The Greater Europe in a Post-European World

Dr Adrian Pabst, Senior Lecturer in Politics, School of Politics and IR, University of Kent; Visiting Professor, Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Lille (Sciences Po), specially for

In my previous essay, I argued that European civilisation cannot be reduced to the secular settlement of the post-Enlightenment period but is best traced to the Axial Age and the fusion of Greco-Roman philosophy with biblical revelation. Concretely, this legacy centres on principles such as charity, the dignity of the person, constitutional rule, the free and complex space of intermediary institutions like professional associations, guilds or universities, as well as strict limits on state and market power.

This essay relates some of these ideas to the contemporary debate about the future of Europe. The continual crisis of the Eurozone reveals deeper tensions and contradictions within the European Union that cast a shadow over its ability to pursue successfully the long-standing commitment to deeper integration and further enlargement. This, coupled with the rise of other European powers such as Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, indicates that the emerging shape of both the EU and the wider Europe is multi-polar.

Such a development marks a shift of emphasis away from a Western European prism towards notions of ‘wider Europe’ and pan-European perspectives. It also brings into sharp focus arguments in favour – and against – new models of federal and regional cooperation beyond the existing divides (e.g. north vs. south, east vs. west, the EU vs. the rest). In short, the EU remains the dominant political space but it is no longer the only show in town.

One key feature of the various political projects in the wider Europe is the increasing centralisation of power and concentration of wealth – whether across the EU or in a different manner in the new Eurasian Economic Community. This evolution suggests that fresh ideas of federalism and regionalism are key to transforming existing institutions and policies.

1. Towards a post-European world?

We seem to live in a post-European world. It is true that the US economic power and political authority have gone down in relative or even absolute terms, but the United States remain the sole military superpower and the largest economy by a long distance. By contrast, both Russia and the EU appear to be in decline geopolitically and geo-economically. They lack the demographic weight and innovation to compete with the USA or China, and they’re not combining ‘hard’ with ‘soft’ power in ways that are sufficiently effective.

Crucially, the centre of international affairs has moved from the Euro-Atlantic area to the Asia-Pacific space. Without each other, the Union and the Russian Federation will be increasingly marginal. For these and other reasons, the two have no longer the luxury of going separate ways.

Here one can legitimately object that Russia is a major Pacific power and therefore does not need closer ties to the rest of Europe in order to have influence in a post-European world.

However, Russia remains a profoundly European power – whether in terms of institutions, culture or society. Economically, Russia will continue to be much more closely integrated with the rest of Europe, especially in terms of energy but also sectors such as railways and the car industry. It is true that bilateral trade with China is growing at exponential rates, but cultural and social ties are key in investment and trade decisions.

Likewise, Europe may be negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the USA, but there are considerable reservations within the EU about accepting US standards on a host of issues such as genetically modified food and the liberalisation of European national film industries – not to mention the ongoing NSA spying scandal.

According to Jan Techau, Director of Carnegie Europe, “there’s enormous opposition forming at the moment […] Interest groups, NGOs, environmental groupings and so on now have gotten their act together and have gotten organized on this [issue] and are posing a formidable challenge. […] The potential sticking points, the ones that could undermine TTIP are the ones where we have real cultural clashes. Wherever you have a conflict, a real cultural difference in consumer patterns, consumer protection ideas and cultural issues – that’s where we’re not only talking about regulatory affairs and legal questions but about real political challenges. And those are the ones that could undermine [TTIP]”.

Since Russia’s accession to WTO, investment and trade with the rest of Europe is likely to get easier as the same cultural conflicts (between the EU and the USA) do not pertain. Of course there are numerous obstacles in terms of tariffs and property rights, but the common cultural basis continues to be a strategic asset.

So from a civilisational perspective, Europe’s and Russia’s future seem to be even more closely intertwined in a world whose geopolitical centre is shifting from the Euro-Atlantic area to the Asia-Pacific region.

2. Europe’s deepening divisions

Moreover, Europe’s deepening divisions also add urgency to creating a greater Europe. In fact, the continuous euro crisis is accelerating and intensifying the emergence of a multi-speed EU and multi-polar Europe that can be traced to the post-1989 era and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.

Coupled with the failure to implement the 1990 Paris Charter and overcome the Cold War opposition between the West and Russia, the three-pillar system that was enshrined in the European treaty introduced a division into the newly established Union.

Crucially, the EU did not build the right institutions to translate its political ambition into reality and transform the neo-functionalist logic at the heart of the integration process. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, subsequent enlargement waves and treaty revisions failed to stop the rise of the European ‘market-state’ by building a proper polity that reflects the EU’s diverse societies and can embed the increasingly interdependent national economies.

However, one fundamental difference between the post-1989 era and the post-2009 years is that the ongoing turmoil in the eurozone has shifted the dynamic from the centripetal forces that unified the Union between 1957 and the early 1990s to the centrifugal forces that risk dividing it now in three ways:

- first, between the core and the peripheral countries within the euro area;

- second, between the euro members (and euro candidates such as Poland and the other ‘euro-plus countries’) and the rest of the EU;

- third, between EU member-states, candidate/access countries and the ‘European non-West’ (including Russia, Ukraine and the wider Europe that extends to the greater Caucasus, parts of the Middle East and North Africa).

In short, the emerging multi-polar EU and multi-polar Europe weakens the wider European continent in global affairs at a time when the USA and China lay claim to superpower status but lack the moral authority to form a G2 to dominate the world.

3. Bi-continentalism and the priority of space over time

Overall, it is clear that intra-European relations are becoming increasingly multi-polar, with three potentially competing zones of integration:

- first, the long-established and normatively expansive EU;

- second, the Eurasian pole centred on Russia, with profound governance and systemic issues still to be resolved;

- the Near East and North Africa, once again becoming a zone of European instability.
Equally, there is a new dynamic to extra-European relations, which have indeterminate effects on the dynamic of European integration and political relations. Two key types of bi-continentalism are emerging. The first is Russia’s ‘pivot to the East’, in evidence through the rapidly swift re-orientation of energy sales to China, and to a lesser degree Japan.

The second is the plan for an intensification of the transatlantic free trade area, signalled by the beginning of the negotiations in relation to the TTIP. Both forms of bi-continentalism tend to re-assert space over time.

The EU had always been a temporal project (reconciliation, peace and prosperity over time), but in recent years it has become ever more a spatial one – and thereby is perhaps losing some of the transformative characteristics (as envisaged by Jean Monnet) that made it so special.

4. The Case for Greater Europe

On what basis can the entire European continent and neighbouring countries cooperate? What sets the whole of Europe apart from the other global ‘poles’ is the autonomous space of civil society and the intermediary institutions that mediate between the individual, the state and the market. In an interesting report on “The Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe” published in 2004, a reflection group composed of European statesmen and intellectuals put this point very well:

Europe itself is far more than a political construct. It is a complex – a "culture" – of institutions, ideas, expectations, habits and feelings, moods, memories and prospects that form a "glue" binding Europeans together – and all these are a foundation on which a political construct must rest. This complex – we can speak of it as European civil society – is at the heart of political identity. It defines the conditions of successful European politics and the limits of state and political intervention. [I]

Contrary to common misconceptions, Europe is neither a federal super-state nor an intergovernmental structure. Instead, European nations pool their sovereignty and are more like ‘super-regions’ within a pan-national polity that combines a political system sui generis with elements of a neo-medieval empire. The German constitutional court, in a landmark ruling on the Lisbon Treaty in June 2009, emphasized that the Union is neither just an international organisation nor a federal super-state but rather a voluntary association of states – unlike the USA since the civil war.

The mark of the European polity is that it limits both state and market power in favour of communities and groups. This associational model combines vertical, more hierarchical elements with horizontal, more egalitarian aspects, with overlapping jurisdictions and a complex web of intermediary institutions wherein sovereignty is dispersed and diffused.

By contrast, the US is a commercial republic where civil society is equated with proprietary relations and market-based exchange. In other parts of the world, civil society is subordinated to the administrative and symbolic order of central state power.

Thus, Europe’s greatest ‘gift’ to its people and the rest of the world is to offer a narrative that accentuates the autonomy of associations vis-à-vis both state and market and re-embeds both politics and economics within the civic and social bonds of civil society.

Amid the current crisis of legitimacy, this suggests that all European structures need a better model of shared sovereignty and reciprocal power by building a subsidiary polis that connects supranational institutions much more closely to regions, localities, communities and neighbourhood. In turn, this requires a much greater sense of a common demos with a mutual ethos and telos.

In line with its own best traditions, Europe could do worse than to renew and extend its political project around the following principles and practices. First of all, a commonwealth of nations and peoples rather than a market-state of ‘big government’ and ‘big business’.

Second, the pursuit of the common good in which all can share – beyond the maximisation of individual utility or collective happiness (or both at once).

Third, a series of political transformations that not only acknowledge the recent failures and the current crisis but also reconfigure the key institutions in accordance with Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman notions of constitution rule and ‘mixed government’.

Externally, a commonwealth that reflects the mediating universalism of the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman tradition would contrast with the exceptionalism of old empires and new colonial powers such as the USA, China and (to a lesser extent) some newly emerging markets such as neo-Ottoman Turkey or Indonesia.

However imperfectly, Europe remains so far the only serious attempt to build the first transnational political community whose members come together to form a voluntary association of nations that pool some of their sovereign power for the common good of their people and others across the globe.

Europe has a terrible colonial history, but it has also given rise to a set of institutions and practices that have transformed tribalism and nationalism at home and abroad.

Indeed, Europe has shaped global history not through sheer size or military might but rather thanks to its inventiveness and the creation of force multipliers, as Christopher Coker has argued. [II] European inventiveness today is mirrored in the international order that reflects Europe’s Christian heritage.

For example, European Protestant theologians and Catholic figures played a decisive role in creating the League of Nations after 1919 and the United Nations in 1946. Christian Democrats from Italy, Germany, the Benelux countries and even France led the way in setting up the project for European integration and enlargement in the late 1940s and 1950s.

They were inspired by Christian social teaching which, since the ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), has always viewed the supremacy of the national state and the transnational market over the intermediary space of civil society and economy (ultimately upheld by the Church) as contrary to the Christian faith.

In contemporary parlance, the Christian origin and outlook of the post-1919 world order is based on the idea of ‘networking’ and ‘mainstreaming’ Christian ideas and thus multiplying the power of European’s vestigially Christian polity. The invention of international organisations and supranational bodies reflects the Christian commitment to create a cosmopolis – a cosmic city that upholds universal, global principles embodied in particular, national or regional practices.

Arguably, Christianity in both East and West – whose global spread outstrips that of Islam and other world religions [III] –  is the force multiplier of Europe. Without embracing its shared Roman-Byzantine Christian heritage, the future of Europe seems uncertain and bleak.


Christendom is key to Europe’s shared cultural identity that Christianity helped forge. But the increasingly secular outlook of modern politics has hollowed out the universal values derived from the Christian synthesis of ancient and biblical virtues on which both vibrant democracies and market economies depend. At the same time, Europe remains a vestigially Christian polity that has the potential to be a commonwealth of nations and peoples, which is held together by cultural customs, social ties and indeed religious practices.

Europe’s shared Roman-Byzantine heritage is a source of both social solidarity and religious pluralism that offers key resources to shape the future of the European polity. The whole of Europe – including the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the emerging Eurasian Economic Union – is no federal super-state in the making nor simply a glorified free-trade area but rather a neo-medieval empire, which pools national sovereignty and views states more like ‘super-regions’ in a wider subsidiary association of nations and peoples. In such a polity with overlapping jurisdictions and multiple levels of membership, states are key because they balance the rightful claims of localities and regions with the rightful claims of Europe as a whole.

Instead of harking back to bureaucratic statism or market liberalism, the 28 EU member-states and their partner countries in the wider European space such as Russia, Ukraine and Turkey should all retrieve the older and more genuinely European tradition of subsidiary federalism or federal subsidiarity.

Concretely, this means a distribution of competencies between the Community institutions and the member-states in accordance with the principles of a federal rather than a unitary political system. Linked to this is a radical programme of decentralisation to the most appropriate level (including regions, localities, communities and neighbourhoods) and a greater sense that European nations are indeed like ‘super-regions’ within a wider transnational polity – like the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine commonwealth to which Europe in both East and West owes so much.
[I] Reflection Group, ‘The Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe’, Vienna/Brussels October 2004, available online at, p. 9.
[II] Christopher Coker, ‘Rebooting the West: The US, Europe and the Future of the Western Alliance’, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), Whitehall Paper 72, 6 Nov 2009.
[III] Philip Jenkins, The next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).