The occasion being the on-going ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ (https://futureu.europa.eu/) the chief editor of EU Observer Koert Debeuf proposes recreating the European Community as an add-on to the EU as is. Quite the opposite of a doomsday scenario, Debeuf (https://euobserver.com/opinion/152309utm_source=euobs&utm_medium=email) presents this as a realistic alternative to the ever larger, ever closer and ever more problematic Union. Even if we were to succeed in keeping it together after absorbing those promised membership and those with plausible claims to it, my point would be: would this not simply replicate the model of the nation-state at a larger scale? Is this not what the truly supranational Europeans ask for, a state with a President, a Government, a Parliament directly elected by European citizens – and a common external border to be defended? In Faludi (2018 ) I disapprove of the ‘territorialism’ of nation-states, each seeing itself as the home to a wannabe homogenous people, in so doing inviting closure, egotism and populism. Why replicate it on a larger scale?
Having observed the Arab Spring, in his earlier book on tribalization, the author of the comment on EUobserver explains first what the term means in Arabic: going back to your own tribe where ’…faces are familiar, rules are clear, expectations well-known. The enemy is easily identifiable, in the sense of everything and everyone outside the tribe.’ (Debeuf 2019) This is what we may expect if we go back to a simpler past in Europe. Should we counter this with tribalization at a larger scale, a ‘fortress Europe’? But one could also think of the Middle-Ages, more precisely, the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) featuring a jumble of overlapping spheres of authority as a model for the EU. In his commentary, Debeuf in fact alludes to something similar: a ’multi-speed’ Europe, one with a ‘variable geometry’.
But this is not so much about the future as it is about lived reality: For whoever wants to see, a multi-speed, or better to say pluriform Europe is already upon us. Debeuf merely proposes to add to the extant pluriformity by creating a new circle of European membership in the form of a new European Community ’…for those countries who want to join the EU, but probably never will.’ He gives Turkey and Maghreb countries and Georgia as examples but fails to mention the Western Balkans. Instead, he discusses a UK rejoining, if not the Union, then at least a European Community ‘Mark 2’, a safety net also for countries like Hungary. Falling ‘…under the necessary percentage of democracy and rule of law’, the latter would be able to ‘…automatically fall back into the European Community, and out of the European Union’.
I am not aware of that threshold ever having been spelled out, nor of any mechanism for making member states fall out of the EU and into a new European Community. But, the very mention of alternatives to EU membership is grist to my mill. And there are also extant vehicles for differential integration: the – overlapping – areas of cooperation on scales as varied as cross-border areas to macro-regions. Not only that, even EU flagship projects like Schengen and the Euro, while extending to some non-member states, do not include all existing members. Not to speak of international treaties managing, by hook or by crook, air space, sea space, outer space, climate change, world trade, care for refugees, and so forth.
Not the real thing? Not what we need: halfway houses to full integration? But why this reluctance of accepting a variety of arrangements? Because we invoke a meta-spatial planning theory that privileges absolute spaces, each owned by a single people – a tribe! – endowed with a personality, a history and a future. In so doing, one forgets about functional spaces much as about the emotional spaces of belonging we call places rather than territories. In short, one falls into the territorialist/tribalist trap!
Debeuf, K. (2019) Tribalization: Why War is Coming, Academic and Scientific Publishers, Brussels.
Faludi, A. (2018 ) The Poverty of Territorialism: Towards a Neo-medieval Europe and European Planning, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham.