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".

The process of identifying elites has been the subject of theoretical analyses developed in political sociology. Historians have also contributed to the study of the “decision-making groups” at work during the beginnings of European construction.

European elites from a number of states in North-western Europe mobilized around the creation of the first communities. The question of their enlargement led to a degree of divergence upon the accession of Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Later, the impact of the transformations that took place during the 1980s sparked new debates but did not call into question the fundamental role of elites in European construction.

Signing of the treaty that established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the Salon de l’Horloge (Quai d’Orsay), with Robert Schuman, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, holding the treaty. 1951.

The European economic project was the foundation of the first European communities which brought together six states in North-western Europe. The European Customs Union coincided with the period of the Trente Glorieuses and enjoyed continued success until the “energy crisis” of the early 1970s. After the end of the Cold War, the Maastricht Treaty proposed a new order for Europe with the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as well as the European Union, which counted 25 states in May 2004. The early years of the twenty-first century were marked by numerous turbulent episodes that made the success of the EU’s initial economic project more difficult.

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Strasbourg- European Court of Human Rights

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.

“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 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.

Piazza del Sole, Posta, Stazione (Bellinzona)

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.

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 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.

Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark! 1914

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.

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