected, in this huge, heterogeneous, largely ceremonial body, deputies have little appetite for going through the motions of actually being there. Average attendance is around 45 per cent. Virtually all the work is seconded to committees, where behind closed doors the mysteries of 'trilogue' are enacted: that is, represent-atives of the Parliament confer with representatives of the Council of Ministers and of the Commission as to what legislative proposals emanating from the Commission, and typically pre-cleared by member states and their permanent representatives in Brussels, can be accepted for transmission to a vote in the chamber – the discussions mostly revolving around matters of procedure rather than substance. As Christopher Bickerton notes, 'between 2009 and 2013, 81 per cent of proposals were passed at first reading via the trilogue method. Only 3 per cent ever reached third reading, which is where texts are debated in plenary sessions of the Parliament.' Such is the alchemy of co-decision.
In 2014, when turnout was just 42.5 per cent, the Parliament launched a campaign with wide media support to convert the elections to it into a pan-European exercise in the democratic will: each of the political blocs would nominate a candidate for the presidency of the Commission – legally in the gift of the Council – and the bloc securing the largest number of seats, equipped with the backing of the whole Parliament, would then elevate its Spitzenkandidat to the command of the Commission, as any other legislature might vote a government into office. The centre-right gained most votes; its candidate was the fixer Jean-Claude Juncker. After some tergiversation, Merkel prevailed on the Council to accept him and Juncker became president of the Commission on the strength of about 10 per cent of the European electorate. Had she not done so, Habermas told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it would have been 'a bullet to the heart of the European project'. Five years later Macron put his foot down, and the next president was picked according to the rules by the Council, ignoring the hapless Spitzenkandidat. Indignant at this rebuff to its pretensions, there was talk of a rebellion in the Parliament, which though it has no right to select, can reject a Commission president. But wouldn't that provoke a crisis of the European project? The terrifying prospect of open disagreement between its institutions quelled enough spirits for Ursula von der Leyen to sidle into office.
The function of the European Parliament, which neither aggregates nor channels the wishes of voters, from whom once the polls close it becomes completely detached, is, as the Italian scholar Stefano Bartolini has put it, 'elite consolidation'. That is, a process in which the parties collude with one another to present the appearance of a democratic assembly, behind which oligarchic coteries are comfortably entrenched. These would be happy to gain more powers, but have no interest in ceding any to those they nominally represent. The width of the gap between the institution and the populations beneath it can be judged from the rare occasions on which the latter have been able to make their voice heard directly. In the Netherlands, turnout for the European elections of 2004 was just 39 per cent. A year later, it was 63 per cent for the referendum on the Draft Constitutional Treaty – which, while supported by 80 per cent of the Dutch delegation at Strasbourg/Brussels, was rejected by 62 per cent of Dutch voters. The Parliament is not what it seems, and is the least consequential component of the Union. Does that mean it is little more than a glorified fig-leaf? Not quite. Appearances matter, and in its fashion the Parliament plays a constructive role for the Union, supplying a measure of the legitimation that any self-respecting liberal order requires. However limited citizen investment in them may be, synchronised pan-European polls are better than none, and their beneficiaries can continue to hope that a vibrant federal polity will one day arise from them.
Of an altogether different order of political avoirdupois is the European Central Bank, created to manage the single currency that came into force in 1999. Today it is one of the most powerful EU institutions, some would say, the most powerful. Based in Frankfurt, its governing council is composed of the heads of the central banks of the Eurozone countries and the six members of its executive board, meeting every two weeks. Its proceedings, unlike those of the Fed or the Bank of England, but in keeping with those of the European Court of Justice, are secret. Occasionally, unlike the ECJ, a member may resign, but its decisions are formally unanimous. No dissent is ever published. The Treaty of Maastricht conferred absolute independence on the bank, which operates without any of the counterweights – Congress, the White House, the Treasury – that surround the Fed, embedding it in a political setting where it is publicly accountable. Unlike any other central bank, the independence of the ECB isn't merely statutory, its rules or aims alterable by parliamentary decision: it is subject only to treaty revision. Nor, unlike the Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice or even Council, are its proceedings cumbersome. It can act with a speed and impact no other EU institution can match.
Maastricht gave the ECB a single objective. Where the Fed is charged by Congress with ensuring maximal employment as well as stable prices, the single responsibility of the ECB was to ensure monetary stability in what would become the Eurozone. From the outset, as economists were aware and not a few pointed out, the economies due to adopt the euro, differing widely in size, composition and level of development, in no way met the criteria of an 'optimal currency area' as set out by the economist Robert Mundell and others. Quite the contrary. But this did not deter the Delors Committee which drove the project through, since its aims were political rather than economic: in part to tie down a reunified Germany within the Community, but more broadly to create a currency which would lock those states that adopted it so closely together that they would be obliged to follow monetary union with political union. As an explicit goal, that was a bridge too far at Maastricht, where federalist hopes were dashed by intergovernmental bargaining of a traditional sort. Still, the treaty created a European Economic and Monetary Union, the assembled politicians who signed the document characteristically giving little thought to what its consequences might be when they were no longer in office. The portals of a political union were not entered; nor were they foreclosed.
The disjunction between means and ends soon made itself felt. Wim Duisenberg, the crude Dutch banker who became the first president of the ECB, prided himself on being a rough-hewn champion of financial orthodoxy on the best Anglo-Saxon lines. Yet he was overjoyed when Greece, after suitably cooking its books, promptly adopted the euro. His reasons were not economic, but political. Though the single currency was not, for those administering it, simply a short-cut to federalism, it was – as Giandomenico Majone, a thinker truer to classical principles, would put it – a 'prestige project' designed to raise the profile of the EU in the world. A decade later, the Eurozone would be paying for this vanity. Jean-Claude Trichet, the Frenchman next at the helm in Frankfurt, was a smoother figure, but equally blind. His response to the global financial crisis was pro-cyclical: raising interest rates to force governments to cut public spending, imposing austerity as a cure for the crash. His successor, Mario Draghi, was widely celebrated for reversing course, spraying money into the Eurozone economies with purchase of government bonds and a generous dose of other forms of liquidity. In fact, there was more overlap between the two than generally believed. Draghi, responsible for a sweeping privatisation progamme in Italy, was more outspokenly neoliberal, pronouncing Europe's social contract obsolete in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. But in August 2011, the two jointly wrote a secret letter to Berlusconi, then Italian prime minister, demanding that he resort to a Cold War emergency mechanism to cut pensions and other public expenditures – an unprecedented violation of its mandate by the bank. Three months later Berlusconi was gone. For his part, Trichet had by the end of his tenure come round to the use of schemes to circumvent the ban in the Treaty of Maastricht on the purchase of public debt by the bank. Praising her chief, the former head of research at the ECB, Lucrezia Reichlin, told the Financial Times in February 2012: 'The whole concept of getting around European rules and doing QE without calling it QE was extremely clever.'
Five months later, Draghi announced to an audience in the City: 'Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.' After boasting of the superiority of the Eurozone's economic performance to those of the US and Japan (the latter held less 'socially cohesive' than the Union, where half the youth of Italy, Spain and Greece were unemployed), he ended by making clear what was ultimately at stake in the crisis. No one should 'underestimate the amount of political capital that is being invested in the euro'. It was to safeguard this that the ultima ratio regis of the hour was required: 'targeted longer-term refinancing operations', 'outright monetary transactions' and the rest, or clever ways of getting around European rules, 'within the mandate' of the bank – that is, in blatant breach of Articles 123 and 125 of the Treaty of Lisbon. In due course, their legality would be challenged before the ECJ. But just as it had no compunction in interpreting the Treaty of Rome to arrogate powers to itself of which no trace can be found in the document signed by the Six, so the ECJ had none in deciding that Lisbon meant the opposite of what it said. Since it was now a question not of reading into a treaty what it did not contain, but of purging one of what it did contain, the contortions required were, in Horsley's words, 'herculean'. The comedy of judges solemnly explaining that financial assistance under the European Stability Mechanism constituted an act of economic, not monetary policy, and was therefore perfectly in order, while outright monetary transactions were an instrument of monetary, not economic policy, and therefore were also perfectly in order, calls for the pen of a Swift. What did the 'no bail-out clause' of Article 125 actually mean? That bail-outs were fine, so long as they served 'the higher objective' of preserving the euro. Or in van Middelaar's gloss, to break the rules was to be true to the contract.
In Germany successive attempts in 1974, 1986, 1993 and 2009 to contest the validity of laws or treaties of the Community before the country's own constitutional court have all yielded the same result. The judges in Karlsruhe have declared that Germany's Grundgesetz – Basic Law – may not be overridden by the European Court, but since no such infringement has 'so far' or 'yet' occurred, the plaintiffs have no case. Last year, it was called on once more, this time to pronounce on the legality of the blessing the ECJ had given to the ECB's bond-purchasing programme. Once again it declined to say this was illegal, while observing that the proportionality of its effects had not been adequately appraised, and instructing the German government and the Bundesbank to conduct such an appraisal and ensure appropriate proportionality. There was uproar in the Euromedia. The Financial Times was apoplectic. 'The German court has set a bomb under the EU's legal order,' Martin Sandbu cried. The court had 'launched a legal missile into the heart of the EU. Its judgment is extraordinary. It is an attack on basic economics, the central bank's integrity, its independence and the legal order of the EU,' Martin Wolf thundered. 'Future historians may mark this as the decisive turning-point in Europe's history, towards disintegration.' They need not have turned a hair. The Bundesverfassungsgericht is a mostly toothless body, as its studiously suspended judgments indicate. Best known for meekly overturning Germany's Basic Law to allow Schröder and Merkel in 2005 to stage an unconstitutional election before polls were due, it takes care to avoid serious offence to the Obrigkeiten of the day. Berlin and Frankfurt are unlikely to have much difficulty sending Karlsruhe back to sleep.
No piety is intoned so frequently by the EU, or identified so complacently with itself, as the rule of law. Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno is popular wisdom in Italy. The adage implies that those who make and those who trick the law are not the same. What distinguishes the Union is that the two are one. In the hands of the European Court and the chorus of its admirers, the rule of law has more or less come to mean the misrule of lawyers who will stop at nothing to bend texts to their pleasure, at the expense of ordinary understandings of a principled justice. So what, if higher needs are served – the survival of a monetary union on which rational labour markets, taxes and transfers, the prosperity of all depend? But as more than one writer has replied, are bankers and judges the most competent authorities to determine what pensions or wages should be? Certainly, in these matters they do well enough for themselves. Is that the most appropriate qualification? Fritz Scharpf's dictum stands: in the EU, it is precisely those institutions which have the greatest impact on the daily life of most people that are furthest removed from democratic accountability – the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank, the European Commission.
Less removed is the last of the Union's institutions, the European Council, since it comprises heads of government enjoying majorities in genuine parliaments, the product of meaningful elections. As such, it has become the peak authority of the Union. Van Middelaar's Passage to Europe is largely the story of its rise to this position, and its claim that the Council is now the principal driver of European integration is warranted. What it does not do is look beneath the hood. What kind of a vehicle has been advancing? That is the subject of the most fundamental of all works on the EU of the past decade, Christopher Bickerton's European Integration, whose anodyne title, shared by dozens of other books, conceals its distinction, which comes in the subtitle that delivers its argument: 'From Nation-States to Member States'. Everyone has an idea what a nation-state is, and many know that 27 countries (with the UK's departure) are member states of the European Union. What is the conceptual difference between the two? Bickerton's definition is succinct. 'The concept of member state expresses a fundamental change in the political structure of the state, with horizontal ties between national executives taking precedence over vertical ties between governments and their own societies.' This development first struck him, he explains, at the time of the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. 'When the No result was announced, members of the Irish government expressed a mixture of surprise and embarrassment: surprise as they were unfamiliar with the sentiments prevailing within their own population, and embarrassment because this compromised many of the promises they had made to their peers at previous meetings in Brussels.' (The description is something of an understatement. Spotted outside a pub in Dublin that evening, Brian Lenihan, minister of finance at the time, was white around the gills.)
How did the transition from nation-state to member state come about? After the Second World War – Bickerton follows Alan Milward and John Ruggie here – a class compromise between capital and labour was reached in Western Europe, taking the organisational form of a corporatist state committed to full employment, a range of welfare services and a set of transfer payments. Based on steady economic growth, the ideological consensus of this period presumed a strong measure of government involvement in economic life, and delivered rising popular living standards. Yet at the same time 'a more egalitarian and redistributive social contract' than in the prewar years 'coincided with a narrowing of the political spectrum': deradicalisation of the left presaging a broader depoliticisation, and lack of political experimentation leading to the dominance of centrist parties. The general economic crisis of the 1970s saw the unravelling of this class compromise, as growth sputtered, industrial unrest grew and Keynesian ideas gave way to Hayekian or Public Choice doctrines dismissive of a social contract. For a time, governments continued to try familiar recipes, but by the early 1980s neoliberalism had arrived, pioneered by Thatcher, followed by Mitterrand's U-turn, and the crushing of Danish, Belgian and British strikes. Liberated from the pressures of organised labour, governments converged towards deregulation and privatisation to liberate markets for innovation and competition according to the prescriptions of the new period. The Single European Act of 1985 marked their transposition to the plane of the Community.
The relaunching of the dynamic of integration under Delors was thus the outcome of a pattern of domestic political change in which policy priorities had become fiscal retrenchment, wage repression and a return to financial orthodoxies of classical stamp. Achieving sustained voter assent to this course was never easy, but as processes of integration deepened, involving ever closer ministerial co-ordination across borders, governments could present unpopular measures as necessities flowing from the constitution of the Community. From the time of Montesquieu and Madison onwards, constitutionalism had involved the idea of a self-limitation of the political will to safeguard the liberties of the subject: a set of internal constraints – division of powers, checks and balances – to insure the nation against tyranny, whether rule by monarchs or mobs. In due course such became the standard liberal format of the nation-state. With the advent of the European Community, once the Court of Justice had succeeded in effectively, if not formally, constitutionalising it, member states accepted a set of external constraints whose form was radically different. 'The active subject, namely the people, is not doing the binding,' Bickerton writes:
Rather, national governments commit to limit their own powers in order to contain the political power of domestic populations. Instead of the people expressing themselves qua constituent power through this constitutional architecture, national governments seek to limit popular power by binding themselves through an external set of rules, procedures and norms. An internal working out of popular sovereignty that serves to unite state and society is replaced with an externalisation of constraints to national power intended as a way of separating popular will from the policy-making process.
By the time the Cold War had ended in 1990, European executives had consolidated the transition to member-statehood. With Maastricht and the proclamation of monetary union, the constraints this involved naturally increased, as would their convenience to governments seeking to impose neoliberal ordinances of one kind or another on their citizens. In 1992-93, Giuliano Amato put through a 'fiscal correction' – i.e. an austerity package – amounting to no less than 6 per cent of the GDP of Italy in the name of the vincolo esterno of Union necessity. When the single currency, far from bringing renewed growth and prosperity, plunged Italy into prolonged stagnation and regression, and the Eurozone as a whole into crisis, the response was not to loosen the corsets of memberhood, but to tighten them still further, with the spectacular constriction of popular sovereignty in the Fiscal Compact of 2012. In this, the external restraints of the Union were for the first time written, at German behest, into the internal constitutions of successive member states, and their annual budgets, at the traditional heart of domestic politics, became subject to invigilation and instruction by envoys from Brussels.
Though friction is rarely absent from such visitations, the discipline they represent has for the most part come to be accepted as part of the natural order of things. 'For member states,' Bickerton writes, 'the Eurozone is not just a currency union but also a collective framework for co-ordinated macro-economic policy-making to which all belong and which in multiple ways is constitutive of their identities and interests as member states.' Not least in shielding them from the intrusion of potential protest, as the outcome of expert committees – ratified in ministerial conclaves, announced by heads of government and presented to citizens at home as faits accomplis – becomes the norm. In this process, what sets the EU apart, as a political structure unlike any other, is the presumption of consensus and the protocols that follow from that, which form the working code of its being. In Brussels, emissaries from the different nations confer on questions in their specialised fields, developing an esprit de corps and professional identification with the technical side of their discussions, in a system designed to exclude the unpredictability of public debate or political disagreement. The same pattern holds higher up, as decisions are passed to the Council of Ministers in any given area, and where required up to the European Council itself, where the result is anointed with family photographs and unanimous communiqués. The imperative of consensus is all. 'This explains why EU policy-making is so secretive and lacks what is elementary to political life at the national level,' where conflict is open and normal, Bickerton notes.
Structurally, he judges member-statehood a 'fragile and contradictory' social form, at once powerful in immunising national governments against domestic social pressures, and weak in lacking any roots remotely comparable to the vertical bonds between governments and populations of the classical nation-state. The form of national politics to which it gives rise, often held to pit a dominant technocracy against an oppositional populism, tends rather towards a malign combination of the two, with leaders mixing a populist stance on immigration with a technocratic approach to the economy, like Sarkozy, or posturing like Blair as a pragmatic manager close to the feelings of ordinary people; Macron offers the latest version of the blend. The shallowness of the attachment of elites to the citizens they represent inevitably strengthens their sense of solidarity with one another in the club of Union leaders where they gather every two months or so. But the fellowship it offers is not, so Bickerton, a stable refuge. Viewed historically, member-statehood is a 'hard but hollow state form'.
Institutionally, however, it has been filling up. Since 2017, the European Council possesses for its bimonthly sessions a new symbol-saturated seat in Brussels – lantern in shape for the warm glow its deliberations radiate, polychrome in fittings for the diversity of peoples illuminated by them – where the heads of state and government, plus the presidents of the Commission and of the Council itself congregate. They in turn are flanked by the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers, who meet monthly, and whose president may also attend the Council when so invited, as too the high representative of the (considerably less important) Foreign Affairs and Security pillar of the Union. Though the supreme political authority of the Union, the European Council does not itself legislate: laws are lower-order matters for the tractations of the trilogues beneath it. Its business is with the big decisions of the Union: essentially, crisis management, treaty revision and foreign policy. That is, urgent economic and 'security' (viz refugee) problems; constitutional questions (the word is banned by the Treaty of Lisbon, but the thing remains); relations with other powers (and the periphery of the EU, where enlargement lingers in the Balkans). These are where the 'alarums' arise that call for the valiant 'excursions' of van Middelaar's tales of the Union. Notable examples: handling Greek delinquency; utilising Turkish venality; riposting to rejection of the Draft Constitution with a recension of the same at Lisbon; punishing Russia for annexation; and Britain for desertion.
In principle, the weak link in the Council's jurisdiction of Chefsachen is economic, since it has no authority over the ECB, whose independence is absolute and power over the economies of the Union unrivalled. In practice, the Eurogroup provides informal liaison, a representative of the bank attending its meetings, which are even more confidential than those of the Council itself, not least since the presence at them of the bank, in derogation of its independence, requires a veil of discretion. By training and outlook finance ministers tend to be like-minded, as Varoufakis discovered in his brief stint with the Eurogroup. Disagreements are more frequent in the Council. Before its meetings, participants can stake out contentious positions, while during and after them, leaks – typically garbled soundbites for media consumption – will report clashes of opinion, victors and losers in argument, to the taste of the leakers. But the proceedings themselves remain concealed from the public, and issue in decisions which are virtually always announced nem con, in keeping with common practice across the institutions of the EU.
In the case of the Council, more is at stake in such displays of unanimity than the generic omertà of the European political class. For the truth behind them is uncomfortably at odds with the formalities of its composition, in which all member states are technically equal, and can block decisions in conflict with what they believe to be vital national interests. The reality, of course, is that with vast disparities between countries ranging in population from eighty million to half a million, two states – Germany and France – de facto command the proceedings by reason of their size and power. Of the pair, heirs of the treaty that de Gaulle sealed with Adenauer, Germany is now the stronger and larger economically. But though this advantage makes it primus inter pares, its margin of superiority, and relative weight within the Eurozone as a whole, is too limited to give it the hegemony its bolder theorists claim. France remains militarily stronger and diplomatically more seasoned, in a relationship on which each depends in equal measure. Since they do not always agree, and when they do, may not always insist, not every decision of the Council is a translation of their will. Simply, without need for any hint of a veto, no proposition that is not to their liking has any chance of passage, while any proposition behind which they unite with joint force may be inflected, but will not be resisted by the other two dozen or so states of the Council. The Treaty of Maastricht was the fruit of a pact between Mitterrand and Kohl; the Treaty of Lisbon, between Merkel and Sarkozy; the current Covid Package, between Macron and Merkel. In each case the initiative came, unstoppably, from Berlin and Paris. In each case, the details were adjusted to accommodate lesser states, without its direction being altered.
The only occasion when a major proposition on which Germany and France insisted met intransigent opposition, the Fiscal Compact vetoed in 2011 by Britain, lit up the realities of the structure of power in Europe. Without delay, Berlin and Paris simply bypassed the Council with an international instrument outside the legal framework of the EU, the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance, to which all the other member states dutifully signed up. The effect was exactly the same. Cameron was left to complain that Merkel and Hollande had not even bothered to respect appearances, stitching together this arrangement on Union premises in Brussels. The lesson is clear. Should the two European hegemons encounter – post-Brexit – similar obduracy in a matter to which they attach importance, they can respond with a bilateral (or multilateral) international treaty, making an end run round the obstacle in the same way. It is scarcely a coincidence that Jean-Claude Piris ended his 2012 book, The Future of Europe, by pointing out how convenient and fruitful the resort to such 'additional' treaties might be. As things stand, however, with Britain out of the way, there is little call for the device. One incongruous fact alone is enough to bring home the outlook, and power, of the Franco-German duo. There have been three presidents of the European Council since the office was created in 2010. Of these, two have been Belgian – a country with just over 2 per cent of the population of the Union. Why? Because inconspicuous politicians of a weak state, handily placed between France and Germany, can be relied on not to cross either, but to help out the good intentions of both.
It has often been remarked that the institutional ensemble of the EU is sui generis as a polity, a creation more easily defined negatively than positively. It is not, obviously enough, a parliamentary democracy, lacking division between a government and an opposition, competition between parties for office, or accountability to voters. There is neither a separation between executive and legislative powers, along American lines; nor a connection between them, along British or Continental lines, in which an executive is invested by an elected legislature to which it remains responsible. Rather it is the inverse that holds: an unelected executive holds a monopoly of legislative initiative, while a judiciary, self-invested with an independence subject to no constitutional audit or control, issues decisions that are effectively unalterable, whether or not they conform to the treaties on which they are nominally based. The rule of the Union's proceedings, whether they are presided over by judges, bankers, bureaucrats, deputies or prime ministers, is secrecy wherever possible, and their outcome, unanimity.
In the words of Majone, its most clear-sighted liberal critic, the world the Union inhabits is one in which 'the language of democratic politics is largely unintelligible'. Unique in modern constitutional history, he observes, 'the model is not Athens but Sparta, where the popular assembly voted yes or no to the proposals advanced by the Council of Elders but had no right to propose measures on its own account.' The political culture of Union elites resembles that of the European Restoration and its sequels, before the reforms of the franchise in the 19th century, 'when policy was considered a virtual monopoly of cabinets, diplomats and top bureaucrats'. The mental and institutional habitus of Old Regime Europe is still alive in the 'supposedly postmodern system of governance of the EU'. In sum, the order of the Union is that of an oligarchy.
The historically minded can reply, yes, but the Restoration brought peace to Europe that lasted for forty years, or on a looser reckoning a century. Hasn't European integration, however undemocratic in structure, achieved the same for three-quarters of a century, after the terrible internecine wars of 1914 and 1939? In the official credo of the EU, probably no other claim is repeated so insistently, and movements questioning the Union are frequently attacked as carriers of the bacillus of future wars. The truth, of course, is that after 1945 there was never any risk of another outbreak of hostilities between Germany and France, or any other of the countries of Western Europe, because the Cold War made the whole region an American security protectorate. Nato, not the EEC, laid the military conflicts of the past to rest. As Albert Hirschman once caustically put it: 'the European Community arrived a bit late in history for its widely proclaimed mission, to avert further wars between the major Western European nations.' A beneficiary of the Pax Americana rather than a progenitor of it, the Union faced its first test as an actual keeper of peace in Europe after the Cold War. It failed miserably, not preventing but stoking war in the Balkans, as Germany backed Slovene secession from Yugoslavia, the starting gun for successive murderous conflicts that the EU, dragged in the wake of Helmut Kohl, proved incapable of moderating or bringing to halt. It was once again not Brussels but Washington that finally settled the fate of the region. Even the enlargement of the Union to include the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, its major historical achievement, followed in the footsteps of the US, their inclusion in Nato preceding their entry into the EU.
Human rights are another point d'honneur in the public relations repertoire of the Union. The Council of Europe, which contains twenty states not part of the EU, including Russia, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, established a Convention on Human Rights and a court to protect them back in 1953, whose provisions were essentially reproduced in 2000 in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, much as the EU would purloin the Council's flag as its own. As elsewhere, proclamation and observation of such rights are not the same. Ordinary police brutality is certainly less than in the United States, where prison conditions are also worse, and inmates far more numerous. But this scarcely distinguishes the EU, the same holding for Canada or the countries of Western Europe that don't belong to the Union. More pointedly still, when America required European co-operation in renditions, EU members complied with assistance in kidnappings and supply of torture chambers on Union soil, documented and denounced by a Swiss prosecutor to the Council of Europe, without a finger being lifted by the EU to bring those responsible to book. Where infractions of its charter come from governments it dislikes, as currently in Hungary and Poland, the Union will threaten sanctions. Where they come from governments with which it wishes to keep on good terms, it will turn a blind eye, or seek to render them acceptable, even if the infractions are far more extreme – as in the long-standing military occupation and ethnic cleansing of Union territory in northern Cyprus; let alone in Eretz Israel, early in the history of the Community invited to consider membership, and more recently described by the Union's first high representative for foreign affairs as an honorary member. As for refugees, the record of European inhumanity in the Aegean and Libya speaks for itself. Migration has largely become a security question.
Solidarity, another important term in the EU lexicon, refers to two features of its self-image. The first emphasises the structural and cohesion funds, the 30 per cent of the Commission's budget dispensed to poorer countries and regions of the Union for transport, environmental and other projects. Though not always well spent, these are genuinely redistributive and have historically had a significant impact on the biggest beneficiaries: Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Larger is the Common Agricultural Policy, which disburses more than 40 per cent of the budget and is regressive, with the great bulk of the money going to the richest farmers, above all in France, though titled millionaires in Britain have collared the largest bonanzas of all. Combined, the equity effect of the two kinds of expenditure is probably neutral, possibly negative. The second sense of solidarity refers to European 'social policy', broadly defined as measures to reduce the vulnerability of wage-earners and their families, and less well-off citizens in general, to the vagaries of the market. Wolfgang Streeck has traced the evolution of these from the 1960s to the present. Originally, they comprised attempts to alter capital-labour relations by promoting industrial co-determination that would give workers rights of representation on company boards, resisted by business. The Vredeling Directive giving form to these hopes was ditched after the passage of the Single European Act, and attention shifted to questions of health and safety and equal opportunity.
At the insistence of Delors, proclaiming the need for a Social Europe, the Monetary Union created at Maastricht was accompanied, in the thicket of adjacent and subsidiary clauses in the treaty, by a Social Chapter promising enhancement of labour rights, from which Britain opted out. So little came of this piece of symbolism, Streeck remarks, that its later adoption by New Labour 'did nothing to prevent the rise of inequality, the decay of collective bargaining and the deterioration of employment conditions in the UK over the years that followed'. EU-wide, these were years in which businesses successfully attacked public service provision in the name of competition law, while the Court of Justice dealt successive cold blows to trade-union rights. The current European Pillar of Social Rights, announced in 2017, does not redress the trend: as a uniform set of injunctions amid huge differences between member states, it is largely a dead letter. In public and academic arenas, Streeck comments, talk of a Social Europe has faded as the EU becomes identified primarily as a vehicle of 'universal peace, human rights and civilised speech, rather than as an alternative to unbridled capitalism'. His conclusion: 'What seems clear is that the project, reaching back to the 1970s, of a supranational European Welfare State giving political definition to a "European social model" has come to an end.'
What about European economic growth, in that case? While the GDP of Western Europe grew at some per 2 per cent a year between 1900 and 1950, it bounded forward at 5 per cent a year from 1950 to 1973, a speed without precedent in its history. But how far was that due to integration? In those years, West Germany and Italy grew by 5 per cent annually, France 4 per cent, Belgium 3.5 per cent and the Netherlands 3.4 per cent. But outside the ECSC and EEC, Austria averaged an annual growth rate of 4.9 per cent, Spain 5.8 per cent, Portugal 5.9 per cent and Greece 6.2 per cent. Pent-up prewar demand, state intervention and international co-operation all played a role. Given that the boom started a decade before the EEC, integration alone cannot explain these fast growth rates. The EEC's impact on the boom has never been subject to research of real accuracy. But if it existed, in these years it was small and may even have been negative. In Patel's view of this period, there was 'virtually no public pressure to present a clear account of the economic achievements of the integration process'. The Community was not at this stage particularly neoliberal, as sometimes later alleged. While competition policy may have been shaped by German ordo-liberals in the 1960s, their impact was still highly selective, without incidence on most of its budget, which was dominated by concessions to French farmers they abhorred. Structurally, European integration was 'born technocratic', as it has remained. For its citizens, the Community was what Patel terms an 'adiaphoron': that is, according to Stoic philosophy, 'a matter having no moral merit or demerit'. Such was popular indifference to it that by the end of the 1960s only 36 per cent of its inhabitants could correctly name all six members of the EEC.
How has the Eurozone fared since 1973? In 2000 the Lisbon Agenda of the European Council promised productivity gains of 4 per cent a year, about double the US rate. In reality, they increased at somewhere between 0.5 and 1 per cent a year. As for overall growth, here are the figures.
GDP growth in the Euro zone
|Years||Average GDP growth|
In other words, a steady decline since 1973, even before the collapse of 2020, when in the first six months of the year, GDP fell 15.7 per cent. As for the contribution of integration to the record, Barry Eichengreen and Andreas Boltho – two economists committed to the benefits of European unity – reckoned in a 2008 paper that over the long run, from the time of the ECSC to that of the EMU, 'European incomes would have been roughly 5 per cent lower today in the absence of the EU.' Hardly a momentous achievement. Nor has intra-EU trade increased greatly since the Union, the over-valuation of the euro favouring imports from the US, China and other countries, while diverting trade from within the EU. More generally, the socio-economic and geopolitical heterogeneity of the fifteen members of the Union in 1995, further stretched by the arrival of another twelve over the next decade or so, made it decreasingly possible to arrive at common Pareto-efficient decisions. In practical terms, enlargement to the East rendered 'Social Europe' as conceived by Delors impossible, since the average income of the new members of the Union was only 40 per cent of the average of the fifteen West European members. EU resources were insufficient to close the gap.
The contrast between West and East has not been the only fracture in the Union. For Bolkestein on the right, the single currency was afflicted with a birth defect. Its fatal weakness, he told an audience in 2012, lay in
trying to serve two groups of countries that differed greatly in their economic culture, lands of the North that respected rules and discipline and lands of the Mediterranean that sought political solutions to economic problems. The first group – Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and others – wanted solidity; the second wanted solidarity, which means other people's money. [Laughter in the auditorium. Bolkestein did not laugh.] That could not and did not go well. Herman Van Rompuy was right to call the euro a sleeping pill: the Mediterranean countries could enjoy artificially low interest rates, which they did abundantly, dreaming of a dolce far niente.
For Claus Offe, on the left, it is clear that 'the euro has rendered European democratic capitalism more capitalistic and less democratic,' disembedding financial markets from states and exposing states to their vicissitudes, in a system that Offe judges no more favourably, if for opposite reasons, than Bolkestein. 'The euro under the ECB's regime over-generalises monetary policy across widely diverging economies and their given position in the business cycle. Instead of "one size fits all" we are left with a situation where "one size fits none" due to the institutional incapacity of monetary policy to respond to the specifics of countries and their situations.' No sooner has he casually said this, however, than he soberly retracts it. For there is one country of which this judgment does not hold: his own. Given the huge advantages that Germany derives from the euro, Offe writes,
any conceivable German government will do everything in its power to keep the common currency intact by avoiding the default of any member of the Euro club. For this currency allows the German government to live in an ideal world where pleasure is not followed by regret, meaning that an export surplus is not followed, and its continuation thus limited, by the appreciation of the currency of the country.
Matters are otherwise, of course, on the receiving end of such appreciation. The Southern and Eastern belt of states are paying the price of a misconceived currency union that cannot now be reversed. Even if 'the introduction of the euro into a fundamentally flawed currency zone was a huge mistake, the same applies by now simply to undoing that mistake,' since the dissolution of the Eurozone would be 'equivalent to a tsunami of economic as well as political regression'. Hence the 'trap' Europe is in – it can neither move forwards, nor backwards.
Fritz Scharpf, to whom Offe looks for counsel, is less categorical. Also as of 2015, he concluded that the EU decision to rescue the single currency rather than dismantle it was creating an economically repressive and politically authoritarian euro regime that was enormously counter-productive. By forcing member states in trouble to adopt fiscal austerity and internal devaluation, reducing labour costs with the beggar-my-neighbour effects of a permanent downward pressure on wage incomes, social transfers and public transfers, official policy was 'utterly devoid of democratic legitimacy'. In future, Scharpf argued, much of the Community's acquis would have to be de-constitutionalised, returning it to the ordinary conditions of legislative re-examination and revision. For the moment, no responsible politician regarded this as feasible. But if a second big shock, comparable to the impact of the global financial crisis, hit the system, European democracy would have to be rebuilt from the bottom up, restoring the necessary barriers to market interference with it at both supranational and national levels.
The last and bleakest word comes from Dani Rodrik. Might the closest historical analogy to the euro, as we know it today, be the Gold Standard as it existed prior to the First World War, before there was any developed welfare state or counter-cyclical policies? Both of these now exist and complicate the tasks before the Union. Can democracy, sovereignty and globalisation be happily combined? Regrettably, an EU-wide democracy does not exist, and the reforms adopted since the crisis of 2008 – banking union, stricter fiscal oversight – have made the Union more technocratic, less accountable and more distant from European electorates. What American examples show is that European elites must make a choice, opting either for political union at the cost of national sovereignty, or for national sovereignty at the cost of political union. Intermediate solutions – a little democracy at national level, a little more at EU level – won't work. The reality, Rodrik concludes, is that it may be too late to take the first path, in the hope that a European demos will ultimately emerge to correspond with a European federation. If that is so, it is hard to see how a single currency can be reconciled with multiple democratic polities. It may be better to jettison the hope that one day economic union will prove compatible with democracy as eventually reconstituted, and ask instead what degree of economic integration is compatible with democracy as currently instituted.
So if we look for silver linings in the overall performance of the EU since Maastricht, it is not easy to find them. International peace, human rights, social solidarity, economic growth: the cupboard is pretty bare. Yet, as defenders can point out, it is not completely empty. Two features of the EU that make a genuine difference to the lives of many of its citizens are plain. The first is the convenience of travel without a passport in the Schengen zone, which still excludes Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland of the EU, but includes Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland from outside the EU. More generally, there is the variety of products on supermarket shelves that followed the single market, the Union interpellating its citizens as consumers rather than political subjects. Loss of low-key facilities of this kind would not pass without protest; habit is a powerful force in human affairs. In this century, too, political expectations in advanced societies have declined nearly everywhere. If the Union's advertisements for itself, on which it spends a fortune in euros every year, meet no more than a listless acquiescence, rather than active endorsement from the populations over which it presides, that is sufficient for its purposes. Fear of the unknown is the more important integument.
Some of the books consulted in the writing of this essay:
Project Europe: A History by Kirin Klaus Patel (Cambridge, 2020)
Juges et avocats généraux de la Cour de Justice de l'Union européenne (1952-1972): Une approche biographique de l'histoire d'une révolution juridique by Vera Fritz (Vittorio Klostermann, 2018)
Vichy dans la 'solution finale': Histoire du commissariat général aux questions juives (1941-44) by Laurent Joly (Grasset, 2006)
Servir l'état français: L'administration en France de 1940 à 1944 by Marc Olivier Baruch (Fayard, 1997)
'Michel Gaudet, a Law Entrepreneur: The Role of the Legal Service of the European Executives in the Invention of EC Law and the Birth of the Common Market Law Review' by Julie Bailleux (Common Market Law Review, Vol. 50, 2013)
The European Court's Political Power: Selected Essays by Karen Alter (Oxford, 2009)
'Establishing a Constitutional Practice of European Law: The History of the Legal Service of the European Executive, 1952-65' by Morten Rasmussen (Contemporary European History, Vol. 21, 2012)
Politik und Justiz by Hans Peter Ipsen (Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1937)
Europa und das 3. Reich: Einigungsbestrebungen im deutschen Machtbereich 1939-45 by Hans Werner Neulen (Universitas, 1987)
Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice: Rethinking the Landmark Decisions of the Foundational Period by William Phelan (Cambridge, 2019)
The Constitution of European Democracy by Dieter Grimm (Oxford, 2017)
The Court of Justice of the European Union as an Institutional Actor: Judicial Lawmaking and Its Limits by Thomas Horsley (Cambridge, 2018)
'Constitutionalism and the Many Faces of Federalism' by Koen Lenaerts (American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 38, 1990)
Brokering Europe: Euro-Lawyers and the Making of a Transnational Polity by Antoine Vauchez (Cambridge, 2015)
The Future of Europe: Towards a Two-Speed EU? by Jean-Claude Piris (Cambridge, 2012)
European Civil Service in (Times of) Crisis: A Political Sociology of the Changing Power of Eurocrats by Didier Georgakakis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
Restructuring Europe: Centre Formation, System Building and Political Structuring between the Nation-State and the European Union by Stefano Bartolini (Oxford, 2005)
Europe as the Would-be World Power: The EU at Fifty by Giandomenico Majone (Cambridge, 2009)
Rethinking the Union of Europe Post-Crisis: Has Integration Gone Too Far? by Giandomenico Majone (Cambridge, 2014)
European Integration: From Nation-States to Member States by Christopher Bickerton (Oxford, 2012)
Europe Entrapped by Claus Offe (Polity, 2015)