Europe only exists as an imposture

Image: Julia Ustinova
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By GIORGIO AGAMBEN*

If we really want to think about a political Europe, the first thing to do is eliminate the European Union

Probably very few of those preparing to vote in the European elections questioned the political meaning of their gesture. Because they are called upon to elect an unspecified “European Parliament”, they may believe, more or less in good faith, that they are doing something corresponding to electing the parliaments of the countries of which they are citizens. It is important to immediately clarify that this is not the case.

When we talk about Europe today, what was eliminated was, firstly, the political and legal reality of the European Union itself. That this is a real elimination is evident from the fact that it is avoided, in every way, to bring to consciousness a truth that is as embarrassing as it is evident. I am referring to the fact that, from the point of view of constitutional law, Europe does not exist: what we call the “European Union” is technically a pact between States, which concerns exclusively international law.

The Maastricht treaty, which came into force in 1993 and gave its current form to the European Union, is the extreme sanction of European identity as a mere intergovernmental agreement between States. Aware of the fact that talking about democracy in relation to Europe therefore made no sense, those responsible for the European Union tried to fill this democratic deficit by drafting a so-called European constitution.

It is significant that the text that bears this name – prepared by committees of bureaucrats without any popular basis and approved by an intergovernmental conference in 2004 –, when it was submitted to a popular vote, as in France and the Netherlands in 2005, was sensationally rejected. Faced with the failure of popular approval, which effectively rendered the so-called constitution null and void, the project was tacitly – and perhaps one should say shamefully – abandoned and replaced by a new international treaty, the so-called Lisbon Treaty of 2007.

It is clear that, from a legal point of view, this document is not a constitution, but it is again an agreement between governments, whose only consistency concerns international law and which, therefore, was avoided submitting to popular approval. It is not surprising, therefore, that the so-called European parliament that is about to be elected is not, in fact, a parliament at all, as it lacks the power to propose laws, which is entirely in the hands of the European Commission.

A few years earlier, the problem of the European constitution had given rise to a debate between a German jurist, whose competence no one could question, Dieter Grimm, and Jürgen Habermas, who, like most of those who define themselves as philosophers, was completely devoid of a legal culture. Against Jürgen Habermas, who thought he could ultimately base the constitution on public opinion, Dieter Grimm had good arguments when defending the unfeasibility of a constitution for the simple reason that there was no European people and, therefore, no such thing as a constituent power. it lacked all possible foundations. If it is true that constituted power presupposes a constituent power, the idea of ​​a European constituent power is largely absent in discourses about Europe.

From the point of view of its supposed constitution, the European Union therefore has no legitimacy. It is, therefore, perfectly understandable that a political entity without a legitimate constitution cannot express a policy of its own. The only appearance of unity is achieved when Europe acts as a vassal of the United States, participating in wars that do not correspond in any way to the common interest, much less to the popular will. Today, the European Union acts as a branch of NATO (which, in turn, is a military agreement between States).

For this reason, not very ironically returning to the formula that Karl Marx used for communism, it could be said that the idea of ​​a European constituent power is the specter that haunts Europe today and that no one dares to evoke. However, only a constituent power could return legitimacy and reality to European institutions, which – if an impostor is, according to dictionaries, “one who leads others to believe in things unrelated to the truth and to act in accordance with this credulity” – are , in its current state, nothing more than an imposture.

Another idea of ​​Europe will only be possible when we have eliminated this imposture. To say it without subterfuge or reservations: if we really want to think about a political Europe, the first thing we have to do is eliminate the European Union – or, at least, be prepared for the moment when it, as now seems imminent, will collapse.

*Giorgio Agamben directed the Collège international de philosophie in Paris. Author, among other books, of The power of thought: essays and conferences (authentic). [https://amzn.to/4aDcBQX]

Translation: Juliana Haas.

Originally published on the Editora's website quodlibet.


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