6 Key 2021 Books: Rule of Law and the Future of Europe

Oliver Garner and Michał Matlak, the Review of Democracy editors, select 6 most important books in two areas: Rule of Law and the Future of Europe.

Federico Fabbrini, Brexit and the Future of the European Union: The Case for Constitutional Reforms

This monograph makes the case that the aftermath of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU provides the opportunity to address the EU’s legitimacy crisis. A major strength of the book is the concise, yet comprehensive, summary it provides of the institutional twists and turns of the Brexit saga. The book’s unique contribution to the academic and policy debate is that the Conference on the Future of Europe can be used to propose a “Political Compact” to reform the EU institutional structure through an inter se agreement that can bypass the constraints of the amendment clause of Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union. Viewed through a pragmatic lens, the idea of a Political Compact has more chance of being adopted than more theoretically pure proposals for how to reform the EU due to the dependence pathway it provides from the use of international agreements to resolve crises in the past.

This summary draws upon the book review published in the European Law Review issue 4 of August 2021.

Michael A. Wilkinson, Authoritarian Liberalism and the Transformation of Modern Europe

Michael Wilkinson provides an alternative account of the history and nature of the European Union. Rather than being presented as the first sui generis example of supranational democracy, Wilkinson argues that European integration is a manifestation of ‘authoritarian liberalism’ comparable to the regime identified by Hermann Heller as prevalent in Weimar Germany before the rise to power of the Nazis. The left-wing argument against the EU has grown steadily since the Eurocrisis in reaction to measures taken against Greece. This book presents the first deeply constitutionally and historically grounded monograph-length argument identifying the features of the EU that make it undemocratic. Wilkinson does not endorse the anti-EU movements in Poland and Hungary, labelling these ‘authoritarian populism’. However, his intellectually rigorous critique of the EU may help to bridge the gap between pro-Europeans who claim to have ‘reason’ exclusively on their side, and the emotionally-charged rhetoric of the populists. This may provide the ground upon which to have a rational discourse on the future of Europe between opposing forces.

You can listen to our podcast with Michael Wilkinson here.

Markus Patberg, Constituent Power in the European Union

Similarly to Michael Wilkinson’s book, Markus Patberg claims there is a problem at the heart of European integration: the combination of intergovernmental treaty making and integration through law marginalizes the role of citizens and enables executive-driven constitutional change through emergency politics, as well as a court-driven over-constitutionalization. Patberg argues that the concept of constituent power must be reclaimed for and by citizens to address this mutation, and excavates different public narratives to identify the model which best fits the incipient practice. Like Fabbrini’s monograph, the arguments end with normative prescriptions for constitutional reform. However, rather than relying upon intergovernmental agreement, Patberg makes the radical proposal for a new Permanent Constitutional Assembly to be established composed of elected representatives of nationals of the Member States and EU citizens. The recent success of the citizen assembly held at the European University Institute in Florence as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe means that Patberg’s ideas for a citizen-driven European integration may prove to be prescient. 

You can listen to our podcast with Markus Patberg here.

András Sajó, Ruling by cheating

Sajó argues persuasively that violations of the rule of law in most cases are not due to its different conception, but are the result of cheating. Even more interesting is Sajo’s thesis that there are many illiberal elements in liberal democracies and that private property can reinforce illiberal hierarchies through excessive inequality. Sajo’s defense of the thesis of the democratic character of illiberal regimes provides food for thought, even if one is convinced that when the players play by different rules, the results cannot be called democratic. At the same time, it is true that we must not forget that very significant groups in our societies support illiberal regimes and that illiberal regimes make intelligent use of democratic institutions. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the issues of the rule of law and populism.

Read/listen to the interview here.

Luuk van Middelaar, Pandemonium

Luuk van Middelaar has become the most influential thinker on the European project. His “Passage to Europe” is considered one of the best written and most compelling studies of the history of European integration. In his latest book, he argues that the coronavirus pandemic was one of the crises that would transform European integration in positive ways: closer economic cooperation (based mainly on shared debt and joint investment) and, so to say, a spiritual transformation. Pandemonium is, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the capital of hell, where demons rule. And yet this place has a purifying effect, believes Middelaar, who, like many other thinkers, thinks that a united Europe is built through crises. The story is actually quite simple and close to official pro-European accounts, but the beauty of van Middelaar’s style is mesmerizing, unlike most accounts of European integration.

Read Kasia Krzyzanowska’s review here.

Watch the debate organised by the European Parliament Research Service on this book with Kasia Krzyzanowska here.

Perry Anderson, Ever Closer Union. Europe in the West

Unlike van Middelaar, Perry Anderson is one of the sharpest critics of the European Union. His brilliant analyses (previously published in the London Review of Books) deal with the problematic aspects of European integration, its undemocratic nature, economic neoliberalism, and the role of the two strongest countries in the club. Not coincidentally, the book’s main intellectual protagonist is Luuk van Middelaar and his monumental “Passage to Europe” (although Anderson’s book also includes an essay on the global financial crisis, conceived as a response to Adam Tooze). Anderson’s theses are controversial, but without doubt the depth of his argument should provide food for thought, especially for admirers of the European project.

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