Can Europe Make It?

Reflections on the European Idea in theory and in practise

Continued potential for peaceful change is the principal condition; politics must be a process. That is why politics must be transnational,and Europe a transnational democracy.

Sam Hufton
1 March 2019

April 11, 1998. The people of North Belfast got their first look at the Good Friday Belfast Peace Agreement signed by all parties at Stormont. John Giles/ Press Association. All rights reserved.

When Europe set about drafting for itself a constitution in the winter of early 2002, it did so to great fanfare accompanying the belief that Europe in the pioneering spirit stood on the precipice of a historic moment in its history. The belief that the Old Continent was about to have its own ‘Philadelphia Moment’ was not only allowed to circulate in public discourse, it was actively propagated by a political class[1] who were determined to crown their fifty-year long project to transform Europe, completed through the invocation of that ancient act of political metamorphosis; the constitution.

Yet what in fact occurred was one of the greatest acts of theatre in the history of European politics; what was being drafted at the Laeken Convention, contrary to popular belief, was not a constitution in any meaningful sense of the word, but another treaty. One far more streamlined and sophisticated than the seventeen which preceded it and their thirty-six annexed protocols. Nonetheless a compromise between Heads of State and Government, negotiated far from the eyes of their electorates, and far from the reach of the democratic institutions designed to hold presidents and ministers accountable and set the political agenda. The European peoples’ place in this Union has always been on the side-lines – outside the halls of power and below the grand summits.

This is not some unfortunate flaw of the European Project however; it is the cornerstone on which this massively complex and obscure entity is built. And not only that, it is also the source of the rot at the heart of the Union which makes its governance so incomprehensible, opaque, convoluted and fundamentally illegitimate. The European peoples’ place in this Union has always been on the side-lines – outside the halls of power and below the grand summits. This is the precise outcome of the choice to build a political system on treaties. And this is why, as Yanis Varoufakis has put it previously, Europe doesn’t just have a deficit of democracy – it is a democracy-free zone.

Hence as the theatre came to an end, Europeans were no closer to believing it was real than at the beginning; the French and Dutch electorates rejected it in 2005, and other states planning to ratify via referendum quickly cancelled theirs to avoid further embarrassment. The time for make-believe European constitutionalism was over, the real thing conspicuous in its absence. Here I want to outline the contours of a phenomenon which produces the worst failings of European politics: leaving its public support hollow; provoking deeply authoritarian reflexes; breeding a contempt for democratic politics whilst at the same time feeding the very nationalism it was constructed to prevent. The joke of history is that the people at Laeken had it right in essence; the way to undoing all this is to convene a Constituent Assembly, in order to draft a democratic constitution for Europe.


According to the constitutional experts Fossum and Menéndez[2], a Constitution must perform three roles for it to be so named. It must: bring together the rules by which the system runs; make clear the norms and standards which the system must observe; and it must formally present these as the ideas which underpin the system, so that they are known. These are necessary for us to have trust in the belief that we are equal agents in a political community; that we are citizens. Without them, a political system lacks democratic essence in its foundation. If the system's foundation was not under the citizens’ control, neither is the system itself.

It is very important that documents which constitute the Union do fulfil these three roles, because whether formed by treaties or a democratic constitution, the legal order the Union represents is a constitutional one, in that it directly binds citizens rather than simply their states. We are subject to this law. For a legal order to be democratic, its origin must be democratic – both its constitutional origin and everyday legislation. It is not good enough for citizens simply to be equal subjects under law, they must also be its authors. This is the very essence of the idea of a pourvoir constituant – that citizens bear the original right to establish legitimate political authority. This authority then represents the sovereignty – the ultimate right to decide in the name of the political community – of the citizens, defined in the drafting of a constitution. Europe wields this kind of power; it can make law which directly applies to the citizens. This power it has been granted by the treaties. But here is the fundamental problem: this law has no democratic origin. We cannot be citizens of the Union if we did not establish its authority to act. Its authority derives from an existing pourvoir constitué[3], the nation-states. Therefore, the Union’s power is not democratic.

This may all seem theoretical; despite these ‘shortcuts’, in reality can the Union not still act as if it had been constituted democratically? An analysis of how the Union operates reveals that it is not just theory but very much manifest in practise. The treaties mean the Union cannot recognise itself as a polis, a domain of public interest in the name of which political power is exercised. In fact, it categorically rejects the existence of one, and structurally prevents one from forming. The technocrats of Brussels serve the purpose of facilitating the compromises, allowing them to present a consensus that masquerades as an act in the common interest.

What takes its place is a coalition of interests which are in their nature assumed separate; first and foremost, the national interests represented in the Council. However, without the recognition of any common interest binding them to exercise power together, the only thing which can emerge from their deliberations is a compromise between their various, isolated interests. The technocrats of Brussels serve the purpose of facilitating the compromises, allowing them to present a consensus that masquerades as an act in the common interest. The need for consensus was decided in the 1960s as the best way to reach such decisions, rather than the overt victory of some national interests over others. This allowed them to create an illusion that common interests were being found between national ministers.

The importance of reaching decisions was made paramount when rulings by the European Court in the 1960s decided that the Council exercised sovereign power over the citizens of the then Community. Legislation in Brussels would bind not the member-states but their populations, as national law does. From this moment, the kinds of compromises reached were immensely significant, as were the interests served by those decisions. The role of the technocrats who facilitated these became key, in maintaining the appearance of consensus by ensuring that the interests pursued at the European level were ‘balanced’. Such an environment, where isolated interests are amalgamated and packaged together as elite compromises is fertile ground for corporatism.

At the core of corporatism is the premise that private economic interests are the only basis on which public power is exercised. By finding a compromise between these private interests, incorporating as many as possible, action can be taken in the name of all. It is clear why the Union’s technocrats and diplomats might subconsciously embrace this belief; the system began life as a cartel-administration, thinking sectorally in terms only of managing economic interests. They can only respond to the individual ability of interests to represent themselves; these are the only kinds of interests there are if there is no belief in a common interest. Everyone advocates for themselves and the technocrats must bring peace and order to the free-for-all. The national governments act as the loudest and most effective lobbyist in this process with the power to decide on the final compromise; the compromise being essential because it is only together that they can act and present the façade that it is in the name of all. In this way they exercise sovereign power.

This then is the trick implicit in the treaties; national governments are still sovereign, so long as they exercise it in the black hole at the heart of the Union where there are no limits, no political principles or common interests. Sovereignty is only exercised together on the basis of fragmented economic interests, which corporate lobbyists promote and use to influence national representatives. Sovereign authority is exercised as the ‘Governments-in-Council’: only there can decisions be made on behalf of Europe. There are no controls on power in this domain. It is fully within the discretion of national governments to legislate on whatever they like there[4], far from the prying eyes of their electorates and the controls of national parliaments.

Corporations use this potential to bypass parliamentary institutions and gain direct access to governments in a way no other sector of the economy is equipped to do. Corporations have the wealth and social connections with the political class to gain completely disproportionate representation in this manner. Yet this is how technocracy conceives of ‘representative government’, relieving it of the responsibility to consider real common interests by engaging with the people who rely on their individual voice for representation.

There is no place for democratic politics here. It is an inconvenience to the functional process, an obstacle. Technocracy allows corporate interests to influence policy without finding a mandate for their agendas from the citizens. This was the premise of Hayek’s interstate federation[5]; that citizens should be excluded from political decision-making in order to protect corporate interests, forcing them to submit to the homogenising, dehumanising power of the market unbound. Authoritarian laissez-faire; let some be free to do whatever they want to everyone else, deprive the rest of any power to resist. Technocracy allows corporate interests to influence policy without finding a mandate for their agendas from the citizens.

The global over-class we see today pursuing its interests with no regard to those of the vast mass of citizens rely on these mechanisms to do so. Corporatism takes advantage of the fragmented nature of political agency beyond the nation to sideline democratic processes, commandeer national authority and use it to implement their agendas, with the help of technocrats ensuring it is consistently and coherently imposed.

Economic interests can be the only rallying point internationally, which means that the bearers of economic power – corporations – must be allowed to bring this about through a global unification of markets. In this maelstrom, the idea of sovereignty is lost, as there is no transparency in who decides and who takes responsibility for decisions. Technocracy relies on national authority to act legitimately; meanwhile fragmented national authorities require technocrats to create something around which to rally their authority. The capacity to decide and the authority to decide are uncoupled by the requisite concentration of bureaucratic power in the context of the dilution of political authority. Democracy in Europe is unmade.

As Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi recognised in the Ventotene Manifesto, corporatism is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of a democracy, the essence of which is “there is no liberty without solidarity”.[6] To be free is to have a status that recognises our equal agency. The reality of this status relies on our agency being collectively guaranteed in a community; as citizens in a dêmos. Corporatism undoes this by creating an over-class with full agency leaving the rest with none. It rejects the possibility that any interest could be truly common. What’s left is an empty shell of democratic government lacking any normative force or potential. We are no longer all authors of law, we are merely subject to it. Sovereign authority is wielded out of sight so that the question of ‘who decides?’ is considered irrelevant. Sovereign authority is wielded out of sight so that the question of ‘who decides?’ is considered irrelevant.

The Governments-in-Council is the product of post-sovereign government, where ministers retain all their power, while national democracy is reduced to a husk. Around 70 percent of legislation at the national level is the adoption of EU directives[7]; monetary policy is no longer separately decided in the eurozone; and agreements such as the Stability and Growth Pact and Fiscal Compact constrain national room for fiscal manoeuvre. Who gets to decide is no longer the right of citizens to determine, but instead the prerogative of a distant cartel of elites.[8] 

Perhaps in their hubris, the men and (few) women who crafted the treaties allowed it to be incredibly easy for the populists who attack the Union today to do so on grounds of distance, opaqueness and complexity. Who would notice the disappearance of all principles, norms or ideals, and their replacement by a pure balance of power between elite interests? They did not count on nemesis. Perpetually in ignorance of what can be learnt from Greece, they also failed to count on democracy. The permissive acceptance of this abuse of power died in the 1990s. The tide of indignation[9] that threatens to replace it might overwhelm everything, good and bad, that has been achieved by the European Project over the past seven peaceful decades.


Is this what we really want from Europe? To write off post-national government as an abstract ideal that miscarries when it confronts reality, and to beat the retreat behind the Maginot Line[10] of national sovereignty? It would be false hope to suggest there is refuge in the bosom of the nation-state, and utterly lacking in the innovation or radicalism of the Left. It would also be utterly detrimental to mistake Globalisation for the only form in which a post-national kind of politics might emerge.

This however relies on an unrecognised truth in the way the European Union has developed; it is the inevitable continuation of factors deeply embedded at the national level. Technocratic Europe emerges from nation-states which only relate to each other internationally, and which internally rely on a deeply limited idea of democracy. They are founded on the idea that a dêmos, the community on which democracy is based, can only emerge if there is a pre-existing éthnos. Only that inner similarity provides the ability for people to recognise they have common interests on which democracy relies. Hence why the treaties fail to allow for a common European interest and substitute for this a coalition of individual national ones; because there is no European nation which could form a European dêmos.

This comes from the original tribal nature of Athenian democracy.[11] The Athenian polis emerged from a tribal confederation of families bound through ethnic blood-ties and ruled by leaders who maintained the tribe by mediating the private interests of its families. In the polis, these tribal leaders became the oligarchy who held the prerogative to engage in bargaining between interests bound only by ethnicity. On the basis of such elite compromises ‘common’ interests of the polis were formed.

Democracy meant the oligarchy was deprived of the sole power to determine the interests of the polis. Nevertheless, its tribal nature remained intact, with foreigners and slaves (captured in conquests abroad) being excluded from politics. The basis of the community was still its éthnos, produced through its blood-related families. So the idea was retained that compromises between its essentially isolated private interests could be legitimately presented as the interests of the community. The class which held the prerogative to make these compromises determined which coalition of private interests imposed their hegemony as the voice of the whole. The result was that the common interest became the subject of an antagonistic struggle between the oligarchy and the masses. One means sought to bring any unity to the polis was to engage in foreign conquests, igniting the original tribal bonds to restore the inherent uniformity between ruling-class and ruled.

Nation-states were formed on the same basis as the Athenian polis. Elite activities were integral to the definition of national identities in state-nations and national movements[12], as well as the resolution of conflicts of interest that emerged with the struggle for nationhood. It was a top-down process. Nation-states have not escaped the legacy of being founded by oligarchic ruling-classes, having relied on them extensively to strike the compromises between essentially private interests brought together only by ethnicity. Ethnicity suggests we are largely the same within the community. Hence a ruling-class can effectively make bargains between our private interests and represent us all. These ruling-classes became integrally wedded to national structures of power: ethnic homogeneity; blood and soil; control of domestic resources; of symbols of identity and locality. Their monopoly on all these power bases manifested itself through the nexus of aristocratic landownership, capital and military leadership, securing national power. These ruling-classes became integrally wedded to national structures of power: ethnic homogeneity; blood and soil; control of domestic resources; of symbols of identity and locality.

Hence the democratisation of these nation-states through the expansion of the franchise, civic rights, and the establishment of the welfare state encounters the same problems as in Athens. The attempt to establish a genuine equality of status becomes a struggle between antagonistic classes, assuaged temporarily through acts of aggression abroad (to which the twentieth century bore horrifying witness) reinforcing the idea that the community emerges only from the inherent similarity of its members’ common éthnos.

Foreigners cannot be part of our dêmos, unless they make themselves like us. Maintenance of the illusion of similarity relies on the suppression of internal division and diversity of interests to freeze conflict between them into a false unity. There can be no diversity expressed through equal agency. This only weakens the democratic nation-state’s ability to act as a common whole. Hence there can be no socialisation between equal agents; the common interest is manufactured by a ruling-class which makes compromises and grand coalitions on behalf of the nation. Nation-states breed ruling-classes.

Hence the seemingly paradoxical, yet essential continuity between nation-states and internationalism, technocracy and corporatism. If democracy is based on assumed ethno-cultural homogeneity, then all that can exist beyond the nation is internationalism. This suggests that within nations, life can be integrated, but between them, there are high, impregnable walls separating our communities. We can conduct negotiations and establish temporary relations over these walls, but we are not connected; we cannot exist across them. We are isolated from each other. We might visit them, but we don’t belong in foreign communities. They are different. This is a shallow view of human communities, especially free and democratic ones; a view repudiated by the lived reality of Europe. Yet it is the premise of the international. The only way these communities can interact is in the obscurity of distant summits and conferences. Nations being socialised together is principally excluded from internationalism, without them forming some kind of ‘super-nation-state’[13] abomination.

Nations under internationalism therefore require corporatism if they are going to achieve anything together. Both revolve around the idea that actors in politics have separate if not antagonistic interests, largely economic in nature, and that the resulting conflict needs to be subdued through compromise. That is the basis of collective action. If common interests do emerge from compromises between private interests, then the next step is the creation of a ruling-class able to act for the whole, presenting these compromises as a consensus; a consensus which emerges from some idea that we are essentially the same, that there is no conflict, and that they can represent all citizens and act in our name. Beyond the nation, where no ethnic ties have been stressed, the only ground for this claim is technocracy. Managing different interests is an inherently rational process done on behalf of all. We are left in universal humanity, where there is no community, no social agency and nothing makes us diverse or particular except our private economic interests which can be subordinated to an over-class and technocratically managed. This is the apotheosis of political power established through tribalism. This is the outcome of two traditions of thought on the European Idea coming together to reveal they are two sides of the same coin: the conservative and the technocratic.

This is the outcome of two traditions of thought on the European Idea coming together to reveal they are two sides of the same coin: the conservative and the technocratic. Firstly, that nation-states must govern Europe in concert and secondly, that the political authority to decide questions of public concern should be transcended by technical management. The interlocking of these two creates a Governments-in-Council-style corruption of sovereignty. National interests are fundamentally separate and irreconcilable, and thus a common European interest is impossible – these fragmented interests may only be balanced, complimented and forced together. Nation-state power is wedded to corporate interests within the state, so of course they serve as the only basis of welding fragmented national communities into a unified whole. This was Jean Monnet’s own premise when he drafted the Schuman Declaration and Treaty of Paris. The cartel-origins of the Union reinforce corporations’ disproportionate ability to represent their interests and step into the breach of political authority. This creates the supranational over-class that forces the rest of us to engage in Standortkonkurrenz[14] where we lose all agency in the circumstances impacting our lives and resort to competing with each other to minimise the damage.

Creating a system that would facilitate a democratic political agency to form a common European interest, and with it, overcome the limitations of nation-state democracy, was never considered. That corporatist technocracy will emerge from ostensibly democratic nation-states’ international interaction was the essential insight of Spinelli and Rossi’s manifesto. Ventotene emerged from the third, revolutionary tradition of thought on the European Idea, the contours of which are yet to be described.


Ulrike Guérot was right when she said Europe needs more utopian thinking if it is to rescue itself from the ditch it is presently in and meet the challenge of imagining better forms of government for the circumstances of our contemporary world.[15] At the same time, it is an absolute necessity to ensure that we do not create a political community based on tribal relations and power. The Kantian Völkerbund[16] is a sketch (as Kant stressed) of how to go beyond such a community; combined with the insights of the revolutionary tradition of Ventotene, the outlines of how to develop a different path should start to emerge.

A democratic Europe different from the technocratic attempt to transcend nations (and in so doing succumb to their worst pitfalls) must rely on a far more sophisticated understanding of political community, one that can function democratically and peacefully. It must do so without relying on the mechanisms that create an oligarchic ruling-class to facilitate the hollow façade of unity and common interest. It must understand that such an interest cannot emerge from a coalition of private interests, but something that involves everyone as equal agents in the process of engaging with each other and realising the mutually reinforcing relationship between Eros and Civilisation; between individuals and the collective; between the particular and the universal. This process is embodied in the civic-state. The civic-state relies on a previously unrealised mode of democratic politics that rejects tribal power – transnationalism.

The civic-state relies on a previously unrealised mode of democratic politics that rejects tribal power – transnationalism. Transnationalism posits that it is only through a process of socialisation between nations as part of a single political community, that democracy – as well as other universal ideals such as justice, liberty, and equality – can unfold in a meaningful way. Though unrealised, it does have its antecedents. The Ionians came up with an alternative form of democracy to the Athenian – one that relied on Isonomía, or the equal status of all within the polis. For Isonomía, the public interest, for which the polis is founded, is fundamentally different from private ones. The public interest relied on a democratic ethic which was generated by the polis engaging with the cosmopolis, with the universal. A polis trapped in its own particularity would breed the kind of subservience to oligarchy seen in the tribal polis. To engage with the cosmopolitan, Isonomía applied to all in the polis, including those who joined it as foreigners. For they were recognised as bringing to democracy something of the highest value; difference.

The necessary engagement with difference in a democratic community (a dêmos) is recognised in a range of other political discourses: Republicanism; the Hegelian state; and Constitutional Patriotism. They all assume that only through interaction between different individuals and their particular communities can they engage with universal principles. Democracy relies on socialisation between individuals who have equal status as free agents, which they collectively guarantee, instrumentalising the idea that individuality is only realised by engaging as part of a common whole.

This social contract is founded on solidarity. From this, common interests can emerge from private interests interacting, gaining a better understanding of their relation to each other as parts of the whole, and thereby opening up their potential for being reconciled. This cannot occur through false consensus; consensus is forced as the means of suppressing division by a ruling-class determined to protect the unity of the state on which their power rests. To that end they maintain that we are all inherently similar, and hence they can represent the ‘general will’ as a grand coalition of private wills.[17] However, democracy disrupts the process of forming this coalition; the result is stasis, the constant struggle to economise the public domain by appropriating it to serve private interests, preventing the social process of generating a public one.

Democracy therefore is about everyone’s will having agency to influence the exercise of public power. This is achieved through a community of citizens who critically engage with each other’s interests and wills as they relate to the community and its institutions’ ability to carry them out.[18] Politics then can only unfold through a process of conflict, in which sums of individual wills are required for law and decision-making, but only as part of an ongoing realisation of the common will. The realisation of the common will is not an individual but a social process, as diverse individuals become socialised together. That process must be conflictual, it must provoke criticism and reflection, and we must all be empowered to engage in it as equals.[19]

The idea that democracy is about a natural community that speaks with one voice could not be further from reality. Such a democracy is still-born; its majoritarianism can be used to batter our status as equal agents (the foundation of democracy) into submission. It is not about the ‘will of the people’ as the fixed sum of individual wills, nor can it be extracted from some inherent similarity, as the Jacobins claimed after 1789 and the Brexiteers after 2016. There is no point when the common will is a fixed entity which we must submit to. If we reduce ourselves to speaking with one voice, then we breed dependence on a ruling-class and their power to manufacture the façade of unity. This is the death of democracy, because when individuals can no longer speak for themselves in shaping the common will, they are no longer citizens. If we reduce ourselves to speaking with one voice, then we breed dependence on a ruling-class and their power to manufacture the façade of unity.

Conflict inherently relies on a recognition of our differences as equal and valid parts of a whole. Differences in fact allow us to judge our private wills against the idea of a common will.[20] Therefore, diversity is essential. Diversity prevents any illusions about there being a general will supposedly emerging from the homogenous nature of the community, instead galvanising the process of engaging with each other as the substance of democracy. If an oligarchic ruling-class can convince us they represent the uniformity of our interests, by conducting obscure compromises satisfying primarily the needs of the powerful, then we lose the ability to generate a democratic ethic and fall into the deep sleep of subservience. Foreigners disturb this sleep by bringing difference. Europe’s transgressive civilisation[21] emerged from such a diverse array of peoples. Foreigners’ presence in a community must be recognised for their inherent value in being able to teach us about them and about ourselves. Transnationalism realises this necessary diversity by forming a community of several nations.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 demonstrates how this can work in reality; it did so by radically transforming the basis of community.[22] Rather than “what would you die for”, it asked people what they could live with. The agreement thus recognised three things about identity: that it is chosen; that it may be plural; and that it can change. Those born in Northern Ireland may henceforth choose British or Irish citizenship, or both, as they so wish. Identity is not assigned, it is not inherited, it is not monolithic, absolute or immutable. It is not determined elsewhere; it is the product of the individual’s interaction with others as they try to realise a common whole. In response to these developments in Northern Ireland, the Republic amended its constitution to read that “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation”. The Irish nation was something you could join, and something you could be part of shaping. “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation.”

This is how transnationalism aims to remove all the reactionary trappings of the old national state-system, creating a new form of state around which the ‘new, genuine democracy’[23] can grow. Diversity must be permanently embedded in the community; ‘foreigners’ must have equal civic status with ‘natives’ without forcing them to jettison their difference first in order to obtain that status. The solidarity of citizenship must extend to all regardless of difference. Thus, a dêmos is formed out of multiple éthnoi, who constitute their sovereignty together, the foundation on which various particular national, regional and local identities can rest alongside a common civic one. Eros and Civilisation are brought together as refining and reinforcing the bases of a common whole.

Sovereignty is necessary for a democratic community to have real meaning – as autonomous, peaceful self-government by a dêmos of citizens. It is the right to decide to act as a whole[24]; the agency on which is based on the authority to determine the télos of the community, allowing citizens to pursue common endeavour in matters where they cannot succeed alone. Through their interaction, they may perpetually redefine their télos – by installing and dismissing governments, passing legislation and setting the agenda.

If sovereignty is not constituted publicly in a state, the outcome is the emergence of a Governments-in-Council that deprives citizens of the right to make such decisions; in essence, deprives them of their citizenship. Technocratic Europe is de facto a state that has not been publicly constituted by a dêmos. Yet the right to make such decisions can only originate from the citizenship of belonging to a dêmos; only it can establish such authority and determine how it is exercised. The civic-state requires this constitution of sovereignty to be as a transnational dêmos, as a peoples.

The Governments-in-Council emerges from internationalism and technocracy which structurally provide the basis for a politics run by the corporate sectors of society alone. By contrast, for transnationalism to be democratic, allowing nations to contribute their diversity to each other and socialise them into a civic community, the dêmos must establish authority on a federalist basis. If it is not to become an empire, a political system must prevent the limitless accumulation of power in the centre resulting in rule by distant, unknown forces (the over-class represented in the Governments-in-Council).

Federalism unites disparate communities without depriving them of self-government by accepting decentralisation as its core tenet.[25] This is achieved by agreeing a settlement which codifies the relations between different communities and their common institutions. The dêmos establishes authority at several layers of society, enabling interests to be articulated and given agency in multiple places, and allowing for various loyalties, duties, customs and identities to coexist as layers of particularity in a common whole. Not to provide a path whereby they merge into one, but precisely so that diverse nations, regions and municipalities can continue to flourish as equally valid parts of a complex interaction.

These are the pillars of the constitution of the civic-state. It relies on a post-nationalist[26], post ethnic identity based on civic, democratic values and processes complimenting the identities which give us belonging. This provides the basis for peoples living in peace with different languages, cultures and memories of history; the belief that their differences can be reconciled through conscious effort to engage in democracy, yielding a dynamic, evolving community. “Ever-closer-union” can come to mean something concrete which is not simply ‘more power centralised in Brussels’, a Europeanism that is unquestionably soulless.

As its base, transnationalism therefore challenges our opponents on both fronts: on the idea of cooperation through an international concert of nations; and a global order of markets. The global over-class created from these interlocking forces is a direct challenge to the ideas of accountable democratic government serving the common public good. This is a reflection of why the liberal establishment directly relies on nationalist populism – it reinforces the idea that only through an oligarchic ruling-class can these differences be forced into consensus, and that nations cannot be socialised together. The super-rich can then pursue their interests entirely separately from the average citizen.

Mazzini-type internationalism cannot but result in a failure of democracy. Unrestrained global capitalism emerges from the nexus of international diplomacy, technocracy and corporatism. Its advance can be halted by the alternative presented here: a transnational constitution establishing the civic-state.


The momentum for such a radical transformation of the Union can of course only emerge from the citizens. This is why we must agitate to convene the crucible of democratic constitutionalism; the Constituent Assembly.

The Assembly has been the means by which free peoples have made their voices heard in controlling the exercise of public power for over 200 years, and so we call for one which will have the full right to draft and propose a democratic settlement for the European Union. Principally we assert in that settlement the reconstitution of our political community on a transnational basis. This is the epoch-advancing step between peoples who recognise each other as citizens with the ability to find a common will, so that they are not only governed by law but also to author that law. Through discussion, argument, creativity and the common desire for an accountable, democratic, just and legitimate government, we shape and lay the cornerstone of our democracy.

This cornerstone relies on our voices being heard as the constituent power of a political community of common endeavour and commitment to the ideals of civil society. Here we work to come to a common settlement of what this union of nations should be, how we use it and what it is for. This time there will be no summit, no diplomats or bureaucrats working behind the scenes for hidden agendas, no last-minute fudges, obscure compromises, no ignoring facts for political convenience, kicking the can down the road and certainly no exclusion of we citizens on the pretence that we don’t have the right to decide. This time we, the disparate and diverse peoples of this turbulent and creative continent, claim the right to decide by calling for this Constituent Assembly on a Democratic Constitution for Europe.

We will go about the process of spreading the call for such an assembly. We invite Europe’s authorities to recognise the appeal of Europe’s peoples to be governed truly democratically and in accordance with the principles of civil government. Where they do not, we must disobey; we must continue to agitate and call for this assembly and, if we reach such a moment, organise the assembly itself independently as citizens, as our predecessors have done in previous struggles. We must demonstrate to Europe’s authorities that our proposal is both viable and of the highest value.


Democracy is fragile. It can easily shatter and relies on a complex set of conditions to work. These can fall apart as the potential for change departs from politics, people left disconnected from institutions that have ossified since their foundations in previous centuries and ruling-classes only occupied with balancing the interests of the powerful. Continued potential for peaceful change is therefore the principal condition; politics must be a process. That is why politics must be transnational.

We must dispose with the marker “United States of Europe”, as reference to the American example does not capture what is required for the Old Continent. America showed how vast territories of disparate communities could be turned into a nation, but we must be more creative. Transnationalism must show how vast territories of several nations can be turned into a single political community whilst preserving their diversity. The civic-state is proposed to that end. It is not that Europe is the only place this can exist, nor is it the only place it should. The whole world should engage in it and none can be excluded from participating. But Europe is ready now to enter this new epoch. It has been unconsciously engaged in this process for centuries and the culture emerging from it is closest to the kind transnationalism needs to work. Thus, it is our responsibility to draft a constitution on these principles, found a civic-state, and demonstrate to the world all that is possible if we do so: another kind of politics; another kind of democracy; another Europe – and one day, another humanity.


[1] Joschka Fischer’s speech in 2000 at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; The Laeken Declaration 2001

[2] John Erik Fossum and Agustín José Menéndez outlined the weaknesses of Europe’s constitutionalism in The Constitution’s Gift (Plymouth, 2011), and how it is devoid of the normative force of democracy.

[3] It helps to think of pouvoir constituant as bearing sovereignty, and pouvoir constitué as bearing political authority. The former has the right to decide to act on behalf of all; the latter has the authority established to exercise that right.

[4] J.H.H. Weiler has expertly traced the development of this phenomenon in his essay ‘The Transformation of Europe’, republished in The Constitution of Europe (Cambridge, 1999). Key to it was the inclusion of the so-called ‘flexibility clause’, which allowed the Council to legislate in areas not specifically indicated so long as it was in the pursuit of ‘achieving the objectives of the treaties’. The ECJ was supposed to police any potential breaches in the boundaries of enumeration; it abdicated its responsibility on this in the 1970s, in order to constitutionalise the sanctity of the four freedoms in the pursuit of market liberalisation. The current area of ‘shared competences’ further entrenches the Union’s power to deprive national institutions of the authority to legislate separately on matters.

[5] Wolfgang Streeck in Buying Time (London, 2014) and Perry Anderson in The New Old World (London, 2011) both sketch in detail the resemblances between the Union and the interstate federation. As will be discussed later, it is that inter-statism that allows democratic sovereignty to disappear into the space between nations and deprives citizens of their voice.

[6] The slogan of the Polish trade union Solidarność which, through its strikes and protests, helped overthrow the communist government in Warsaw and break the Soviet Union’s authoritarian grip on Eastern Europe.

[7] Quoted by Ulrike Guérot in her visionary work Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss (München, 2017), p.48.

[8] This was another term used by Anderson. The structures of the EU take the “open agenda of parliaments into the closed world of chancelleries.” Furthermore, given its de rigueur unanimity on any significant matter, any public disagreement in the Council, never mind rejection of the “prefabricated consensus”, is treated as a breach of etiquette, so even real diplomacy is ruled out, “covering it with wreaths of bureaucratic piety”, p.62.

[9] Indignados, Brexiteers, gilets jaunes, Movimento Cinque Stella - all these emerged as social movements with no coherent political agenda, driven first and foremost by their anger at a corrupt political system.

[10] When reviewing Streeck's critique of the Union, Jürgen Habermas in The Lure of Technocracy (Cambridge, 2015) used this term to characterise Streeck’s conclusions. While his diagnosis is correct, his prescription is flawed, p.91.

[11] Srećko Horvat laid out the essential differences between Athenian Democracy and Ionian Isonomía in his essay “Der Falsche Gegensatz” in Der Freitag published on 23rd January 2019

[12] State-nations had gained statehood before nationhood, like France, England and Spain, whereas national movements emerged from minority ethnic groups in other states. These definitions originate from nationalism scholar Miroslav Hroch in European Nations (London, 2015).

[13] Jean-Claude Piris, who wrote a defence of the Constitutional Treaty in The Constitution for Europe (Cambridge, 2006), explained that a full federation could not be formed in Europe through democratisation because this would necessarily result in an enlarged nation-state, p.194. Democratisation in these terms assumes a dêmos can only be formed of individuals who recognise each other as the same, in a single éthnos, divided only by their private economic interests. Being part of a democratic community is incompatible with people retaining their diversity.

[14] Zygmunt Bauman used this term to describe ‘local competition’ in Europe: An Unfinished Adventure (Cambridge, 2004). Resulting from capital being released from its social bonds and obligations, it generates problems globally which are only met with local responses. In such a position of impotence, the only option is to compete with each other to find the least exposed position and weather the storm. The principles of the social state are lost, and with it our citizenship as equal agents in the community, p.77-8.

[15] Guérot employed the ideas of the Republic, the citizen and the common good in her utopian reimagining of the Union.

[16] The ‘federation of peoples’, otherwise known as the Friedensbund or ‘pacific federation’.

[17] Fortress Europe is the inevitable consequence of this mechanism, which does not value the presence of the foreign and has reduced ‘United in Diversity’ to a mere slogan. With nation-states established on the premise ‘the greater the diversity, the weaker the whole’, the end becomes the suppression of internal diversity. Technocratic Europe operates on this same logic. In the context of the civic-state, very much the opposite is true. The process of socialising diverse citizens makes their particularity and the whole mutually reinforcing.

[18] Jan-Werner Müller in Constitutional Patriotism (Woodstock, 2007) explored the Habermasian concept and its relevance to Europe. He argued that to be constitutionally patriotic is to be loyal to the ideals articulated in one’s constitution. Institutions are established to realise those ideals; hence citizens must be empowered to question their actions and our collective memory of their actions, to judge their success in this common endeavour.

[19] Philip Petit, in On the People’s Terms (Cambridge, 2012), defined Republican ideology as the belief in the republic as a distinct domain of public interest; liberty as our equal status as free agents; and democracy as our ability to shape the common endeavours of the community. By acting together to shape that télos, we maintain our equal agency as citizens.

[20] Ultimately as an abstraction, like all universal ideals the common will is a standard by which to judge reality. Or, to use Gramsci’s maxim; the dêmos must act with the optimism of will and pessimism of intellect; it must believe it can form a common will yet recognise that in reality this will manifest less ideally, through mandates of the particular wills of citizens uniting around various ideas and proposals in an evolving process. The manifestation of universal ideals at any particular moment will always fail to be fully realised, and yet must still be strived for. A common will is not about unity, but all having equal agency to influence collective action.

[21] Bauman wrote that Europe itself has had some of the qualities of the universal, in that it has always been imprecise, undefined, uncertain, and a source of disagreement. Europe resembles an ideal in a way, rather than a fixed reality. Its essence and identity cannot be pinned to any fixed geographic location, and any line circumscribing Europe is a standing invitation to transgression. This has manifested in a history of rebellion against authority, pp.6-13.

[22] Fintan O’Toole gave a series of speeches and discussions in late 2018, in which he talked about the impact of Brexit on Ireland and the peace process in the North. Particularly, the radicalism of the Belfast Agreement which Brexit threatens to unravel. And that radicalism is what the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic agreed to embrace with regards to identity and political community.

[23] Words used by Spinelli and Rossi in the Ventotene Manifesto to describe the purpose of the European Federation.

[24] The right to act in the name of the whole directly hinges on whether a community has sovereignty or not. As Yanis Varoufakis explained in And the Weak suffer what they must (London, 2016) a federation can act with political authority because it emerges from a dêmos that has constituted its sovereignty as a community. An alliance of independently sovereign states, in Wolfgang Schäuble’s terms a Staatenbund, does not have political authority because sovereignty has not been constituted publicly; instead it wields the power of strong over weak, p.220.

[25] For this reason, Jürgen Habermas’ idea of Executive Federalism as centralisation is a contradiction in terms. Larry Siedentop explains in Democracy in Europe (London, 2001) that centralisation is how federalism subsides into a bureaucratic form of the state. He believed this ‘Leviathan’ would be prevented by the development of European civil society, p.22-3. However, civil society buckles if individuals are not citizens: equal agents who can engage in both the private and public spheres. In technocratic Europe, not only is this equal status not truly applied to foreigners but is also in general being deliberately resisted and systemically undermined by a global over-class, hence the despotic Leviathan has emerged. Neoliberal economic policy seizes the public sphere for corporate interests and invades the private with political power. It will provoke increasing class-antagonism, unravelling civil society, undermining our solidarity and equal agency as citizens, and preventing our socialisation into a sovereign dêmos. Democracy is undone. This is Europe’s corruption into a super-nation-state, the alternative to which is transnationalism.

[26] Müller thought that more than post-national, constitutional patriotism is the route to a post-nationalist identity, in that it would be free of all the subservient trappings of nationalism.

This is the long version of a piece commissioned for the book, DIEM25: Our Vision for Europe, to be published by Eris in May, 2019.


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