The European Union: United or Untied?

baris-100x100by Baris Celik

When I write the phrase ‘the international environment of the EU’, I stop and ask myself: Wait, isn’t the EU already an ‘international environment’? So why using the phrase then? It sounds like the EU is something like a national entity like the United States and what is left outside it stands as ‘international’. No.

The EU, as all of us well know, is an international entity simply by the virtue of being a cluster of sovereign countries. But I feel uneasy with putting it this way – I mean categorising the EU as an ‘international organisation’. Because now strikes me another question: Is it an international entity like the United Nations? No, again.

So what is the EU exactly? It is very difficult to put it at one place along the national-international scale. Its members are not as bound, or ‘united’, as the states that make the US, despite Churchill coined the term ‘United States of Europe’ during a 1940s-speech. Neither is it as loose as the United Nations, given that even the ‘shapes of the cucumbers’ in the member states are decided by a single ‘supranational’ instituation, say, the European Parliament. In this middle-of-nowhere structure of the EU, there are different combinations of ‘united’, ‘states’, and ‘Europe’. Here are some suggestions:

United States of Europe: This seems to be far away from the political trajectory of the EU. The crisis that threatened its existency, from the ’empty chair’ in 1960s to the failed ‘constitutional treaty’ of mid-2000s, did not abolished the EU as a whole. But the ways out from these crisis were regressions to more intergovernmental procedures, that is, more sovereign rights reserved by the member states. Generally the member countries gave the message that they have their own ‘veto’ when their ‘vital interests’ are at stake. 

Europe of United States: But these regressions themselves imply that political deadlocks were somehow opened. The reason has been and still is simple: No one is willing to throw the whole project away overnight. The progress that has been made is not only economically and politically valuable for member states – the benefits of EU trade regime are obvious.

But the progress is also so deeply penetrated to the whole systems of member states that it is now difficult for them to control, let alone halt it. So what we call Europe reflects an example of states that are ‘united’ at some point. But still, I don’t think Europe is OF those states, as what each and every single one of them make of Europe is unique.

United Europe of States: So as a last call I’ll coin this interesting phrase (I must admit that it does not belong to me). Because of the reasons I mentioned above, I would rather stress Europe belonging to states than states belonging to Europe. The second brings me to say that European states are ‘united’ around one single umbrella, that is, under one general conception of Europe. The first, on the other hand, puts the emphasis that Europe IS states’, not the other way round.

All those said, I’m not an ‘interngovernmantalist’, to put it with the jargon of the long-held debate about the EU’s nature. This debate took and still takes place along the very national-international scale, in which the national axis denotes the ‘intergovernmentalists’ whereas the other, international, axis represents ‘supranationalists’. Indeed, I think the EU is in the middle of nowhere within such a scale. Moreover, I think it’s even obsolete to hover around this debate. Because as long as we try to put the EU at one strict point, we will be held back from understanding its very reality: that it is a political entity that poses a massive exception to any taken-for-granted conjecture of politics. It is neither ‘united’ nor ‘untied’ in that sense.

One thought on “The European Union: United or Untied?

  1. It’s a confederation, rather than a federation. Simple really, everyone knows that, there was no need to write a load of long winded verbiage.


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