The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe

By Tarrant, Andy | Renewal, Autumn-Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe


Tarrant, Andy, Renewal


David Marquand

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2011

David Marquand's title and sub-title accurately precis his general approach: in the context of the relative decline of the power of the United States of America, he believes that there is both scope and need for the Europe imagined by the federalists of the mid-twentieth century. From this perspective, the echo of Spengler in the title is misleading (Spengler, 1991). It is not the West that is at an end, only a certain form of international relations. Marquand's analysis is not, however, deterministic. He argues that political agency will be the key to whether or not the part of the West that is Europe is transformed from supplicant to contending power.

Marquand's view is that the task of building a Europe which can act on the international stage is urgent. The United States will soon be only one power amongst several and its priorities and geographical focus will increasingly diverge from those of the Europeans. Marquand's objective is not for Europe to seek to inherit the United States' hegemonic position. He argues trenchantly that the dominance of the West was just a passing historical moment - based on the maxim gun, not innate virtue (p. 19). However, if Europe remains a political pygmy in the coming era, then European governments will not be players in international negotiations over concrete issues such as security of fuel supply and global warming. The consequence will be that European states will fail to deliver in the interests of their citizens.

While strategic developments point in one direction, Marquand's book focuses on the substantial barriers that militate against Europeans responding to these developments. The fundamental issue is that creating agency at European level has been hamstrung by the failure to create popular support.

The lack of a popular European will is due to the way in which European institutions were constructed. Its architects conceived of it as a project which would concentrate on the low politics of sectoral economic integration. Federalists hoped this would gradually create a demand for democratic political management at European level. But national governments, as Milward has shown, saw 'Europe' as a means to repair their economies and thereby renew their national capacities and legitimacy in the wake of the Second World War - not as a means of transcending their own influence (Milward, 2000). This focus on low politics meant that there was no constitutional 'big bang', creating a set of powerful institutions around which a new form of citizenship could cohere. Marquand compares this unfavourably with the constitutional settlements in post-revolutionary United States and, more recently, in post-independence India. In both cases, the political identities of citizens formed around their new federal institutions.

The European federalists, nonetheless, turned out to be partially correct. Nation states have gradually surrendered sovereignty in ever wider areas in order to preserve their functional ability to deliver for their citizens. However, Marquand says these incremental transfers of authority have still not been combined with any grand popular constitutional debate akin to the drawing up of the constitution of the United States (p. 112). Marquand argues that this has led to the loss of legitimacy at national level and thus a weakening of the authority of the nation state. The increased decision-making capacity at supranational level has not compensated for this weakening of the nation state because citizens do not recognise EU institutions as legitimate. Marquand gives as an example of this problem the nature of support for the European Parliament - on each occasion that its powers have been increased to match the transfer of majority decision-making powers to the EU, turnouts in subsequent European Parliament elections have fallen.

Marquand argues that the European Union suffers from three great ambiguities that undermine its ability to garner support: an ambiguity over identity, over authority, and over territory. …

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