How the European Project Can be Saved: the Cosmopolitan Outlook

Europe is one thing for sure: a moving target. Another change in priority and topic is taking place as we speak: the themes of the euro crisis are receding into the background and the spotlight is turning to the themes of the political crisis. At the present historical moment, the defining issue in European politics is no longer the euro bailout policy but instead the confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. 

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Europe is one thing for sure: a moving target. Another change in priority and topic is taking place as we speak: the themes of the euro crisis are receding into the background and the spotlight is turning to the themes of the political crisis. At the present historical moment, the defining issue in European politics is no longer the euro bailout policy but instead the confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

So, let’s start with the “simple” question: what exactly is Europe? My answer is:

First thesis: Europe is not a fixed condition, not a territorial unit, not a state, not a nation. In fact, there is no “Europe”, there is Europeanization, a process of on-going transformation, or metamorphosis: dissolving an old order and creating a new one – in a very specific sense: Europeanization is about politics of side-effects!

The EU was founded not on the logic of war, as were states. It is a new kind of polity constructed in reaction to the risk of war and now, in reaction to the risk of economic collapse.

Although the process of Europeanization – the “realization of an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe”, as the EU-treaty puts it – was intended, its institutional and material consequences were unintended. The striking fact is that the process of integration did not follow any master-plan; the opposite is the case: the goal was deliberately left open. Europeanization “operates” in the specific mode of institutionalized improvisation.

This ‘politics of side effects’ seemed for a long time to have one major advantage: even the juggernaut of Europeanization presses ahead relentlessly, it did not seem to require an independent political program, a fixed goal or a political legitimation. In the first stage the metamorphosis of the nation-state politics into the EU-politics could occur through transnational cooperation of elites with their own criteria of rationality, largely independent of national publics, interests and political convictions. This understanding of ‘technocratic governance’ stands in an inverse relation to the political dimension. The framework of European treaties this way exercises a meta-power politics that alters the rules of the power game of national politics through the backdoor of side effects.

The ‘invention’ of Europe was a product not of public deliberation and democratic procedures but of judicial prescriptions and practice. It was and is the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which elevated the European Founding Treaties to the status of a ‘Constitutional Charter’ in key court decisions in 1963 and 1964.

Here we have another step of metamorphosis – a kind of ‘cosmopolitical takeover’. A process which was driven forward by the ‘legal conversion’ in cooperation and conflict with the national supreme courts; and, what is more, which was adopted by the national governments and parliaments as a basis of their further operations. This ‘cosmopolitical turn’ of the European Court of Justice gave rise to an authoritative form of constitutionalism in Europe without a formal constitution, based on a practice of law-making. Europe is the product of political praxis without political theory.

European metamorphosis of politics in this perspective is a politics of institutionalizing the cosmopolitan horizon in cooperation with the national horizon by practicing binding European law. From this a meta-power conflict between the national actors and defenders of national Constitutional Law and the cosmopolitan actors of European Law exists to this day. Here we can observe what the meta-power game of politics means in the context of ‘politics of law’. On the one hand, the old national law politics worked by applying the constitutional law; on the other hand, the new law politics on the European level work by changing the politics of law. These two are now fully intermeshed and cannot be separated from each other: the game cannot be played alone anymore. What unfolds is that the power of the National Constitutional Court is slowly but surely shifted to the European Court, which pushes the National Constitutional Court in its practice into a fundamental conflict: on the one hand, it is supposed to judge on the basis of the national constitutional law; on the other hand, it has to anticipate the metamorphosis of the national to the European law system and thereby disempowering itself.

Europeanization does not mean that the nation-state disappears, but it does mean the metamorphosis of the nation-state or even more, the metamorphosis of the idea of the nation and the state from a national to a cosmopolitan design. Former common rallying points have disappeared. Peace and European integration have deprived the nation of a frightening other! Post-colonialism has ended the imperial vision of wealth, power and employment. Nor is religion any more a powerful unifier. And many of the Scots even believed European Scottishness is a better way to Britishness! Why is this so? Because it is not a federal state: a kind of super-state based on the national model. EU offers a perspective in which the ethnic identity can survive (and can only survive!) in a cosmopolitized world.

The Euro crisis demonstrates how, on the one side, the national outlook in Europe revitalized. On the other side, the threat to the Euro caused a conflict of sovereignty. This is because the ‘back to the nation-state’ was countered by the fiscal regime of the European Central Bank. In fact, it is possible to speak of a ‘Draghi-Euro’. With that an unwritten fiscal constitution of emergency was established, which provided the European Central Bank with an enormous influence that reached as far as to the fiscal policies of the member states. The move back to the national is undermined and outplayed through a new metamorphosis of a division of sovereignty.

The fundamental question is: who rules over the fiscal policy of the Euro zone in a state of emergency? The legal struggle over the politics of the European Central Bank shows the confusing relationships of conflict and cooperation, which arise in the context of the metamorphosis (meta-power-game). In the case of Germany, the constitutional court declared itself as ‘not competent’ in this matter and asked the European Court Justice to step in. Yet, at the same time and paradoxically, the German court threatened the European Court of Justice that it would not acknowledge the European decisions if they would not set boundaries to the European Central Bank. This symbolizes an epochal conflict between national and European law. The case also demonstrates the ambivalence of the interest of the national institution. It is clear that the German court does not only strife to save the Euro but also and primarily itself – in the face of its looming insignificance within the context of an EU that becomes stronger and stronger.

European metamorphosis does not mean that the nation-states disappear, but it does mean a ‘Copernicanian turn’: Europe is no longer turning around the nation-state as a sun seems to be turning around the earth, the nation-states are going to turn around Europe, just like the Earth is turning around the sun. That means, the nation-state, or even more, the idea of the nation-state is metamorphosing.

But haven‘t the European elections in May 2014 and the success of the anti-Europe parties shown that the cosmopolitan Europe is in decline, overthrown by the anti-Europeans? What appears on first sight as a clear case is actually a fallacy of the national outlook. It misses the logic of the really existing metamorphosis of the EU.

The next step of metamorphosis was that for the first time in the history of European elections, candidates of the different parties in the European parliament ran for the position of the head of the Commission. This led to a paradoxical result. Both, the anti-European parties were strengthened as well as, and importantly, the head of the Commission was strengthened, since, for the first time, he was democratically legitimized. As a result, an epochal conflict between two ideas of democracy emerged: the one is grounded in national democracy and tries to assert national power against the European parliamentary constitution; this position is personified in the British PM. The other position is grounded in the European election that provided the head of the Commission with democratic legitimacy and power. If the European Council, consisting of the heads of the member states, does not accept the elected candidate but nominate an alternative candidate, a serious crisis of European democracy would be the consequence. In this situation the German Chancellor pushed for accepting the elected candidate for the head of the Commission. With that she accepted a move towards European democracy and against national democracy: a further step in the metamorphosis of Europe.

A cosmopolitan Europe is, in the first instance, a Europe of difference, of accepted and recognized difference – but in a European frame of reference. That means, based on European law the friend-foe difference has been institutionally replaced by a cosmopolitan architecture of cooperation between states, where former enemies become neighbours because they have realized that otherwise they wouldn’t survive.  So a cosmopolitan Europe is about pooling sovereignty and also decentralizing sovereignty to local-regional governments.

Second thesis: Where did the motivation and momentum for the European metamorphosis from a national to a cosmopolitan design come from? My answer is: the motive and the power for this metamorphosis emerged with the anthropological shock and the horrors of the Second World War. Thereby a normative horizon emerged – Never again Hiroshima! Never again war! Never again Holocaust! Never again fascism!

The basic idea is that the world-wide shock of the violation of the ethical foundation of humanity produces a normative horizon of expectations which challenges the existing order of things from within. “Never again Holocaust!” created the Human rights Regime – the obligation to change existing national institutions and attitudes.

I am referring here to something profound. A basic principle of national law was that an act could not be judged in hindsight against a law that did not exist at the time the act was committed. So while it was legal under Nazi law to kill Jews, it became, in hindsight, a crime against humanity. It was not simply a law that changed, but our notion of law.

Third thesis: The anticipation of financial catastrophe changed the European landscape of power fundamentally

We can observe three shifts in power: There is the division between euro-zone nations and EU-nations. At a Scottish festival a few days ago the audience was asked to complete the sentence: “Britain is …” and some scored “…so 19th century.” Britain is drifting into European irrelevance, but it cannot escape the implications of decisions negotiated and taken within the exclusive club of euro-zone countries affected by the crisis (for example, banking union).

Inside the Euro-Countries there is second division between creditor and debtor nations. A dramatic gulf has opened up at the epicentre of the crisis – ridden states of the euro-zone, in particular between those countries that are on a drip provided by the rescue funds and those countries that are financing the bailout.

Third, the consequence of this is: the economically most powerful country – Germany – becomes the politically most powerful country. This way theaccidental empire” of a German Europe has emerged. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is practicing a new style of power politics in Europe: “Merkiavellism” – a combination of Machiavelli and Merkel. (By the way, in Germany “Merkiavelli” is seen as an insult to Merkel; last fall I lectured in Florence and they see “Merkiavelli” as an insult to Machiavelli!). With regard to the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the German Chancellor seems to do a different, more European job – aiming at upholding European values of freedom, self-determination, democracy, peace etc.

Fourth thesis: In order to understand and analyze the metamorphosis of Europe we urgently need a shift of perspective from the national to the cosmopolitan outlook in research on Europe.

A distinction that now plays a central role in the international social sciences can serve as a point of departure, namely between ‘methodological nationalism’ and ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’. This is indispensable for understanding Europeanization and research on Europe – though not only for this. The cosmoplitization and Europeanization of nation-state institutions by no means necessarily leads social actors to adopt a cosmopolitan perspective – far from it; but epistemologically the tension and contradictions between renationalization and cosmopolitization cannot be understood and analyzed within the usual national conceptual horizon. What is required it that the social sciences should adopt a cosmopolitan perspective, specifically, a methodological cosmopolitanism.

This is especially true for research on Europe in the social sciences. Thus far, it has not succeeded in developing a perspective of its own that is appropriate to its object of study. Like European politics, it has been trapped in false alternatives and has viewed its object either from the national or from an inter-national perspective. If we want to understand the dynamics of Europeanization, therefore, we must make a methodological shift in perspective from the dominant national or inter-national to the cosmopolitan outlook.

Thus, methodological cosmopolitanism challenges systematically the national catechism which informs social and political thinking and action. This faith rests on the assumption that ‘modern society’ and ‘modern politics’ must be conceived as nationally organized societies and politics. The state features as creator, controller and guarantor of society. Societies (of which there are as many as nation-states) are thought of as containers that develop and exist within the state’s sphere of authority. This conception, which identifies  societies with national societies and conceives of them as territorially delimited units, is deeply ingrained in the understanding of the social sciences – the concepts, their way of conducting empirical research – in the sociological imagination.

Fifth thesis: A revolutionary movement is rocking Europe in the context of the euro crisis. However, it is not pro-European, but anti-European.

The resentment of these anti-European movements is not only directed against Muslims and other foreign elements, but also against the so-called “liberal elites.” Populism finds its loudest voice in any angry call to arms against the political establishment.

But in order to understand the movements of anti-European sentiments much differentiation is needed: There has to be a clear distinction between the consequences of Europeanization on everyday life and the conscious support for the EU. Precisely for those who live a highly Europeanized life, the EU is politically highly controversial.

My research team uncovered the following paradox: EU-scepticism grows with the Europeanization of everyday life. For example, the Danes and the British are both Europeanized in their everyday practices and EU-sceptical or even anti-European voters. Interestingly, though, less than fifty per cent of Danes, Britons and Germans would describe themselves as ‘citizens of the world,’ while the majority of Southern and Eastern Europeans do so (that is, 80% of the Spanish, 70% of the Romanians and 65% of Italians).

Sixth thesis: Putin’s military intervention is not only frightening Europe. It is also unifying it. And Germany is trying to find and define its new leading role in Europe.

During the last three years of the euro-crisis we experienced one financial crisis after another. Now there should be a series of political rather than economic crises, although the latter cannot be excluded.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has been careful not to antagonize Moscow on foreign policy matters. This approach has been driven in part by Germany’s desire to preserve the important trading relationship it enjoys with Russia. Germany has also traditionally pursued diplomacy and dialogue with Moscow as a counterweight to the more muscular approach taken by the US. This “special relationship” to Moscow, perceived as a positive sum-game for both sides in terms of economic opportunities, was one of the reasons why German governments, beginning with Chancellor Schröder, began to define German interests against the European common good.

This kind of Ostpolitik is now undergoing a fundamental change since Angela Merkel toughened Germany’s line. In a speech to the Bundestag, she delivered the harshest critique of Russian policy by any German Chancellor in decades. Merkel accused Russia of resorting to “the law of the jungle” in the Ukraine conflict. She said that if Russia continues with this aggression, “we”, the neighbouring states, would understand this as a threat to us.

The consequence for Europe is another “moment of decision”: on the one hand, facing the military threat of the ethnic national Russian elites sharpens the cosmopolitan self-understanding of the European nations (especially Germany’s); on the other hand, the post-communist members, would-be members or neighbours of the European Union will have to decide which side they take in this conflict of national self-understandings. Therefore, all kind of new conflicts and coalitions inside and outside the European Union in relation to eastern European nations will emerge. As Angela Merkel put it the other day: the Russian leader is “in another world”. This fundamental difference in the understanding of the nation could have two major implications: firstly, the emergence of the model of the “cosmopolitan nation”, thereby, secondly, unifying the European Union against the ethnic-national model.

The conflict over Ukraine exhibits this clash of two worldviews of the national, namely, that of Russia’s (but not only Russia’s) ethno-nationalism (symbolized by “rolling tanks” in the Crimea) and that of really-existing cosmopolitized nations (symbolized by “economic sanctions”, i.e. restricted access to globalized financial markets). Both imaginations of the national have their “weapons”, though each follows a different political logic.

While globalization is dissolving borders, people are searching for new ones. This is why it is crucial to distinguish clearly between “cosmopolitanism” (in the sense of normative philosophy and theory from Immanuel Kant to Jürgen Habermas) and “cosmopolitization” as a historical process of upheaval that in reality gives rise to existential interdependencies across all national, territorial, cultural and religious boundaries: the distant other is in our midst.

But it is clear that cosmopolitization does not create world citizens. On the contrary, it creates scepticism concerning Europe and anti-European resentment. But this is also a reason why Vladimir Putin’s maxim “Everywhere where Russians live should also be Russian territory” meets with sympathy. My question is: Is this particularly valid for Serbia? Don’t you - since the Balkan wars, and from the founding of Yugoslavia to the wars of the 90ies and even today - often hear this maxim in official statements?

The success story of the EU which is about how enemies become neighbours is suddenly challenged by Russia’s ethno-nationalism. But at the same time, Putin’s military and rhetoric nationalism could revive the peace-creating power and meaning of the EU. Here internal and external to the EU a “conflict of the two notions of nationhood” arises – between the ethnic nation/nationalism and the cosmopolitan nation/nationalism. The first is based on the “Declaration of Independence”, the second on the “Declaration of Interdependence”. This lends “Europe at risk” a new vision and mission.

Isn’t this cosmopolitan nation a deeply unrealistic project? Why should the nation-states accept European cosmopolitanism or, what amounts to the same thing, renounce a substantial portion of their power and sovereignty? My response to these questions it the theory of cosmopolitan realism. Its basic argument is that, in the past, the member states of the EU did not renounce power for idealistic reasons but for reasons of their own national interests. Thus, they acted on purely realistic motives, though in the knowledge that they realize their interests in a particular way, namely, by recognizing the legitimate interests of others and integrating them into their rational calculations. In this way, it was possible to achieve both national and European goals at the same time. The political premium generated by cooperative norms made winners of both the states and Europe. This does not mean that such a harmony of interests is always possible or national goals coincide with European goals as a matter of course. It maintains that in the past European unification was less a product of idealistic enthusiasm than the result of rational calculations of interest.

Seventh thesis: The Europe of the elites needs to be complemented by an intentionally Europeanization from below. It needs, in other words, the building of a strong European civil society based on the participation and identification of the European citizens with the future of Europe.

Since Europeanization as side-effect did empower an anti-European revolution, there is an urgent need for a different Europeanization from below, for the creation of a European civil society internal and external to the EU, including the neighbouring countries and – in the long run - including Russia, that Russia Putin is afraid of because of its openness and its will for democracy and that he wants to oppress.

The issue of Europeanization of national civil societies arises in a new way: Who actually speaks the language of Europe? Who is the “European We”? The national governments? The European Parliament? The European Court of Justice? Brussels? Berlin? Or now finally the citizens of Europe after all? But what does “citizens of Europe” mean? The crucial question is: how can Europe ensure peace and freedom for its citizens in the face of old and new threats in the twenty-first century?

Summary and Outlook: How should Europe solve its problems?

The first thing we have to think about is what the purpose of the European Union actually is. Is there any purpose? Why Europe, why not the whole world? Why not do it alone in Germany, or the UK, or France, or Serbia?

There are five answers in this respect. First, the European Union is about enemies becoming neighbors. This mission and vision is challenged today in new ways.

The second purpose of the European Union is that it can prevent countries from being lost in world politics. A post-European Britain, or a post-European Germany, is a lost Britain, and a lost Germany. Europe is part of what makes these countries important in a globalized world.

The third point is that we should not only think about another Europe, we also have to think about another nation, how the European nations have to change. They are part of the project and I would say that Europe is empowering national interests. Even anti-Europeans want to sit in the European parliament (otherwise they don’t matter). Europe is not an obstacle to national sovereignty; it is the necessary means to improve national sovereignty. In fact, ethno-nationalism is the enemy of the nation because only through the European Union can nations have genuine sovereignty in a cosmopolitized world.

The fourth point is that European modernity, which has been distributed all over the world, is a suicidal project. It’s producing all kinds of basic problems, such as climate change and the financial crisis. It’s a bit like if a car company created a car without any brakes and it started to cause accidents: the company would take these cars back to redesign them and that’s exactly what Europe should do with modernity. Reinventing modernity could be a specific purpose for Europe.

Fifth: What do individuals gain from the European project? Particularly in terms of the younger generation, more Europe is producing more freedom. It is not only about the free movement of people across Europe; but it is also about opening up your national perspective and living in a space which is essentially cosmopolitan and grounded on law.

Half of the best educated generation in Spanish and Greek history lacks any future prospects. So what we need is a vision for a social Europe in the sense that the individual can see that there is not necessarily social security, but that there is less uncertainty.

Finally we need to redefine democracy from the bottom up. We need to ask how an individual can become engaged with the European project. In that respect I have started an initiative along with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, called “We Are Europe”, arguing that we need a Free Year For Everyone to do a project in another country with other Europeans in order to start a European civil society. So far, this project is not as much a huge success as we hoped for, but it starts this year, financed by civil society organizations and the EU.