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Political epistemology

Can Europe be considered a political object? A typology of the different projects for a political Europe, a reflection on the flow of ideas and models in a European "public sphere".

Editorial managers: Eric Anceau, Olivier Dard and Olivier Sibre.

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919. Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian), Premier Vittorio Orlando (Italy), French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Since its beginnings in 1948, the construction of Europe has been expressed through the central role of public policies, in the economic sector in particular, but also with respect to human rights. They have imposed themselves in the face of a nascent European public space and a poorly defined European society. Although public policies have had a central role, they nevertheless are not unequivocal. The eurozone crisis has demonstrated the great tensions associated with their implementation.

Strasbourg- European Court of Human Rights

The notion of European citizenship is vague. On the axiological level, it is based both on a group of values and on a constitutional treaty. On the legal level, the constitutional treaty confers the status of European citizen on the inhabitants of European nation states only insofar as they are already citizens of their respective states. This article will explore the resulting democratic and legitimacy deficits, as well as the conditions needed for the actual fulfillment of a trans- or supranational citizenship.

“Here we take pride in the title of citizen.” Example of a sign, dated 1799, which was displayed in public spaces during the French Revolution. Manufacture Berthelot. 

The existence and characteristics of a European public sphere, considered as indispensable in the process of European construction, have been the subject of a debate dating back to the 1950s. Formulated based on the Habermasian concept of Öffentlichkeit (public sphere), the European public sphere is considered in turns as having always existed, as being currently under formation, or as impossible to carry out. It has therefore proven to be a shifting concept beset by a permanent process of redefinition.

Piazza del Sole, Posta, Stazione (Bellinzona)

The idea of a tension between national and European ideas, today widespread in public opinion, is simply the result of long-term tensions which have left their mark on European history since the Middle Ages, from the rivalry between a papal Europe and a continental Europe in the medieval and early modern period to projects for a European balance of power in 1815 based on supranational empires opposed to national movements. The national idea itself was not always expressed in opposition to Europe, particularly in the nineteenth century; in fact, it has often directly or indirectly fed off this idea.

Rundgemälde von Europa im August MDCCCXLIX (1849). Panorama of Europe, august 1849. A caricature by Ferdinand Schröder on the defeat of the revolutions of 1848/49 in Europe (published in Düsseldorfer Monatshefte, August 1849.) Caricatures: Victoria (Queen of the United Kingdom), Frederick William IV (Emperor of Prussia), Christian VIII (King of Denmark) and Napoleon III (Emperor of France).

The figure of the “arbiter of Europe” represented an aporia as far back as the early modern era, since it combined the ideal of hegemony with the political ideal of wise and disinterested judgement. The appearance of a “European public reason,” for lack of a genuine public opinion, necessitated a growing development of the latter. Although we can discern a great variety of political practices of arbitration, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries showed a growing need for legal definitions, which the flaws of the nineteenth century’s Concert of Europe only served to reinforce. Hence, in modern times the figure of the arbiter positioned itself in relation to two poles: on the one hand was the arbiter embodied in a power, which enjoyed the advantages and prestige of this honorific and often self-proclaimed title; and on the other was an arbiter using influence to guide negotiations in respect of the new international law of arbitration. Attempts to reconcile the two poles clearly show the political difficulty of this notion of arbiter, which cannot be fully resolved solely within the domain of law.

Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark! 1914