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The Decline of the European Union: Insights from Historical Sociology

Merand, Frederic (2015) The Decline of the European Union: Insights from Historical Sociology. [Conference Proceedings] (Submitted)

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    Introduction: The euro and Ukraine crises, compounded with the rise of Euroskepticism, have led to a panic wave about the future of Europe as a zone of peace and prosperity but also about the European Union as a viable political experiment. This panic wave is encapsulated in the titles of a number of recent books, articles and op-eds written by eminent scholars: The Decline and Fall of Europe, by Richard Youngs; Europe as a Small Power, by Asle Toje; The Coming Erosion of the European Union, by Stephen Walt; Europe crise et fin? d’Etienne Balibar; Europe, le continent perdu, de Philippe Maystadt; or The Decline of Europe, by Walter Laqueur. Andrew Moravcsik must feel quite lonely these days with a cheery article entitled “Europe as superpower”… Before we start cheering or lamenting the imminent downfall of Europe, a bit of historical perspective is needed. In The End of the West, David Marquand writes: By 1913, Europe’s share of global GDP was more than twice those of India and China put together. (It was twice that of the United States.) The British Empire covered one-quarter of the earth’s land surface; the City of London was the linchpin of the world’s first truly global market. The Russia Empire – not fully European, but ruled from its far-western capital in European St Petersburg – extended from Warsaw in the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. France ruled vast territories in North and West Africa as well as much of Southeast Asia. Soft power mimicked hard power. French was the language of diplomacy and culture, German of philosophy, and English of political economy. Of the great transformative ideologies of the age, liberalism was a British invention, republicanism a Franco-Italian one, and socialism and national Franco-German ones. (Marquand 2011: 5). Compared to that, the European Union is indeed in decline. In this paper, I propose to situate the EU’s current predicament in the historical perspective of Europe as a political region. To do so, I 2 draw from historical sociology’s theoretical insights and empirical findings, in particular those of Michael Mann and his study of the sources of social power. I conceptualize Europe as a node in four power networks of historically varying sizes: military, economic, ideological, and political. Based on rudimentary data, I argue that we are not witnessing a real decline of Europe as a region but a weakening of Europe’s 400-year old global system of influence. Second, contrary to what current images of European crisis and marginalization suggest, this decline has been slow, gradual, and is not more pronounced than in the 1950s. Third, Europe remains a preeminent node in the world’s economic, military, and especially ideological and political networks. It is not as big as the US, but it hasn’t been for at least 50 years. It is declining relative to China, but it still surpasses it. As we know, decline is not only an issue of objective indicators. So in the second part of the paper, I turn to the subjective dimension of how Europeans are expected to cope with their less-significant-than-thought but genuine decline. To begin to address this question, I argue that IR theory must again be complemented with the insights of historical sociology. This combination allows me to show that, while elites have pursued a fairly liberal strategy of retrenchment offset by strong involvement in global ideological and political networks, the rise of declinist language among intellectuals and right-wing politicians may fuel other strategies that will make Europe’s transition to a “normal” political region more difficult.

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    Item Type: Conference Proceedings
    Subjects for non-EU documents: EU policies and themes > EU institutions & developments > institutional development/policy > general
    EU policies and themes > Policies & related activities > political affairs > general
    Subjects for EU documents: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Series and Periodicals: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Annual Reports: UNSPECIFIED
    Conference: European Union Studies Association (EUSA) > Biennial Conference > 2015 (14th), March 4-7, 2015
    Depositing User: Phil Wilkin
    Official EU Document: No
    Language: English
    Date Deposited: 24 May 2018 10:11
    Number of Pages: 18
    Last Modified: 24 May 2018 10:11

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