New Book: European Stories

Justine Lacroix and Kalypso Nicolaïdis are the editors of a book on intellectual debates on Europe in national contexts which appeared on Oxford University Press in November 2010. The volume takes an innovative approach to key debates about European identity and contains contributions from a number of distinguished scholars in the field. The book is an important outcome of research conducted within the framework of RECON’s WP 5, which analyses how civil society and the public sphere shape the democratic reconstitution of Europe. 


European Stories: Intellectual Debates on Europe in National Contexts

Justine Lacroix and Kalypso Nicolaïdis (eds), Oxford University Press, 2010


European Stories is the first comparative study on how European integration has been dealt with by intellectuals in distinct national contexts. It contrasts visions of European integration across Europe and explores the many different ways ‘public intellectuals’ have debated Europe. How is the European Union framed in different intellectual debates? How is the evolving European polity conceived? What do these differences in turn tell us about the European Union?

The book focuses on the post-1989 period but also includes historical accounts of the ‘European idea’ and its variants across the continent. Although not concluding on the extent to which such ideas may frame the attitude of European publics, the editors assume that they matter to the European project as a whole.

The editors suggest that the visions of the EU in the last two decades can be clustered around three distinct normative models, and that variants of these models can be found across national contexts. They discern two main cross-national debates: the first is between those who call for continent-wide unity and those who defend European nations as the only legitimate political units. The second debate revolves around the ‘search for a third way’. Thinkers within this strand seek to pin down conditions for upholding ‘unity in diversity’.

Within the first debate, the book identifies the ‘national civic’ or ‘statist’ school at the one end. This approach is based on the idea that the cradle of modern democracy and the welfare state is the nation state, which arguably cannot be reproduced as such at the European level. At the other end of the spectrum are those who equate more Europe with progress, the ‘supranational’ school. Europe is seen as the promise of economic, social, moral, and eventually political progress by virtue of its anti-nationalist and anti-hegemonic features, premised on the assumption that it constitutes a new territorial scale where democratic principles may spread. A federal Europe would also be the only way to ‘rescue’ the achievements of the national welfare state – achievements that are threatened by the pace of globalization. Thirdly, there are those who oppose both sides by advocating a third way, transcending this age-old opposition. This debate is concerned with the how to accommodate radical diversity within a polity in the making. This is the third, ‘transnational’ school of thought identified in this book, which perceives the EU as a new kind of polity.

These three models largely correspond to the three RECON models for reconstituting democracy in Europe, as identified by Eriksen and Fossum: the Audit Democracy – in which the union is derived from the member states; the Federal Multinational Democracy – in which the union is recognized as a sovereign state, in accordance with international law; and the Regional European Democracy – in which polity sovereignty is multi-dimensional and shared among levels’.

On this background, the book presents a number of country studies, categorizing them within four groups: founders, joiners, returners, and outliers. The sample of countries covers a number of important aspects such as old and new EU members, members and non-members, Southern, Nordic, Western, and Eastern countries, large, medium, and small states, mainstream Catholic and non-Catholic cultures, periphery versus core, etc.

Several RECON partners contribute to the volume with analyses of national debates on Europe, within all of the four categories of countries. In addition, and on a transnational level, Ulrike Liebert analyses national intellectual contributions to the debate on democratic legitimacy in Europe since 2001. She finds that European democracy debates oscillate between a communitarian vision cherishing democracy in collectivist terms and a liberal vision celebrating diversity, individual rights, and legal constitutionalism.

One of the founders, France, is analysed by Justine Lacroix. She finds that the French debate on the EU’s democratic legitimacy has revolved around the connection between rights and boundaries, and around the appropriate locus for democracy. She finds two contradictory perceptions of Europe: either as an ‘undefined’ and ‘open’ space or an ‘exclusive’ entity centred on its own particularities. This is reflected in the chapter’s title, ‘Borderline Europe’. Moreover, French intellectuals writing on Europe almost all insist on the nation as the main locus for political socialization, but they disagree on whether the EU constitutes an unwelcome motor for the dissolution of national communities or a promise to move beyond the sole nation-state framework.

In Spain, one of the joiners, Carlos Closa and Antonio Barroso explain how European integration has been almost totally uncontroversial due to the link established between democratization and Europe. Spanish intellectuals have long shown a ‘benign neglect’ towards the issue, and in this vacuum, public lawyers have assumed a central role in discussions on the EU. It has thus turned into a kind of arcane domain for specialists. In their view, constitutional tolerance, as articulated by Joseph Weiler, fit best with Spanish intellectual debates on Europe.

Magdalena Góra and Zdzisław Mach analyse the debate on Europe in Poland, labelled as a returner. They demonstrate how the continuity and change over the years in the Polish debate are crucial to understanding how the perception of Europe in Poland is constructed today. They also discuss the problem of reorientation of Poland’s place in a changing Europe and present the phenomenon of being ‘east of the West and west of the East’. Moreover, they account for the major voices on the costs and benefits of integration processes, as well as the self-perception of Poles as Europeans.

RECON partners have also investigated the debates in two so-called outliers. John Erik Fossum and Cathrine Holst find, in line with most of the other chapters, that the most important obsession boils down to ‘the national issue’. They find that the great majority of Norwegian public intellectuals frown at the notion of Europe as a democratic anchor, and instead insist that the EU is a democratic curse, which Norway should stay away from. The European project and European governance are seen to have profoundly negative effects on the role of politics, autonomy, agency, sovereignty, and republican ideals, and there is a strongly held conviction that Europe is a ‘rich man’s club’. Nora Fisher Onar and Ahmet Evin have studied Turkish intellectuals from the inception of Ottoman Westernization to present, including the last decade with particular intense debates on Turkey’s place in Europe after achieving EU candidate status in 1999. Fisher Onar and Evin argue that certain features of Turkish discourse are constant both over time and across the political spectrum. These include a tendency to see ‘Europe’ as a ubiquitous and monolithic actor, and the perception that the ‘European experience’ offers a menu for change from which some items may be ingested and others ignored.

The conclusion is entitled ‘Echoes and Polyphony: In praise of Europe’s narrative diversity’. Here, Janie Pélabay, Kalypso Nicolaïdis, and Justine Lacroix claim that it is neither desirable nor possible to promote a unique, homogenized, and official vision of what it means to be European. They point to the contributions to the volume and argue that they demonstrate that the EU polity is significantly marked, supported, or challenged by a great variety of diverging and competing stories about Europe. Hence the question of how to accommodate this mosaic of European stories: how could and should they participate in a public process of agreement on the European project? Based on an overview of European intellectual stories, they examine what is at stake in the very idea of ‘narrative diversity’ once applied to the EU.

Justine Lacroix is Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and member of RECON’s WP 5
Kalypso Nicolaïdis is Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford

As preparations for this volume, contributors met at two occasions. First, at the RECON workshop ‘European Stories – the intellectual debates on Europe in national contexts’, Brussel, 29-30 May 2008 and secondly at the RECON workshop ‘European stories – how national intellectuals debate Europe’, Oxford, 30 April-1 May 2009.


“This is a brilliant book. It’s highly instructive chapters on how issues of European unification have been discussed from different aspects in different countries reveal in each case the strong dependence on national contexts – and the lack of mutual concern and coordination we observe in Europe even among intellectuals.” 

Jürgen Habermas


“The trajectory of European integration is being decided not in Brussels but in 27 diverse nation-states. Their citizens view Europe in strikingly different ways. Brilliantly combining story-telling and social science, European Stories offers a path-breaking analysis of these disparate national visions. Indispensible for anyone who cares about Europe’s future.”

Prof. Andrew Moravcsik, Director, EU Program, Princeton University


See more at the publisher’s website.