Article

Alarums & excursions: improvising politics on the European stage

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Abstract

The European Union is undergoing a metamorphosis. The founding member states consciously designed the predecessor of the EU as a technocratic body. After the calamities of the Second World War, postwar leaders were convinced that the only way to forge compromise and dovetail their economies was to do so out of the sight of national politics. Following a strategy of depoliticization, an impartial bureaucracy and a tight net of legal rules, rather than parochial and conflict-prone politicians and electorates, were to govern Europe. But this EU is no longer, argues Luuk van Middelaar, Dutch political theorist and former adviser to the then President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy (2010–15), in this new incisive book. Rather than rules-politics, the EU has been forced to engage in what the author calls events-politics over the past decade. Events, or crises, imply the occurrence of the unprecedented and unforeseeable. But when an event extends beyond what was previously conceivable, the established rules no longer work. That is what the EU experienced during the crises of the euro, over Ukraine, of Schengen and with Britain and Trump—and the EU treaties provided no remedy. Improvised decision-making, rather than relying on rules and procedures, became the new modus operandi. The author mostly praises EU leaders' ability to muddle through the consecutive crises. At times, however, he appears somewhat too generous, by neglecting that the crises could have been anticipated, at least in part, had the EU adopted a more strategic outlook.

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