European Union as Class Project and Imperialist Strategy

Eurocrats

Ques­tions regard­ing the char­ac­ter of the Euro­pean Union as a class project have not received the atten­tion they deserve in Marx­ist debates, despite impor­tant inter­ven­tions by some Marx­ists who have attempt­ed to the­o­rize “Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion.”1 In con­trast to the ten­den­cy to the­o­rize the Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process as the evo­lu­tion of a fed­er­a­tion or con­fed­er­a­tion, we want to focus upon the class strate­gies inscribed in this process. Such an approach will show that we are not deal­ing with a supra­na­tion­al state-form, but with an advanced form of the hier­ar­chi­cal (and nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry) coor­di­na­tion and inte­gra­tion of the class projects of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es and cap­i­tal­ist states, in which the reduc­tion of state sov­er­eign­ty enables a strat­e­gy of inten­si­fied cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. Such an approach has not only ana­lyt­i­cal con­se­quences but also polit­i­cal ones, because it points towards the con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance, for the sub­al­tern class­es, of a strat­e­gy of rup­ture with the process of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion.

In what fol­lows we attempt to ana­lyze the class char­ac­ter of the Euro­pean Union in its his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion and to show how it has been incor­po­rat­ed into the impe­ri­al­ist sys­tem. On the basis of this we attempt to assess the dynam­ics of inte­gra­tion and the cur­rent cri­sis of the “Euro­pean Project.”

The First Steps of European Integration

Offi­cial his­to­ries of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion tend to present a pic­ture of inte­gra­tion emerg­ing from the desire of Euro­pean peo­ples for peace­ful coop­er­a­tion. How­ev­er, inte­gra­tion has been a much more com­plex process. The estab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty (ECSC) in 1951 was not the prod­uct of spon­ta­neous ten­den­cies towards col­lab­o­ra­tion among Euro­pean states but part of a broad­er U.S. Cold-War strat­e­gy to con­tain Sovi­et influ­ence by means of enhanc­ing the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment of a cap­i­tal­ist West­ern Europe. Tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that Euro­pean economies were still fac­ing large prob­lems after the sec­ond World War, as well as the exis­tence of large Com­mu­nist Par­ties in coun­tries such as France and Italy, it seemed obvi­ous for the Unit­ed States not only to offer forms of eco­nom­ic assis­tance such as the Mar­shall Plan (Pro­gram for Euro­pean Recov­ery) but also to sup­port projects of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion. This was made obvi­ous in the require­ment in the Mar­shall Plan for recip­i­ent coun­tries to par­tic­i­pate in insti­tu­tions of col­lec­tive man­age­ment of eco­nom­ic assis­tance and to elab­o­rate pro­grams for Euro­pean recon­struc­tion.2

The con­tri­bu­tion of the Unit­ed States to this process was evi­dent in the role of Jean Mon­net in the first stages of the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty (EEC), but also in the many forms of sup­port toward the strength­en­ing and sta­bi­liza­tion of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist economies.3 It rep­re­sent­ed the attempt of the Unit­ed States to emerge as a hege­mon­ic pow­er, not only in the sense of supe­ri­or force, but also in the sense of guar­an­tee­ing glob­al cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests against the dan­ger rep­re­sent­ed by the USSR, strong Com­mu­nist Par­ties, and labor unions, even if this meant eco­nom­ic aid to its poten­tial com­peti­tors or the endorse­ment of projects such as Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion that would help the posi­tion of these com­peti­tors.4

This process along with the need to inte­grate West Ger­many led to the for­ma­tion of the ECSC, which was estab­lished in 1951 by France, Ger­many, Italy, Hol­land, Bel­gium, and Lux­em­bourg (“the Six”). Estab­lish­ment of the ECSC facil­i­tat­ed the res­o­lu­tion of a num­ber of ques­tions: the ten­den­cy towards eco­nom­ic col­lab­o­ra­tion between Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries; man­age­ment of the prob­lem of Ger­many; the focus on two basic para­me­ters of indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion, name­ly coal and steel; and the oper­a­tion of a free mar­ket.  

It also estab­lished a pat­tern of Ger­man-French coop­er­a­tion that would be instru­men­tal in the entire process of inte­gra­tion. Despite the suc­cess­ful found­ing of the ECSC, the begin­ning of NATO to secure the West­ern mil­i­tary alliance, and the Ger­man Fed­er­al Republic’s entry into NATO in 1954, the first steps of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion were not very suc­cess­ful. In 1954 the French Nation­al Assem­bly reject­ed the pro­pos­als for the Euro­pean Defence Com­mu­ni­ty and the Polit­i­cal Union. How­ev­er, the Suez deba­cle, and the fact that the Unit­ed States made evi­dent that it was the lead­ing force of the “West­ern World” in con­trast to old colo­nial impe­r­i­al pow­ers, led to the Treaty of Rome in 1957.5 Yet at that point, the sig­na­to­ries to the treaty, which estab­lished the EEC, did not extend beyond the Six. The “rival” project of the Euro­pean Free Trade Asso­ci­a­tion (EFTA), which reflect­ed a more clas­si­cal approach, was also active, although it lacked the ten­den­cy towards polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion that marked the EEC. The increas­ing impor­tance of the Ger­man econ­o­my, exem­pli­fied in the rapid increase in trade with oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, made Ger­many an impor­tant node, and grad­u­al­ly EFTA coun­tries decid­ed to join the EEC.6

The basic objec­tive of the Treaty of Rome in estab­lish­ing both the EEC and the Euro­pean Atom­ic Ener­gy Com­mu­ni­ty (EAEC)  was to cre­ate a com­mon frame­work among mem­bers of the Com­mu­ni­ty in law, admin­is­tra­tion, and tax­a­tion, and to restruc­ture the con­tent of pro­duc­tion via com­mon direc­tives and agreed-upon spe­cial­iza­tions. The found­ing of the EEC coin­cid­ed with the emer­gence of three dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cours­es that mark the ter­rain of main­stream the­o­ret­i­cal approach­es to Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion: fed­er­al­ism, func­tion­al­ism, and inter-gov­ern­men­tal coop­er­a­tion. Although all three are the­o­ret­i­cal­ly inad­e­quate to explain the dynam­ics of inte­gra­tion, they offer a mix­ture of its ide­ol­o­gy and an actu­al descrip­tion of dif­fer­ent dynam­ics. “Fed­er­al­ism” can be con­sid­ered a “metonymic” ref­er­ence to the increased polit­i­cal impor­tance of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion; the belief in “spill-over effects” (the cen­tral tenet of the func­tion­al­ist school) was the motor force behind cen­tral aspects, from the role of the Euro­pean Court to mon­e­tary union; and inter-gov­ern­men­tal coop­er­a­tion (albeit in a con­flict­ual and hier­ar­chi­cal man­ner) remained the cen­tral deci­sion-mak­ing process (as lib­er­al inter­gov­ern­men­tal­ism sug­gest­ed).7 Beyond mere descrip­tion, how­ev­er, the the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tion of how to best con­cep­tu­al­ize inte­gra­tion remains open and unan­swered.

Contradictions of the Initial Phases of Integration

Most his­to­ries of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion tend to present the first peri­od as main­ly marked by fail­ures, from the end­less nego­ti­a­tions for the estab­lish­ment of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al pol­i­cy to episodes such as the “emp­ty chairs cri­sis.” These were out­comes of old­er antag­o­nisms, exem­pli­fied in the French ambi­tion to remain the lead­ing force of “Euro­pean Union” that led the French to veto Britain’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the EEC. Nonethe­less, we can already see also the grad­ual ten­den­cy towards inte­gra­tion, espe­cial­ly in the work­ings of Com­mu­ni­ty-lev­el insti­tu­tions that grad­u­al­ly start­ed to cre­ate the “acquis com­mu­nau­taire,” begin­ning with the func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Court, espe­cial­ly since it start­ed rul­ing upon the suprema­cy of Com­mu­ni­ty law over nation­al leg­is­la­tion, but also with the Com­mis­sion, espe­cial­ly after the 1967 Merg­er treaty. There was from the begin­ning a cer­tain impe­tus towards what lat­er would be described as “neolib­er­al­ism.”8 Already in 1939, F.A. Hayek defend­ed the idea of a Fed­er­a­tion and the abro­ga­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty as a means to imple­ment his con­cep­tion of a mar­ket-based soci­ety. For Hayek, “the abro­ga­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ties and the cre­ation of an effec­tive inter­na­tion­al order of law is a nec­es­sary com­ple­ment and the log­i­cal con­sum­ma­tion of the lib­er­al pro­gram.”9 This par­tic­u­lar strain of lib­er­al, mar­ket-friend­ly poli­cies, expressed by Hayek’s Mont Pélerin Soci­ety, played a major role in the evo­lu­tion of the EEC/EU. An impor­tant role was also played by the Ger­man tra­di­tion of “ordolib­er­al­is­mus,” a set of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy doc­trines that pre­vailed in post-war West Ger­many and which remains today the the­o­ret­i­cal back­ground of Ger­man fis­cal pol­i­cy and that of the EU. It was exact­ly this tra­di­tion that Michel Fou­cault dis­cussed in The Birth of Biopol­i­tics as an exam­ple of the emerg­ing “neolib­er­al­ism” and part of the for­ma­tion of a par­tic­u­lar cap­i­tal­ist gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty.10. As John Gilling­ham stress­es, these ide­o­log­i­cal con­tents became insti­tu­tion­al­ized through the inte­gra­tion project:

The Mont Pèlerin Soci­ety, which he [Hayek] co-found­ed in 1947, has served as a cen­tral point of dif­fu­sion not only for his own views but also for those of relat­ed schools influ­enced by them, such as mon­e­tarism, pub­lic choice the­o­ry, and the new insti­tu­tion­al eco­nom­ics. […] The com­pe­ti­tion direc­torate (DG IV), the most influ­en­tial branch of the even­tu­al­ly labyrinthine Com­mis­sion bureau­cra­cy, became its locus.11

After the for­ma­tion of Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy, the next steps of inte­gra­tion and the pol­i­tics of “Com­mon Mar­ket” coin­cid­ed with the pat­tern of post-WWII eco­nom­ic growth, a fact that also led to the enlarge­ment of the EU with the acces­sion of Britain, Ire­land, and Den­mark. More­over, the Com­mon Agri­cul­ture Pol­i­cy, itself the result of a com­bined attempt to forge a social alliance with farm­ers (espe­cial­ly medi­um and large farm­ers) and to guar­an­tee a steady flow of agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts, was a suc­cess on its own terms.12

There were also polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions behind the grow­ing appeal of the EEC. For coun­tries of the Euro­pean South, mem­ber­ship in the EEC, espe­cial­ly after the fall of the dic­ta­tor­ships, was seen as a form of strength­en­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions but also as an exit from a more “periph­er­al” con­di­tion, with “Europe” func­tion­ing as a sym­bol­ic and ide­o­log­i­cal point of ref­er­ence. This is the process that led to the entrance of Greece, Spain, and Por­tu­gal. More­over, in the 1970s the process of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion start­ed to receive the sup­port of seg­ments of the Left, espe­cial­ly of the Euro-com­mu­nist Left, that pre­sent­ed Europe as a ter­rain of com­mon strug­gles and insist­ed on the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a “Unit­ed Europe” could be a demo­c­ra­t­ic counter-bal­ance to the antag­o­nism between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union.13

Around the end of the 1960s and 1970s the ques­tion of eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary union emerged. The turn­ing point usu­al­ly ref­er­enced is the 1969 Hague Sum­mit, which set new tar­gets for enlarg­ing and deep­en­ing inte­gra­tion. Although this process began before the col­lapse of the Bret­ton-Woods sys­tem and the full erup­tion of the struc­tur­al cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis of the 1970s, the deci­sion to speed up the process of inte­gra­tion was a reac­tion both to the increas­ing con­tra­dic­tions of the post-WWII “Fordist” regime of accu­mu­la­tion and to the ris­ing social and polit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism expressed in both stu­dent and work­place activism in the 1960s. Mon­e­tary union was viewed as a way to increase coor­di­na­tion between Euro­pean economies. How­ev­er, it had to deal with the fact that exchange rates and their move­ments reflect­ed dif­fer­ences in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and com­pet­i­tive­ness, not only trade flows. The “cor­rec­tion” offered by exchange rates not only act­ed as a pro­tec­tive bar­ri­er to less pro­duc­tive cap­i­tals but also as a motive for direct invest­ments abroad. Lift­ing this mech­a­nism required not only coor­di­na­tion in terms of infla­tion but also a har­mo­niza­tion of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­els in order to avoid desta­bi­liz­ing imbal­ances. The onset of the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis made things even more dif­fi­cult.14

From the Single European Act to the Euro: Integration as Neoliberal Strategy

Despite the vic­to­ries of social-demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties with rel­a­tive­ly rad­i­cal pro­grams in France and Greece in 1981, the vic­to­ries of Mar­garet Thatch­er in Britain (1979) and Hel­mut Kohl in West Ger­many (1982), along with the aban­don­ment by the French gov­ern­ment in 1983 of the more rad­i­cal aspects of its pro­gram, and the broad­er emer­gence of neolib­er­al poli­cies on a glob­al scale (the elec­tion of Ronald Rea­gan, etc.), led to impor­tant shifts in the direc­tion of the EEC.

The strat­e­gy of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket emerged as a means of increas­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist economies. The idea was that remov­ing all obsta­cles to the free flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tal would cre­ate economies of scale, enhance com­pe­ti­tion, and increase invest­ment. The Sin­gle Euro­pean Act (SEA) which was adopt­ed in 1986 marks a cru­cial turn­ing point. It was obvi­ous that the emerg­ing “Unit­ed Europe” would be one of neolib­er­al poli­cies, pri­va­ti­za­tion, and ero­sion of social rights.

The Sin­gle Euro­pean Act was not a sim­ple means to increase the scale of intra-Com­mu­ni­ty trade or cap­i­tal flows; lift­ing pro­tec­tive bar­ri­ers meant that less pro­duc­tive and less com­pet­i­tive sec­tors were exposed to increased antag­o­nis­tic pres­sures. These pres­sures had to do not only with the need for the intro­duc­tion of new tech­nolo­gies but also with the need to get rid of all social rights that might reduce com­pet­i­tive­ness (wage lev­els, col­lec­tive agree­ments, labor laws, social pro­tec­tions). The class char­ac­ter of this strat­e­gy is made evi­dent if we con­sid­er the cen­tral role of the Euro­pean Round­table of Indus­tri­al­ists (ERT), which act­ed as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the most aggres­sive seg­ments of cap­i­tal, and which was instru­men­tal in the for­ma­tion of the poli­cies of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket.15 More­over, by intro­duc­ing major­i­ty vote in ques­tions of the inter­nal mar­ket, the Sin­gle Euro­pean Act inten­si­fied the pres­sure towards mem­ber states and enhanced the expan­sion of a neolib­er­al acquis com­mu­nau­taire.16

The next cru­cial step was the Maas­tricht Treaty (1991), which set the stage and pace for Euro­pean mon­e­tary union and the intro­duc­tion of the Euro as a com­mon cur­ren­cy. The intro­duc­tion of fixed exchange rates and then a com­mon cur­ren­cy to an area marked by diver­gences in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and pro­duc­tive­ness would result in a great pres­sure to increase cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. In a con­di­tion of mon­e­tary union, as Gugliel­mo Carche­di has stressed, “tech­no­log­i­cal lag­gards had to renounce infla­tion and deval­u­a­tion [and] their cap­i­tals had to com­pete through longer work­ing days (or weeks) and high­er inten­si­ty of labour, that is, by impos­ing high­er rates of absolute sur­plus val­ue at the point of pro­duc­tion.”17 Instead of a strat­e­gy of deal­ing with these diver­gences, which would have meant increased redis­tri­b­u­tion from the Euro­pean cen­ter to the periph­ery, along with trans­fers of tech­nol­o­gy and know-how, the Maas­tricht Treaty (and sub­se­quent treaties) main­ly includ­ed fis­cal and infla­tion bench­marks (ceil­ings for deficits, debt, and infla­tion) which could only lead to aus­ter­i­ty, dis­man­tling of wel­fare state pro­vi­sions, and the intro­duc­tion of neolib­er­al forms of gov­er­nance across Europe. Restric­tive wage poli­cies, cuts in pub­lic spend­ing, and wave after wave of pen­sion reform in order to reduce the deficits of retire­ment sys­tems (rais­es in min­i­mum retire­ment age, reduc­tions in pen­sion amounts, forced intro­duc­tion of pri­va­tized pen­sion funds, etc.) grad­u­al­ly became the norm in Europe. At the same time, the poli­cies of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket in the 1990s allowed for greater pri­va­ti­za­tion by means of the forced open­ing of mar­kets in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, ener­gy, and pub­lic pro­cure­ment.

Despite the ini­tial set­backs of eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary union, which coin­cid­ed with a broad­er pat­tern of intense con­tra­dic­tions of fixed exchange-rate regimes glob­al­ly and were exem­pli­fied in the deci­sion of Britain to leave the Exchange Rate Mech­a­nism, the Euro came into effect.18 This had less to do with actu­al “struc­tur­al” eco­nom­ic con­ver­gence and more to do with con­ver­gences in rates of infla­tion along with rel­a­tive­ly favor­able accu­mu­la­tion dynam­ics.

For the coun­tries of the Euro­pean core, and in par­tic­u­lar Ger­many, which had already devel­oped eco­nom­ic rela­tions with these coun­tries, EU enlarge­ment and the inclu­sion of for­mer social­ist coun­tries rep­re­sent­ed an impe­ri­al­ist strat­e­gy in the sense of open­ing up new mar­kets and exploit­ing new invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties – espe­cial­ly since these coun­tries offered an expe­ri­enced and high­ly qual­i­fied work­force, low labor costs, and his­to­ries of indus­try and infra­struc­ture, along with insti­tu­tion­al anti-com­mu­nism and neolib­er­al, pro-busi­ness leg­is­la­tion. The emer­gent East­ern Euro­pean elites, for their part, judged that entry into the EU could shield their coun­tries from the dan­gers that the post-Sovi­et break-up had entailed, while also pro­vid­ing greater oppor­tu­ni­ties for the more com­pet­i­tive sec­tors of their econ­o­my and attract­ing for­eign invest­ment.

How­ev­er, even the intro­duc­tion of the Euro did not lead to increased com­pet­i­tive­ness. The so-called “Lis­bon Strat­e­gy,” launched in 2000, aimed to make the EU “the world’s most com­pet­i­tive and dynam­ic knowl­edge econ­o­my, capa­ble of achiev­ing eco­nom­ic growth togeth­er with bet­ter employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and greater social cohe­sion.”19 By the mid-2000s, how­ev­er, its lack of suc­cess was obvi­ous.20 But this was not a uni­form ten­den­cy, and some coun­tries of the Euro­pean core, par­tic­u­lar­ly Ger­many, expe­ri­enced increased com­pet­i­tive­ness, espe­cial­ly inside the Euro­pean Union.

Is There a Movement Towards a United European Federal State?

Although very few peo­ple would sug­gest that today the EU is a fed­er­a­tion, since it lacks both a com­mon demos and the kind of polit­i­cal coher­ence that would point in that direc­tion, the ques­tion about the direc­tion of inte­gra­tion remains open.21

In our opin­ion, the EU is not a supra­na­tion­al state form. It remains a mul­ti-lev­el and nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry hier­ar­chi­cal form of coor­di­na­tion between total social cap­i­tals and their polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions as cap­i­tal­ist states, a form which artic­u­lates class strate­gies. This takes the form of numer­ous mutu­al­ly pen­e­trat­ing net­works of social (eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal) inter­con­nec­tions which include, at dif­fer­ent lev­els and stages, supra­na­tion­al mech­a­nisms, nation-states, region­al admin­is­tra­tions, multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, and inter­est groups whose reach is inter­na­tion­al. How­ev­er, at the basis of these com­plex process­es, we find on the one hand the pri­vate inter­ests of cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise,  and on the oth­er the efforts of nation-states to safe­guard the terms of repro­duc­tion of these cap­i­tals, in con­junc­tion with the par­tic­u­lar hier­ar­chi­cal posi­tion of each coun­try with­in the Euro­pean Union. In this sense, it is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a broad­er ten­den­cy towards the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions and pro­duc­tion forms, the main aspect of mod­ern impe­ri­al­ism.

How­ev­er, our posi­tion is that this process does not lead to the cre­ation of a super­state, or a new type of hybrid state or semi-state, but to the coor­di­na­tion of class strate­gies and projects. Faced with the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of inter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion but also with the pres­sures exert­ed by the dynam­ics of class strug­gle inside each social for­ma­tion, the Euro­pean bour­geoisies aimed at coor­di­nat­ing their spe­cif­ic class strate­gies. The EU is the polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tion­al form of this com­plex and uneven coor­di­na­tion, which is tra­versed both by antag­o­nism between cap­i­tals but also by class strug­gles. The increas­ing­ly com­plex forms of the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal, in con­junc­tion with the con­stant geo­graph­i­cal expan­sion of the EU, have gen­er­at­ed the need for the for­ma­tion of a pow­er­ful bureau­crat­ic orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of achiev­ing this strat­e­gy.

The expan­sion of the EU bureau­cra­cy is not a sim­ple nega­tion of the nation-state. The ced­ing of sov­er­eign­ty that the process of inte­gra­tion actu­al­ly accom­plish­es is the ero­sion of those aspects of sov­er­eign­ty that could be used for the ben­e­fit of the sub­al­tern class­es. Those core aspects of sov­er­eign­ty that refer to the strength­en­ing of cap­i­tal­ist pow­er, on the oth­er hand, remain in place. It is not an elim­i­na­tion of the nation-state but a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion that brings it clos­er to being the dic­ta­tor­ship of the bour­geoisie, insu­lat­ing it from any pres­sure ema­nat­ing from class strug­gles and the demands of sub­al­tern class­es.

More­over, coor­di­na­tion does not pre­clude antag­o­nism. And on a glob­al scale we are still wit­ness­ing many forms of antag­o­nism between cap­i­tal­ist states. Under­es­ti­mat­ing the ele­ment of antag­o­nism runs the risk of falling back into some­thing close to Karl Kautsky’s notion of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism.22 Indeed, the the­o­ret­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions of the notion of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism are sim­i­lar to the con­tra­dic­tions of “supra­na­tion­al” the­o­riza­tions of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, name­ly that they tend to over­es­ti­mate one aspect of this process, the strength­en­ing of EU insti­tu­tions and the expan­sion of EU bureau­cra­cy, and to under­es­ti­mate the con­tin­ued impor­tance and effec­tiv­i­ty of antag­o­nism and con­flict inside the Euro­pean Union. There­fore, we have to insist that the Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process is an impe­ri­al­ist project both in the sense of the rela­tion of the EU to the rest of the impe­ri­al­ist chain and the antag­o­nisms with­in it, but also inside the EU in the uneven rela­tions between the dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

Dis­cus­sions of the “supra­na­tion­al” char­ac­ter of the EU over­look the fact that the state does not have only eco­nom­ic func­tions, in the broad sense of the term. Its func­tions include for­eign pol­i­cy, nation­al defence and inter­nal secu­ri­ty, edu­ca­tion­al pol­i­cy, health sys­tems, care for the every­day life of the cit­i­zens, etc.  Many of these remain essen­tial­ly out­side the scope of supra-nation­al inte­gra­tion, despite the exis­tence of “Euro­pean strate­gies.” There are con­ver­gences (high­er edu­ca­tion being one exam­ple because of the Bologna Process), but large dif­fer­ences remain. This is more evi­dent in the absence of a com­mon EU for­eign and defence pol­i­cy, exem­pli­fied in the dif­fer­ent or even oppos­ing stances regard­ing the Iraq war or the recog­ni­tion of Koso­vo.

More­over, the fact that a coun­try such as Britain had the abil­i­ty to decide its exit from the EU is also, in our opin­ion, some­thing that jus­ti­fies our posi­tion that we are far from wit­ness­ing the emer­gence of a Euro­pean “supra-state,” how­ev­er deeply the process of inte­gra­tion has trans­formed its con­stituent mem­ber states.

European Integration as a Class Project

The above the­o­ret­i­cal clar­i­fi­ca­tion should not be read as an under­es­ti­ma­tion of the effects of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion. In con­trast, we tend to see it as a high­ly orig­i­nal process that offers impor­tant insights into the class char­ac­ter of con­tem­po­rary process­es of the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal.

Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is not just a set of com­mon agree­ments defin­ing the set of poli­cies inside the Euro­pean Union. Nor is it just a com­mon cur­ren­cy and the lift­ing of con­trols to the flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tals. Above all it is a class strat­e­gy that rep­re­sents the com­bined efforts of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es to answer the glob­al eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the par­tic­u­lar cri­sis of the Euro­pean “social mod­el” by means of an offen­sive neolib­er­al strat­e­gy of cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing. As Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn has stressed, the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the EU makes Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion not just an eco­nom­ic process but a hege­mon­ic project on the part of the forces of cap­i­tal in Europe.23 In such a view, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion

may be under­stood in terms of what I have called “embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism,” reflect­ing a hege­mon­ic project or what we could also call a com­pre­hen­sive con­cept of con­trol artic­u­lat­ed and prop­a­gat­ed by – and reflect­ing as well as medi­at­ing the inter­ests of – social and polit­i­cal forces bound up with transna­tion­al Euro­pean cap­i­tal.24

Although nom­i­nal­ly the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process was a com­bi­na­tion of lib­er­al, neo-mer­can­tilist, and social-demo­c­ra­t­ic aspi­ra­tions, index­ing dif­fer­ent post-WWII Euro­pean polit­i­cal tra­di­tions, in the end neolib­er­al­ism emerged as dom­i­nant.25 Effec­tive­ly, this has meant that

the neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing, set in by the relaunched Euro­pean inte­gra­tion project through the inter­nal mar­ket pro­gramme and mon­e­tary union, rein­forced by the mar­ke­ti­za­tion dri­ve cul­mi­nat­ing in the Lis­bon ‘com­pet­i­tive­ness’ agen­da, and fur­ther locked in by the East­ern enlarge­ment, has sub­or­di­nat­ed the objec­tive of social cohe­sion to that of a log­ic of com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion.26

The class pri­or­i­ties that have dri­ven the project thus become clear.

Monetary Union, Reduced Sovereignty and Neoliberalism

The cru­cial aspect in the entire Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process is the unprece­dent­ed ced­ing of cru­cial aspects of sov­er­eign­ty to the insti­tu­tions of the Euro­pean Union. Mem­ber states of the Euro­zone have no con­trol over mon­e­tary pol­i­cy, must coor­di­nate their state-bor­row­ing prac­tices, must accept rig­or­ous bud­getary norms under threat of  “auto­mat­ic” penal­ties doled out by super­vi­so­ry EU insti­tu­tions, must ful­ly open their inter­nal mar­kets (includ­ing state pro­cure­ments), and must com­ply with Euro­pean reg­u­la­tions regard­ing the free move­ment of Euro­pean cit­i­zens, includ­ing accept­ing rules regard­ing the equiv­a­lences of degrees and qual­i­fi­ca­tions. More­over, pri­va­ti­za­tions of essen­tial infra­struc­ture were made oblig­a­tory already in the 1990s. There are no forms of sub­si­dies oth­er than those of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Poli­cies. As Dra­hok­oupil, van Apel­doorn, and Horn stress, “Euro­pean gov­er­nance had above all become a supra­na­tion­al form of neolib­er­al gov­er­nance,” lead­ing to a trans­fer of the deci­sion-mak­ing process regard­ing the reg­u­la­to­ry func­tions from the mem­ber states to the EU insti­tu­tions.27

The sin­gle cur­ren­cy, the Euro, has been an impor­tant aspect of this mech­a­nism of reduced sov­er­eign­ty. Ini­tial­ly designed as a mech­a­nism that would enhance the com­mon mar­ket and cre­ate a uni­fied eco­nom­ic space that would enable the free flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tals and thus counter region­al imbal­ances, it had from the begin­ning to face the prob­lem of large diver­gences in com­pet­i­tive­ness and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. More­over it was endowed from the begin­ning with a very Ger­man con­cep­tion of mon­e­tary dis­ci­pline as a means to avoid infla­tion with its trau­mat­ic mem­o­ry from the past.28 The idea was that mem­ber states, includ­ing those of the periph­ery, would cede sov­er­eign­ty, aban­don­ing the pro­tec­tive mech­a­nisms to which they were accus­tomed, in order to take advan­tage of the com­pet­i­tive pres­sure induced by the expo­sure to for­eign com­pe­ti­tion with­out pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms. This would pro­mote cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing and reduc­tions in labor costs, thus lead­ing, grad­u­al­ly, to a more bal­anced mon­e­tary area, buoyed by access to cheap­er cred­it. As Sotiropou­los, Mil­ios, and Lap­at­sio­ras argue:

Pres­sures from the func­tion­ing of the EMU [Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union] are focused on the core of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion and cre­ate the pre­con­di­tions for the con­tin­u­al restruc­tur­ing of labor. The EMU puts into effect an extreme vari­ant of the strat­e­gy of expo­sure to inter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion, which can con­tin­ue to exist only through the con­tin­u­al “adjust­ment” of labor. It fol­lows from this that the EMU strat­e­gy is a spe­cif­ic mode of orga­ni­za­tion for cap­i­tal­ist pow­er.29

This dis­ci­pli­nary aspect of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion can account for anoth­er para­dox of this process: the adher­ence of periph­er­al coun­tries, with seri­ous pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and com­pet­i­tive­ness gaps with respect to the core Euro­pean coun­tries, to this aggres­sive regime of accu­mu­la­tion and this expo­sure to huge and per­va­sive com­pet­i­tive pres­sures. The cru­cial aspect is the attempt to make use of this pres­sure as a means to elim­i­nate what­ev­er com­pro­mis­es had been made in the past with seg­ments of the sub­al­tern class­es and at the same time to uti­lize the legit­i­ma­cy offered by the “Euro­pean Idea.” So this dis­ci­pli­nary aspect, even if it is pre­sent­ed as a way to mod­ern­ize the entire fab­ric of soci­ety, in fact was point­ed against the sub­al­tern class­es to attempt to force them to accept an aggres­sive neolib­er­al regime of accu­mu­la­tion.

The log­ic of the sin­gle cur­ren­cy – with an inde­pen­dent supra­na­tion­al Cen­tral Bank instead of sim­ple cur­ren­cy coor­di­na­tion, as had been the case in the first stages of the EMU – was that a uni­fied eco­nom­ic area want­ed mon­e­tary sta­bil­i­ty in order to facil­i­tate the move­ments of cap­i­tals and goods, which also increased veloc­i­ty with the broad­er process of finan­cial­iza­tion in the 1980s and 1990s. In this sense, the EMU is a “key moment of the finan­cial­i­sa­tion of Europe.”30 The idea was that an inde­pen­dent Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank would offer a safe­guard against cur­ren­cy attacks and cost­ly defences, exem­pli­fied in Britain’s forced exit from the EMU after 1992 and the South-East Asia cri­sis of 1997–98 that showed the dan­ger of arti­fi­cial­ly peg­ging cur­ren­cies to the dol­lar in order to boost invest­ment.31 For this to work and to avoid infla­tion­ary ten­den­cies, strict restric­tions were put in place regard­ing deficits, pub­lic debt, and infla­tion. How­ev­er see­ing the evo­lu­tion of the Euro as sim­ply an evo­lu­tion of tech­no­crat­ic approach­es or even of an obses­sion with infla­tion, under­es­ti­mates the way it has func­tioned as a mech­a­nism of ero­sion of democ­ra­cy in Europe. As Wolf­gang Streeck has argued:

Mon­e­tary union, ini­tial­ly con­ceived as a tech­no­crat­ic exer­cise – there­fore exclud­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty and democ­ra­cy that polit­i­cal union would entail – is now rapid­ly trans­form­ing the EU into a fed­er­al enti­ty, in which the sov­er­eign­ty and there­by democ­ra­cy of the nation-states, above all in the Mediter­ranean, exists only on paper. Inte­gra­tion now “spills over” from mon­e­tary to fis­cal pol­i­cy. The Sachzwänge of the inter­na­tion­al mar­kets – actu­al­ly the his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed empow­er­ment of the prof­it and secu­ri­ty needs of finan­cial-asset own­ers – is forg­ing an inte­gra­tion that has nev­er been willed by polit­i­cal-demo­c­ra­t­ic means and is today prob­a­bly want­ed less than ever.32

The for­ma­tion of an inde­pen­dent cen­tral bank immune to any inter­fer­ence from the part of social demands or even the elec­toral process was also part of a broad­er ten­den­cy to safe­guard strate­gic cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests against the demands and aspi­ra­tions of the sub­al­tern class­es. As Demo­pha­nis Papadatos has stressed:

The infla­tion­ary crises of the 1970s and 1980s rep­re­sent­ed fail­ure to defend the val­ue of cred­it-mon­ey. That fail­ure had social and polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions, at the very least because rapid infla­tion meant loss­es for cred­i­tors and because wage-bar­gain­ing was dis­rupt­ed as work­ers attempt­ed to obtain com­pen­sat­ing increas­es in mon­ey-wages. The adop­tion of infla­tion tar­get­ing and cen­tral-bank inde­pen­dence was a sign of the abil­i­ty of the cap­i­tal­ist class to learn from this expe­ri­ence.33

In a cer­tain way, the idea was that with strong anti-infla­tion­ary bench­marks in place, which meant a reduc­tion in pub­lic spend­ing, along with the lift­ing of any pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism against cheap­er imports, an “iron cage” of cap­i­tal­ist mod­ern­iza­tion was formed. For the economies of the less pro­duc­tive coun­tries to sur­vive and grow in this high­ly com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment there was no oth­er way than reduc­ing labor costs and increas­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty by means of cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing, aid­ed by access to rel­a­tive­ly cheap­er cred­it.

The prob­lem was that for periph­er­al coun­tries this could also lead to a con­stant loss of com­pet­i­tive­ness that could not be coun­tered by ris­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. This is where the idea of an inter­nal deval­u­a­tion, name­ly a reduc­tion not only of real wages but also of nom­i­nal wages, was intro­duced by Olivi­er Blan­chard, the IMF’s chief econ­o­mist from 2008 to 2015, in order to help com­pet­i­tive­ness in sin­gle cur­ren­cy eco­nom­ic areas such as the Euro­zone:

Giv­en Portugal’s mem­ber­ship in the euro, deval­u­a­tion is not an option how­ev­er (and I believe get­ting uni­lat­er­al­ly out of the euro would have dis­rup­tion costs which would far exceed any gain in com­pet­i­tive­ness which might be obtained in this way). The same result can be achieved how­ev­er, at least on paper, through a decrease in the nom­i­nal wage and the price of non-trad­ables, while the price of trad­ables remains the same. This clear­ly achieves the same decrease in the real con­sump­tion wage, and the same increase in the rel­a­tive price of trad­ables.34

It is inter­est­ing that this idea was intro­duced with the slug­ging eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of Por­tu­gal in mind after the intro­duc­tion of the Euro. How­ev­er, it was only in Greece that it was real­ly imple­ment­ed, as a means to answer to the Greek cri­sis.

This pres­sure towards increas­ing­ly aggres­sive neolib­er­al forms of gov­er­nance both for core EU coun­tries and coun­tries of the EU periph­ery should not be seen as a “mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial” process, or just as a process of strength­en­ing the posi­tion of Euro­pean bour­geoisies in gen­er­al with­in the broad­er antag­o­nis­tic con­text of the impe­ri­al­ist chain. It is also part of an impe­ri­al­ist strat­e­gy and prac­tice with­in the EU. The dynam­ics of accu­mu­la­tion with­in the Euro­zone are uneven and hier­ar­chi­cal, and the Euro has led to increas­ing diver­gences, man­i­fest in the ero­sion of com­pet­i­tive­ness in coun­tries of the EU periph­ery (and the con­comi­tant ben­e­fits for coun­tries of the EU core such as Ger­many) but also upon increased indebt­ed­ness of coun­tries of the EU periph­ery.35

Authoritarian Europe

Cédric Durand and Razmig Keucheyan have offered a very com­pelling descrip­tion of the inher­ent­ly author­i­tar­i­an and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion by means of their analy­sis of the “bureau­crat­ic Cae­sarism” of the EU. This is a “Cae­sarism [that is] not mil­i­tary but finan­cial and bureau­crat­ic. A polit­i­cal enti­ty with a frag­ment­ed sov­er­eign­ty, Europe can only see its uni­ty guar­an­teed by the bureau­cra­cy of Brus­sels and the struc­tur­al immix­ture of inter­na­tion­al finance in its func­tion­ing.”36 In a cre­ative use of Gram­s­cian notions, they con­sid­er the role of finance as that of “pseu­do-his­tor­i­cal bloc” com­pen­sat­ing for the absence of any actu­al polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion.37  It is this par­tic­u­lar­ly Euro­pean bureau­crat­ic Cae­sarism that can account for the increas­ing­ly dis­ci­pli­nary char­ac­ter of the inter­ven­tions of Euro­pean insti­tu­tions and this process of de-democ­ra­ti­za­tion. They write:

Since 2011, the “Euro­plus” pact, the reform of the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact and the “Euro­pean Semes­ter” have increased con­straints on bud­gets and eco­nom­ic poli­cies: sanc­tions regard­ing recal­ci­trant coun­tries are from now auto­mat­ic, bud­get drafts are exam­ined at the Euro­pean lev­el even before their dis­cus­sion by nation­al par­lia­ments and the reform of pen­sion sys­tems and the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of labor mar­kets become Euro­pean objec­tives.38

This can help us under­stand that, con­trary to appear­ances, the mech­a­nism imposed upon Greece by the Troi­ka was not excep­tion­al. In fact, what was used is exact­ly the con­di­tion of lim­it­ed sov­er­eign­ty that is inscribed at the heart of the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process. The Greek exper­i­ment is the first full expres­sion of the inner log­ic of the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion project, but it is not the excep­tion; rather it is the new nor­mal.

Of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance, is the way Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion rep­re­sents a form of neolib­er­al con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism with­out democ­ra­cy. By this we mean that, although there is indeed a set of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ized insti­tu­tions and pol­i­cy direc­tions with an aggres­sive­ly neolib­er­al ori­en­ta­tion – a cer­tain Euro­pean neolib­er­al rule of law – this is not com­bined with any ref­er­ence to either a Euro­pean peo­ple, Euro­pean civ­il soci­ety or even a Euro­pean poli­ty. Ultra-neolib­er­al supra­na­tion­al guar­anties, in oth­er words, do not resort to any form of demo­c­ra­t­ic deci­sion-mak­ing or demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy. To this we must also add the prin­ci­ple of com­ple­men­tar­i­ty regard­ing the rela­tion between Euro­pean and nation­al leg­is­la­tion. Although Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion does not touch that which is con­sid­ered to be the cul­tur­al core of nation­hood, such as the con­tent of edu­ca­tion, all the sig­nif­i­cant aspects of the socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tion were del­e­gat­ed to the pri­ma­cy of Euro­pean reg­u­la­tion. This offered the pos­si­bil­i­ty for Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es and their polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to avoid process­es of nego­ti­a­tion and con­fronta­tion with the sub­al­tern class­es in the name of the neces­si­ty to con­form to the EU guide­lines regard­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion, pen­sion reform, and even aspects of labor reform.

The dis­ci­pli­nary aspects of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­grams in Greece have their corol­lary in the dis­ci­pli­nary con­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of neolib­er­al­ism in the entire EU insti­tu­tion­al fab­ric, as well as in the con­stant under­min­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­ce­dures and pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty because of the inher­ent­ly unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of the ver­sion of “rule of law” per­formed at the EU lev­el and in the process of inte­gra­tion.39 As Wolf­gang Streeck has shown, this broad­er process of the ero­sion of democ­ra­cy by neolib­er­al­ism and debt mech­a­nisms is also con­nect­ed to the sub­sti­tu­tion of the fig­ure of the cit­i­zen by the fig­ure of the cred­i­tor.40

The author­i­tar­i­an and dis­ci­pli­nary aspects of the ero­sion of sov­er­eign­ty by Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion are also the full expres­sion of what Poulantzas defined as author­i­tar­i­an sta­tism.41 The basic aspects that accord­ing to Poulantzas char­ac­ter­ized author­i­tar­i­an sta­tism, such as the decline of par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy, the increased deci­sion role of the Exec­u­tive and of the State bureau­cra­cy, and the insu­la­tion of deci­sion-mak­ing process­es from demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol, appear in exac­er­bat­ed form at the lev­el of the EU. From “anti-ter­ror” mea­sures to the anti-immi­grant and anti-refugee poli­cies of “Fortress-Europe,” the author­i­tar­i­an and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of the EU is clear.

The Current Crisis of European Integration and the Need for a Strategy of Rupture

The signs of a deep cri­sis of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion have mul­ti­plied. The British ref­er­en­dum of 2016 and the deci­sion to ini­ti­ate a process of exit from the Euro­pean Union is such an exam­ple. When the fifth-largest econ­o­my in the world decides by means of a ref­er­en­dum to leave the sup­pos­ed­ly most advanced form of eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion, it is obvi­ous that there are prob­lems with the process of inte­gra­tion. There is a grow­ing cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy in the entire process, exem­pli­fied in the reac­tion of vot­ers when­ev­er they have a say in such process­es. Con­trary to the tirades about “pop­ulism” and “nation­al­ism” addressed to any­one who is crit­i­cal of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, we insist that what emerges is not some form of “pro­to-fas­cism” but rather the anx­i­ety caused by people’s sense of a lack of con­trol over their own lives, anger against a cyn­i­cal polit­i­cal class, dis­be­lief against the unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion­al and polit­i­cal frame­work of the EU, and the desire for democ­ra­cy as eman­ci­pa­tion, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and jus­tice.

The Greek case made evi­dent that it is impos­si­ble to nego­ti­ate a dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy inside the frame­work of the EU, oth­er than ful­ly adher­ing to its embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism. The abil­i­ty of the EU mech­a­nism to impose its will upon any­one who attempts to choose a dif­fer­ent course inside the EU was ful­ly expressed in the Greek case.

If this mech­a­nism of reduced sov­er­eign­ty is a basic aspect of both the neolib­er­al but also the author­i­tar­i­an and dis­ci­pli­nary char­ac­ter of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, then the ques­tion of reclaim­ing pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, both in the sense of a rup­ture from the finan­cial, mon­e­tary, and insti­tu­tion­al archi­tec­ture of the Eurosys­tem and of the deep­en­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es, becomes a cen­tral polit­i­cal imper­a­tive.

The deeply embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism and author­i­tar­i­an­ism of the EU as a class project means that we have to move beyond think­ing in terms of “anoth­er EU” and to over­come the “epis­te­mo­log­i­cal obsta­cle” of Euro­peanism in order to actu­al­ly think of alter­na­tives.42 In con­crete terms, this sug­gests a strat­e­gy of rup­tures with the EU, begin­ning with the nec­es­sary exit from the Euro­zone as the nec­es­sary start­ing point for any pol­i­cy that is actu­al­ly in favour of the sub­al­tern class­es.43 This should not be seen just as a “tech­ni­cal” ques­tion of mon­e­tary pol­i­cy, but as part of a broad­er process of recu­per­a­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol against the sys­temic vio­lence of inter­na­tion­al­ized cap­i­tal in gen­er­al and of the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the EU in par­tic­u­lar. It is in this sense a rup­ture with con­tem­po­rary impe­ri­al­ism.

We all know the prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with the notion of sov­er­eign­ty, in par­tic­u­lar its asso­ci­a­tion with nation­al­ism, racism, and colo­nial­ism. How­ev­er, here we are talk­ing a form of sov­er­eign­ty based upon a social alliance that is dif­fer­ent from that of bour­geois “sov­er­eign­ty.” The “peo­ple” of this reclaimed pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty would be an alliance based upon the com­mon con­di­tion of the sub­al­tern class­es, regard­less of ori­gin or eth­nic­i­ty, against the poli­cies of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es. It would be based upon their sol­i­dar­i­ty and com­mon strug­gle, the elab­o­ra­tion through strug­gle of an alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive for soci­ety. This nar­ra­tive could take the form of a rad­i­cal pro­gram of nation­al­iza­tions, demo­c­ra­t­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion, redis­tri­b­u­tion, and self-man­age­ment that could get us out of the vicious cir­cle of aus­ter­i­ty, debt, and author­i­tar­i­an­ism, and open up the road for a renewed social­ist per­spec­tive. We are talk­ing about a poten­tial new his­tor­i­cal bloc, in the sense of the artic­u­la­tion of a broad alliance of the sub­al­tern class­es, a rad­i­cal tran­si­tion pro­gram, the demo­c­ra­t­ic forms of orga­ni­za­tion of a new form of “Unit­ed Front” along with the col­lec­tive exper­i­men­ta­tion and inge­nu­ity of the peo­ple in strug­gle. Against the impe­ri­al­ist con­struc­tion of the EU it offers the pos­si­bil­i­ty of actu­al inter­na­tion­al­ism. A poten­tial strat­e­gy of rup­tures, with strong move­ments forc­ing coun­tries out of the Euro­zone or the EU, can set exam­ples that can in fact accel­er­ate process­es of dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Euro­pean Union.

As the mate­r­i­al con­den­sa­tion of class strate­gies, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is a process tra­versed by class antag­o­nisms, and par­tic­u­lar class rela­tions of force can explain both its his­to­ry and its par­tic­u­lar insti­tu­tion­al con­fig­u­ra­tion. How­ev­er, from this start­ing point we should not jump to the con­clu­sion that changed rela­tions of force between class­es will change Europe from with­in, exact­ly because its par­tic­u­lar eco­nom­ic, insti­tu­tion­al, and mon­e­tary archi­tec­ture rep­re­sent mate­r­i­al obsta­cles to the actu­al coor­di­na­tion of the strug­gles of the sub­al­tern class­es all over Europe, strug­gles that are nec­es­sar­i­ly uneven because of the dif­fer­ent tem­po­ral­i­ties of social antag­o­nism in dif­fer­ent social for­ma­tions. This what makes a strat­e­gy of rup­ture and exit the nec­es­sary con­di­tion for social change but also for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cre­at­ing new forms of coor­di­na­tion and coop­er­a­tion between move­ments.

In con­trast to the pre­vail­ing ide­o­log­i­cal myth, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is not “irre­versible.” In con­trast, it is a class strat­e­gy, con­tin­gent upon the par­tic­u­lar dynam­ics of the con­junc­ture and the rela­tion of forces. Today, faced with the fact that more and more peo­ple real­ize that the “Euro­pean dream” is being trans­formed into a “Euro­pean night­mare,” the elab­o­ra­tion of such a strat­e­gy of rup­tures is more than nec­es­sary.


  1. See inter alia: Ernest Man­del, Europe Ver­sus Amer­i­ca? Con­tra­dic­tions of Impe­ri­al­ism (Lon­don: Mer­lin Press, 1968); Nicos Poulantzas, Class­es in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: NLB, 1975); Wern­er Bone­feld, ed., The Pol­i­tics of Europe: Mon­e­tary Union and Class (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2001); Gugliel­mo Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe: A Class Analy­sis of Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Inte­gra­tion (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2001); Bas­t­ian van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism and the Strug­gle for Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, (Lon­don: Rout­ledge 2002); Bernard H. Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis: The Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion as a Neo-lib­er­al Con­struc­tion (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2005). 

  2. Bar­ry Eichen­green, The Euro­pean Econ­o­my since 1945: Coor­di­nat­ed Cap­i­tal­ism and Beyond (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007). 

  3. On the fig­ure of Jean Mon­net see Per­ry Ander­son, The New Old World (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2009). On US for­eign pol­i­cy regard­ing post-WWII Europe and the rela­tion between Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion and the Atlantic nexus of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal rela­tions, see Kees van der Pilj, The Mak­ing of an Atlantic Rul­ing Class (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1984). As Mil­ward notes: “The Amer­i­can pro­pos­als too had an essen­tial­ly polit­i­cal ratio­nale, the cre­ation of a strate­gic polit­i­cal bloc in west­ern Europe. […] But under­ly­ing this there was also an eco­nom­ic argu­ment. A larg­er mar­ket, it was argued, by increas­ing the lev­els of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ing would reduce the prices of Euro­pean man­u­fac­tured goods so that Europe would become less depen­dent on Amer­i­can aid.” Alan Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue of the Nation-State, 2nd ed. (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1999), 106. 

  4. On this see Spy­ros Sakel­laropou­los and Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, “Amer­i­can For­eign Pol­i­cy as Mod­ern Impe­ri­al­ism: From Armed Human­i­tar­i­an­ism to Pre­emp­tive War,” Sci­ence and Soci­ety 72, no. 2 (April 2008): 208–35. 

  5. Ander­son, The New Old World, 10. 

  6. On the impor­tance of West­ern Europe’s trade with West Ger­many see Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue. 

  7. On the dif­fer­ent approach­es see the col­lec­tive vol­ume Lim­its and Prob­lems of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion. The Con­fer­ence of May 30 – June 2, 1961 (The Hague: Mar­t­i­nus Nijhoff, 1963). See also Ander­son, The New Old World; Andrew Moravc­sik, “In Defense of the ‘Demo­c­ra­t­ic Deficit’: Reassess­ing Legit­i­ma­cy in the Euro­pean Union,” Jour­nal of Com­mon Mar­ket Stud­ies 40, no. 4 (2002): 603–24; Michael Burgess, Fed­er­al­ism and Euro­pean Union: The Build­ing of Europe 1950-2000, (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2000). 

  8. John McCormick, Under­stand­ing the Euro­pean Union: A Con­cise Intro­duc­tion (Lon­don: MacMil­lan, 1999); Bernard H. Moss, “The Neo-lib­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion: EC Law and His­to­ry,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis. 

  9. F.A. Hayek, Indi­vid­u­al­ism and Eco­nom­ic Order (Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1968), 269. 

  10. See Michel Fou­cault, The Birth of Biopol­i­tics: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France 1978-79, ed. Michel Senel­lart, trans. Gra­ham Burchell (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2008). On ordo-lib­er­al­ism see Christo­pher S. Allen, “‘Ordo-Lib­er­al­ism’ Trumps Key­ne­sian­ism: Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy in the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many and the EU,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis; Pierre Dar­d­ot and Chris­t­ian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neolib­er­al Soci­ety, trans. Gre­go­ry Elliot (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2013). On the con­tin­u­ous rel­e­vance of this tra­di­tion in Ger­man pol­i­cy choic­es with­in the EU frame­work, see Frédéric Lor­don, On acheve bien les Grec­ques. Chroniques de l’Euro (Paris: les liens qui liber­ent, 2015).  

  11. John Gilling­ham, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, 1950–2003: Super­state or New Mar­ket Econ­o­my? (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003), 7. 

  12. On the his­to­ry of CAP in the con­text of post-WWII agri­cul­ture in Europe see Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue. 

  13. On the posi­tions of espe­cial­ly the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty vis-a-vis Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion in the 1960s and 1970s. see Don­ald Sas­soon, “The Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party’s Euro­pean Strat­e­gy,” The Polit­i­cal Quar­ter­ly 47, no. 3 (July 1976): 253–75. 

  14. For a Marx­ist per­spec­tive on mon­e­tary union and the con­tra­dic­tions inher­ent in any attempt to imple­ment such poli­cies see Klaus Busch, Die Kriese der Europäis­chen Gemein­shaft (Köln-Frank­furt: Europäishen Ver­langsasalt, 1978), and Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe. 

  15. On ERT see Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism and the Strug­gle for Inte­gra­tion (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2002); Otto Hol­man and Kees van der Pijl, “Struc­ture and Process in Transna­tion­al Euro­pean Busi­ness,” in Alan W. Cafruny and Mag­nus Ryn­er, eds., A Ruined Fortress? Neolib­er­al Hege­mo­ny and Trans­for­ma­tion in Europe (Lan­ham: Row­man & Lit­tle­field, 2003). 

  16. “[T]he Sin­gle Euro­pean Act intro­duced, almost by stealth, the most dra­mat­ic devel­op­ment in the insti­tu­tion­al evo­lu­tion of the Com­mu­ni­ty achieved by a Treaty amend­ment: major­i­ty vot­ing in most domains of the Sin­gle Mar­ket.” J.H.H. Weil­er, “In defence of the sta­tus quo: Europe’s con­sti­tu­tion­al Son­der­weg,” in J.H.H. Weil­er and Mar­lene Wind, eds., Euro­pean Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism Beyond the State (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003), 10. 

  17. Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe, 138. 

  18. On the con­tra­dic­tions of fixed exchange-rate regimes see Paul Krug­man, Cur­ren­cies and Crises (Cam­bridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992) and The Return of Depres­sion Eco­nom­ics and the Cri­sis of 2008 (New York: WW Nor­ton, 2008). 

  19. Jen­nifer Blanke and Augus­to Lopez-Claros, The Lis­bon Review 2004: An Assess­ment of Poli­cies and Reforms in Europe (Gene­va: World Eco­nom­ic Forum), 1. 

  20. Tania Zga­jew­s­ki and Kalila Haj­jar, The Lis­bon Strat­e­gy: Which fail­ure? Whose fail­ure? And why (Brus­sels: Acad­e­mia Press, 2005). 

  21. Even the­o­rists that are open­ly sup­port­ive of clos­er inte­gra­tion have sug­gest­ed that what we are deal­ing with is more like a poten­tial con­fed­er­a­tion. See Gian­domeni­co Majone, Dilem­mas of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion: The Ambi­gu­i­ties and Pit­falls of Inte­gra­tion by Stealth (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press 2005). In con­trast Jan Zielon­ka has sug­gest­ed that Europe moves to a “neo-medieval” form of empire and not a “west­phalian” sys­tem of sov­er­eign states. See Jan Zielon­ka, Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged Euro­pean Union (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006). 

  22. “Hence from the pure­ly eco­nom­ic stand­point it is not impos­si­ble that cap­i­tal­ism may still Jive through anoth­er phase, the trans­la­tion of cartel­liza­tion into for­eign pol­i­cy: a phase of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism, which of course we must strug­gle against as ener­get­i­cal­ly as we do against impe­ri­al­ism, but whose per­ils lie in anoth­er direc­tion, not in that of the arms race and the threat to world peace. […] The World War did not come about because impe­ri­al­ism was a neces­si­ty for Aus­tria, but because by its own struc­ture it endan­gered itself with its own impe­ri­al­ism. Impe­ri­al­ism could only have pow­ered an inter­nal­ly homo­ge­neous State which attach­es to itself agrar­i­an zones far beneath it cul­tur­al­ly. […] From the pure­ly eco­nom­ic stand­point, how­ev­er, there is noth­ing fur­ther to pre­vent this vio­lent explo­sion final­ly replac­ing impe­ri­al­ism by a holy alliance of the impe­ri­al­ists.” Karl Kaut­sky, “Ultra-Impe­ri­al­ism” (1914). 

  23. Van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism; Alan W. Cafruny and Mag­nus Ryn­er, eds., A Ruined Fortress? Neolib­er­al Hege­mo­ny and Trans­for­ma­tion in Europe (Lan­ham: Row­man & Lit­tle­field Pub­lish­ers, 2003); Moss (ed.), Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis

  24. Bas­ti­aan Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions of ‘Embed­ded Neolib­er­al­ism’ and Europe’s Mul­ti-lev­el Legit­i­ma­cy Cri­sis: The Euro­pean Project and its Lim­its,” in Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Jan Dra­hok­oupil and Lau­ra Horn, eds., Con­tra­dic­tions and Lim­its of Euro­pean Lib­er­al Gov­er­nance. From Lis­bon to Lis­bon (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2009), 22. 

  25. Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions,” 29. 

  26. Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions,” 33. 

  27. Jan Dra­hok­oupil, Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn and Lau­ra Horn, “Intro­duc­tion: Towards a Crit­i­cal Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Euro­pean Gov­er­nance,” in Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Jan Dra­hok­oupil and Lau­ra Horn, eds., Con­tra­dic­tions and Lim­its of Euro­pean Lib­er­al Gov­er­nance. From Lis­bon to Lis­bon (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2009), 4; With­in Europe it is no longer the nation­al states that exclu­sive­ly pro­vide the reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work that allows the cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket econ­o­my to func­tion – rather, increas­ing­ly, a key role here is played by the EU and by the process of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion. See Dra­hok­oupil, van Apel­doorn and Horn, “Intro­duc­tion,” 12–13. 

  28. Bernard H. Moss, “From ERM to EMU: EC Mon­e­tarism and Its Dis­con­tents,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis, 145–69; Lor­don, On achève bien les Grecs. 

  29. Dim­itris P. Sotiropou­los, John Mil­ios, and Spy­ros Lap­at­sio­ras, A Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism and its Cri­sis: Demys­ti­fy­ing Finance (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge. 2013), 192. 

  30. Cédric Durand, “Intro­duc­tion: Qu’est-ce que l’Europe?” in Cédric Durand, ed., En finir avec l’Europe (Paris: La Fab­rique, 2013), 3. 

  31. Krug­man, The Return. 

  32. Wolf­gang Streeck, “Mar­kets and Peo­ples: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cap­i­tal­ism and Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion,” New Left Review II, no. 73 (January–February 2012): 67. 

  33. Demo­phanes Papadatos, “Cen­tral Bank­ing in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism: Infla­tion-Tar­get­ing and Finan­cial Crises,” in Costas Lapavit­sas, ed., Finan­cial­i­sa­tion in Cri­sis (Lei­den: Brill, 2012), 133. 

  34. Olivi­er Blan­chard,Adjust­ment with­in the Euro: The Dif­fi­cult Case of Por­tu­gal,” Por­tuguese Eco­nom­ic Jour­nal 6, no. 1 (April 2007): 15. 

  35. On the uneven and diver­gent dynam­ics of accu­mu­la­tion with­in the EU and their role in the erup­tion of cri­sis of the Euro­zone see Costas Lapavit­sas et al., Cri­sis in the Euro­zone (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2012). 

  36. Cédric Durand and Razmig Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” in Cédric Durand, ed., En finir avec l’Europe (Paris: La Fab­rique, 2013), 90–91. 

  37. Durand and Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” 101. 

  38. Durand and Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” 108. 

  39. Gian­domeni­co Majone has stressed the need to dis­tin­guish between con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism and democ­ra­cy when we dis­cuss the Euro­pean Union. See Majone, Dilem­mas of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion. 

  40. Wolf­gang Streeck, Buy­ing Time. The Delayed Cri­sis of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2014). 

  41. Nicos Poulantzas, State, Pow­er and Social­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1980). 

  42. Stathis Kou­ve­lakis, “Intro­duc­tion: The End of Euro­peanism,” in Costas Lapavit­sas et al., Cri­sis in the Euro­zone, xiv-xxi. 

  43. Hein­er Flass­beck and Costas Lapavit­sas, Against the Troi­ka. Cri­sis and Aus­ter­i­ty in the Euro­zone (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2015). 

Authors of the article

has taught social and political philosophy as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Crete, Panteion University, the University of the Aegean, and the University of Athens. His research interests include Marxist philosophy, the work of Louis Althusser, and social and political movements in Greece.

is Associate Professor in the Social Policy Department of the Panteion University, specializing in the subject State and Politilal Theory. His research interests are centred on the theory of the State, the study of the Modern Greek and Cypriot societies and the theory of development of the capitalist mode of production. He has written numerous books and articles on his research interests in Greek, English, Spanish and French.