European Sovereignty: Old Wine in New (Old) Bottles?

In recent times, the European integration project and national sovereignty are evermore in great contrast. Just think of such dramatic events as Brexit, the Greek austerity drama, and the Hungarian and Polish ‘rebellions’ against the EU. For decades we had been told that there is no real contradiction between the European Union as a supranational project and the interests of national member states. In a kind of post-modern twist, so the story was, it is possible to have both a powerful European Union and at the very same time thriving member states, with their national cultures and prerogatives respected, in a complex system of pooled or divided sovereignty.

But today things look very different. The European narrative of a divided or ‘sharing’ of sovereignty is heavily criticized. As the socio-legal scholar Jiri Priban has recently argued in an important book, the dream of sovereignty never really went away. The post-modern (or post-national) idea of European integration is increasingly losing out to forms of nationalism, xenophobia, and even racism. These ‘remnants of the past’ are clearly in the minds of elites (Orban, Kaczynski, May, but not only), but equally have (re-)conquered the hearts and minds of the European people (apparently, more than half of the Europeans is prone to accept populist and increasingly right-wing ideas). Indeed, populist, right-wing ideas are now the new mainstream.

The implications for an open European society are tremendous. Various countries now consider a range of actions against “foreign Europeans” on their territories, ranging from the proposal (now withdrawn) to profile foreign employees in the UK to diminishing social rights of EU citizens on German soil.

The unique postwar trend of increased European peaceful collaboration, pan-European mobility, and supranational institutional innovation is facing very strong headwinds in current times. It is taking many knowledgeable observers by surprise that the European dream is evaporating so swiftly. But is there nothing left to do, but waiting for the miracle to come?


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