Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

From EURATOM to "Complex Systems": Technology and European Government

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

From EURATOM to "Complex Systems": Technology and European Government

Article excerpt

In a recent series of papers written for the European Commission's Cellule de Prospective (CdP), Notis Lebessis and others have begun to think about the European Union--its political future, its accomplishments, and the challenges facing it--in terms of a social condition they define as "complexity." In brief, the CdP suggests that the EU represents a peculiarly inventive and functional response to the increasingly complex environment within which modern government must operate. As social and economic life has become more complex, the CdP argues, the forms of network organization associated with the European Union have become more and more relevant. "The challenges presented by contemporary society in terms of complexity, diversity and interdependency mean that these traditional forms [e.g., national parliamentary politics] are stretched beyond their limits and that new forms begin to emerge." (1) At the same time, "knowledge" has acquired a particular centrality to the constitution of the contemporary Europe an system of government. The role of the public authorities is to "escape from the constraints of the institutional (bureaucrat! expert) construction of problems and solutions." (2) The task of the EU is to encourage participation and to foster an economy based on "collective learning."

The conclusion is intended to be both descriptive and normative. The CdP's reports both account for the development of the EU in the past and provide blueprints for the future. Their publication (both internally and on the internet) is intended to be much more than an analysis of EU government--to be, indeed, a significant political event itself.

Forming, as they do, a background and an important contribution to the recent white paper on European governance, these papers certainly have a contemporary salience. But it is for a different reason that we draw attention to them here. The argument of this article is that the GdP can offer important insights about the changing way that the possibility of European government has been posed. (3) Our intention here is to explore how an analysis of these papers might contribute to a genealogical investigation of European government. In particular, we want to explore the peculiar centrality that technology and technology policy has had in the formulation of, and attempts to construct, a system of government for Europe, its states, citizens, regions, and spaces.

In the EU, technology has been a key resource and central problem for government. On the one hand, the European institutions have themselves been centrally concerned with the development and regulation of technical practices. As such European institutions have often been viewed as having a primarily technocratic and regulatory function that either did not need to have or failed to develop any effective form of democratic accountability. The technical orientation of the EU is either the basis of its legitimacy or the source of its legitimation crisis. On the other hand, the language in which European government has been analyzed has itself had a technical dimension. The CdP's deployment of the term complexity is, we argue, the latest in a series of attempts to figure the political space of Europe in terms of a technical metaphor.

There are, of course, a number of ways that one might write the history of European government. One approach would be an account of institutional change of the sort encountered in many historical overviews of the EC/EU. (4) Other approaches are suggested by debates within the political science of European integration. (5) Here the theoretical lines have been drawn between those emphasizing the centrality of national interests and domestic "preferences" in determining the pattern of European integration and those who seek to accord greater causal determinacy to "supranational" actors like the European Court and/or "transnational" economic interests. (6) These latter analyses are sometimes considered "neofunctionalist" since they emphasize that national governments are now embedded in a dense web of European political, economic relationships that constrains and shapes future political choices. …

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