Friday, December 9, 2022
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Luis Moreno

​A Europe without nation-states?

Ph.D in Social Sciences from the University of Edinburgh

Europeanization aims at the integration of their nation-states in favour of continental political union. Such was the intention of the fathers of the European Union (EU), expressed in the very same preamble of the Treaty of Rome of 1957, to aspire to "an ever-closer union between European countries". Europeanization implies a confluence of resources, social representations and actions among the countries of the EU with the purpose of a political compromise respectful of the internal cultural diversity. For the 28 Member Countries that the EU comprised in 2014, one would have to be subtracted if we confirm March 29th, 2019 as the date of the formal exit from the United Kingdom by means of the Brexit process.

Europa mapa

There are other formal applicants expecting their inclusion in the European political unit project. There are five "official" candidates who have applied to join the EU: Albania (2014), Macedonia (2004), Montenegro (2008), Serbia (2009) and Turkey (1987). Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2007, which usually precedes acceptance of the application for full membership. Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by five EU members (including Spain), is considered a potential candidate. Recall that Norway (1972, 1994) and Switzerland (1994, 2001) rejected their incorporation to the EEC-EU by referendum. Both countries, together with Liechtenstein and Iceland, participate -with exceptions- in the EU's single market, as well as in the Schengen area.


With regard to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Catalonia, Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, was unfavourable to Catalonian secession based on an argument -neither unique nor exclusive- of a quantitative nature. According to Juncker, Europe would be ungovernable with a large number of EU member states. This would happen if the constitution of the Catalonian Republic unleashed a "domino effect" with a generalization of sovereign processes of sub-state territorial communities in the Old Continent, some of which are considered as nation-states as, for example, Malta (450,000 inhabitants), Cyprus (1.2 million) or Estonia (1.3 million), countries that are full members of the EU.

According to Juncker, if the current operation with 28 members is already difficult, the community government would be impossible with 98 potential members. 

This last figure corresponds to the number of regions listed as NUTS-1, that is to say, those of first level within the states according to EUROSTAT, the European statistical agency. However, readers should not believe that the NUTS-1 number 98 responds to potential EU members that could break away from their respective states and become new EU members. In fact, the NUTS-1 are groupings of regions, as for example the 7 Spanish NUTS-1 are classified: (Northeast, Northeast, Community of Madrid, Centre, East, South and Canary). The 17 Autonomous Regions, plus Ceuta and Melilla, are labelled as NUTS-2. Therefore the figure mentioned by Juncker could well be hypothetically increased up to the 276 NUTS-2 that exist in the EU. Can you imagine an atomized Union in so many territorial entities, many of which could even aspire to exercise their "sovereign" right to veto community decisions?

We have to remember that different types of nationalisms (con-State and non-State) share their aversion to cede power to the supranational institutions of the EU and, therefore distrust Europeanization as a closer union of ideas, institutions and interests. The statist nationalists fight for the preservation of a nineteenth-century state sovereignty with its own influence in the international context (the United Kingdom would be the paradigmatic example). Some non-state nationalisms also seek sovereignty through secession (this would be the case in Catalonia, as illustrated by the recent "Procés per la independencia").


Certainly, global homogenising pressure has fuelled the emergence of all sorts of nationalisms and ethno-territorial conflicts. As a result, such conflicts can be understood in the Old Continent as reactions to a mercantilist standardization that negates its peculiarities. However, nationalist manifestations do not cease to be victims of their progressive obsolescence given the dynamics of globalisation and the protagonism acquired by global capitals. These test the supposed political primacy of all that is local with its instantaneous telematic mobility.

The same uncertainty in the Europeanizing process is used by populisms of different kinds to claim foreign solutions to a common European alternative. 

Unlike the situation produced in the twentieth-century interwar period (1919-1939), and in contrast to the totalitarian ideologies that extended in Europe at that time, the new-born nationalist populism is not anti-liberal in origin. However, their platforms and demands share a rejection of a united European that is the primary foundation of the European social model. As a result, their proclamation of "freedom" comes at the cost of "equality" and "fraternity". Convinced that 'mine is the first and most significant', they disregard joint action to mitigate disparities and sponsor a differential wealth based on the supposed national excellence of each country or sub-state community. For such positions, the Europeanization process is an opportunity to increase national or private advantages without paying the costs of solidarity with other more backward countries, whose only choice is to remain in a subordinate position.


The consolidation of the EU as a supranational democracy continues to require a great political and social understanding that has to be loyally articulated by the member countries themselves. As could not be otherwise, the European "political animal" is multilevel and has to institutionally integrate the supra-state, state and sub-state spaces. The recognition of a multinational, multicultural, multilingual, and necessarily polycentric Europe, translates into a general rule of internal organization based on cooperation and not on hierarchy. A Europe that validates the principle that establishes the reconciliation of unity and diversity through the political pact.

Nationalisms affect a vision of Europe in which reciprocities between European countries give way to the rivalries of the past. 

In the case of xenophobic and even racist parties, as is the case with the most belligerent anti-immigrant groups, their proposals are combined with the repudiation of community institutions accused of being directed by civil servants insensitive to the particularities of each nation. Accordingly, the upwelling of all sorts of populist parties in the member countries of the EU has been a pathological reaction to a discourse centred on 'provincial' visions that advocate a return to borders as untouchable territorial markers. In view of this, the challenge of Europeanization is no other than to constitutionalize the continental union through the implementation of multilevel governance that respects the principles of territorial subsidiarity and democratic accountability.



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