The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration

By Glyn Morgan | Go to book overview
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In THE SPRING OF 2001, Mr. Steven Thoburn, a greengrocer from Sunderland in the northeast of England, was convicted in district court of selling one pound of bananas. His conviction, which earned him a criminal record, was a result of a European Union (EU) directive requiring all loose fruit to be sold in kilos and grams. Mr. Thoburn—the “Metric Martyr,” as the British tabloids were to call him—argued in his defense that the British Weights and Measures Act of 1985 permitted the sale of goods in both imperial and metric measures. Mr. Thoburn insisted that he would continue to sell his fruit in imperial measures until the British parliament in Westminster introduced a new weights and measures act to replace the old one.

On a point of law, Mr. Thoburn was clearly mistaken. As a member of the EU, Britain, like every other member state, is required to recognize both the “direct effect” and “supremacy” of European law over competing national laws.1 The district judge who found Mr. Thoburn guilty applied the law correctly.2 But Thoburn's case raises questions that go beyond the letter of the law. Thoburn and his eurosceptic supporters saw themselves as raising a fundamental question—a philosophical question—concerning the justification of Europe's legal and political authority over its member states. The novelist Frederick Forsyth, one of Thoburn's prominent supporters, has posed this question in the following way: “How, and by whom, do you wish to be governed?”3

The nationalist—and many eurosceptics are nationalists—has a ready answer to Forsyth's question. “We wish to be governed by those we trust, those like us, people with whom we share a common nationality.” Proponents of European integration—“europhiles,” as I will call them—have a more difficult time with the question. Few would want to argue that Europe ought to be governed by “Europeans,” because European identity remains relatively thin and insubstantial when compared with most national identities. Furthermore, there is no general agreement about where the boundaries of Europe lie, nor even about what constitutes a European identity. Perhaps a more promising strategy is to focus on the “how” part of the question. “How do you wish to be governed?” Europhiles assume, not unreasonably, that all Europeans want to be governed effectively. Effective government, so they contend, is now no longer possible at the level of the nation-state. This answer,


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