Europe's Malaise: Volume 27

Cover of Europe's Malaise

The Long View


Table of contents

(11 chapters)


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How should we make sense of Europe's current malaise? Focused on the great recession, the European Union (EU)'s architecture, or diverging national interests, the literature offers useful economic, institutional, and political explanations. It is our contention that, however diverse, these works share one important limitation: a tendency to focus on rather immediate causes and consequences and not to step back with historical or comparative perspectives to gain a “longer” view of the dynamics at work. In this article, we begin by examining parallels between the EU's current conditions and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Then, introducing the articles contained in this special issue, we raise research questions pertaining to long-term historical, social, cultural, economic, and political factors. Are the current challenges unprecedented or do they have roots or connections to past events and developments? Is there a European trajectory into which we can contextualize current events? Are there bright spots, and what do they suggest about Europe's present and future? To engage in such questions, the papers leverage the insights of historical and comparative sociology, as well as comparative politics. In so doing, they offer analyses that see the EU as an instance of state formation. They propose that a key dimension of tension and possible resolution is the classic problem of sovereignty. They grapple with the question of identity and institutions, exploring in that context the extent and limit of citizens' support for more Europe. And they delve into the nature of the nationalist and populist sentiments within and across European countries.


The European Union (EU) is not a state, though it has some statelike attributes; it is not an empire, though it includes many former European imperial powers; and it is not a federation, though Euro-federalists seek to make it one. There is, however, no need to argue that the Union is a singularity, nor to invent novel terminology, such as that deployed by “neo-functionalists” and “intergovernmentalists” to capture its legal and political form. The EU is a confederation, but with consociational characteristics in its decision-making styles. This conceptualization facilitates understanding and helps explain the patterns of crises within the Union.

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Both the ideals of the European Union (EU) and the EU's recent political difficulties have attracted comparison with the Habsburg empire. In recent years, some of those making comparison have turned to the Austrian Jewish novelists, Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, who were crucial to the imaginative emergence of the Habsburg Myth. This paper analyses their writings and those of Robert Musil and Gregor von Rezzori in relation to the Habsburg Myth as a story about European unity, about Austria-Hungary as a supranational polity and about Austria-Hungary's self-proclaimed providential purpose in European affairs. It explores the dissonance between the Habsburg Myth and the EU's territorial composition and argues that the Habsburg Myth is, nonetheless, revealing about the EU's internal hierarchies and its geopolitical difficulties in relation to Russia.


This chapter critically assesses the assumption that the European Union (EU) is undergoing a crisis of legitimation. Using survey data, it shows that support of the EU and European integration is solid and that it plays a small role in the rise of populist parties. Then, it shows that Europeans favor increasing European cooperation but are reluctant to transfer national sovereignty to the EU. Finally, it traces this reluctance to the primacy of national over European identification.


Drawing on ethnographic research among far-right youth movements, this chapter discusses the view of a “new Europe” as manifested in young activists' discourses and practices. In arguing that it is necessary to better understand local contexts of political mobilization, it simultaneously foregrounds the transnational orientation of young far-right militants and the interplay of local and translocal factors in shaping their activism. In so doing, this chapter seeks to shed light on the background and the main rationale for their alternative conceptualizing of Europe and to situate it in a long tradition of thinking about Europe, recognizing similarities with the developments in the early twentieth century.


In June 2016, a clear majority of English voters chose to unilaterally take the United Kingdom out of the European Union (EU). According to many of the post-Brexit vote analyses, the single strongest motivating factor driving this vote was “immigration” in Britain, an issue which had long been the central mobilizing force of the United Kingdom Independence Party. The chapter focuses on how – following the bitter demise of multiculturalism – these Brexit related developments may now signal the end of Britain's postcolonial settlement on migration and race, the other parts of a progressive philosophy which had long been marked out as a proud British distinction from its neighbors. In successfully racializing, lumping together, and relabeling as “immigrants” three anomalous non-“immigrant” groups – asylum seekers, EU nationals, and British Muslims – UKIP leader Nigel Farage made explicit an insidious recasting of ideas of “immigration” and “integration,” emergent since the year 2000, which exhumed the ideas of Enoch Powell and threatened the status of even the most settled British minority ethnic populations – as has been seen in the Windrush scandal. Central to this has been the rejection of the postnational principle of non-discrimination by nationality, which had seen its fullest European expression in Britain during the 1990s and 2000s. The referendum on Brexit enabled an extraordinary democratic vote on the notion of “national” population and membership, in which “the People” might openly roll back the various diasporic, multinational, cosmopolitan, or human rights–based conceptions of global society which had taken root during those decades. This chapter unpacks the toxic cocktail that lays behind the forces propelling Boris Johnson to power. It also raises the question of whether Britain will provide a negative examplar to the rest of Europe on issues concerning the future of multiethnic societies.


A populist backlash has seized a number of Western democracies. Two broad sets of explanations have emerged to address the sources of this backlash, with credible empirical evidence for each. The first focuses on economic drivers, and specifically on global economic integration, and exposure to trade competition. The second turns instead to cultural explanations, arguing that the shifting political winds are due to strictly nonmaterial considerations, like status threat and racial beliefs. How might we reconcile two apparently conflicting conclusions in the scholarly work examining this backlash? The question comes down to the particular interplay of these factors. I argue that the most promising approach may lie in tweaking our ideas about the relevant group that individuals use to make assessments about general welfare and the role of political entrepreneurs in manipulating these relevant groups. This, in turn, might explain why right-wing political parties appear to consistently gain from the ongoing backlash. I end with a consideration of the policy means that governments have to curb the political effects of economic grievances, and what explains the success or failure of such efforts. An economic recipe for backlash suggests the existence of an antidote.


Sovereignty retains considerable currency today insofar as it fuses ordinary understandings of the state, the nation, and democracy. Against widespread expectations, however, the European Union has increasingly harnessed sovereignty as a source of vitality. We are thus witnessing a mainstreaming of populist politics, as the rhetoric of sovereignty no longer disqualifies new EU institutions and policies. This can be better understood if we consider sovereignty, from a constructivist perspective, as an evolving set of practices. First, sovereignty evolves within political and administrative circles, as European officials act to modify longstanding practices of state sovereignty. Second, sovereignty evolves in an increasingly politicized context, as political leaders dramatize EU crises in order to mobilize coalitions around new practices of popular sovereignty. This dual dynamic of state sovereignty and popular sovereignty is demonstrated in the case of the Eurozone and then extrapolated to the current trajectory of the EU polity against the benchmark of US federalism after the Civil War. An open question is whether sovereignty practices in the European Union will continue to evolve without compromising the Union's cosmopolitan and liberal objectives.


This article explores two gaps in the literature on European Union (EU) crises: firstly, the external effects of the crises on EU actorness and its relations with other countries and regions and, secondly, the uniqueness of the EU crises when compared to other world regions. The article explores these questions and argues that the crises did affect external views on the EU and its role in the world due to the influence of third country perspectives on its actorness and its “intermestic nature,” but that the EU is not the only regional organization in crisis. As the case of Latin American regionalism shows, other regions have suffered from common systemic factors at the global level as well as from the decreased EU support of regionalism abroad.


Pages 187-190
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Cover of Europe's Malaise
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Research in Political Sociology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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