The European Union as mistake - realizations of European unity

  • Malcolm MacLaren


The European Union (EU) is the latest in a long line of failed attempts at European unity. Motivated by adverse experience, its founders proscribed a political and legal form for ‘Europe’, and their followers have sought to impose order and to effect integration. As predictable as the attempt has been the failure (attested by the frequent, complex, unresolved crises). It is not merely that the circumstances, conditions, and concerns have markedly changed (and continue to change) over time; it is more that ‘Europe’ cannot be successfully subjected to such schemes.

Considered constructively, the experience of the EU offers insights into the process of constituting a polity. The first and last is the insight that unification is an iterative process, not an outcome; an ‘ever closer union’ is not an end state (literally or figuratively). These lie partly in the inescapably contextual nature of attempts at unifying Europe, each attempt being contingent on the circumstances etc. prevailing. A common will to order and belief in societal malleability may be present at particular periods among particular European elites (be they driven by functionalism, megalomania, or otherwise). However, determinative is the reality that no such schemes are realizable. The political and legal forms that might be suitable to the challenge of constituting the polity exceed our cognitive grasp. ‘Europe’ is too untidy and too fissiparous to be ruled through deliberation. Invariably, the best-laid plans of European statesmen have gone, and will go, awry.

In this essay, I consider the meaning of European unification, not so much according to the normative or empirical details of given attempts, as according to the epistemological magnitude of repeated failures. In the way of conclusion, I will pointedly not propose a way out of the contemporary crises etc. or an own project for European unity.


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MacLaren , M. (2019). The European Union as mistake - realizations of European unity. Conexus, 2, 196-211.