We the people(s) of Europe: Polity‐making and
democracy in the EU
1|THE STATE OF THE EU POLITY
For scholars interested in the philosophical foundations of the European polity, these are interesting times. With
Brexit approaching, European disintegration is proving to be not simply a theoretical possibility but an actual reality.
At the same time, populists across the continent, and from both the radical left and the nationalist right, point to
Brussels as the main culprit of the negative consequences of globalization. Looking outside Europe, no quieter waters
are to be found either. To name just some of the most important events unfolding: The war in Syria keeps claiming
victims on a daily basis; Turkey, even though it formally remains a constitutional democracy, has been put on an
authoritarian route and it is difficult to say where it will end; and last but not least, besides the regime in Moscow, with
its smokescreens and aggressive external politics, Washington nowadays is home to a President who seems to be
devoted to a world of ‘alternative facts’or, in any case, one in which the EU (or, for that matter, NATO) plays little
to no role. In different ways, these developments put a strain on European solidarity and make some long for the sim-
ple times of the (mono‐ethnic) nation‐state. Hence, it is not surprising that questions concerning the nature and goal
of European integration are on the table once again. Indeed, the old question Quo vadis, Europa? has returned with
acuteness to both research agendas and news headlines.
Scholars havea role to play, perhaps not by directlyprescribing the most desirable futurefor the European project,
but in thinkingthrough the conceptualframework and its institutionalrepercussions necessaryto make sense of the pro-
ject in the first place.While a lot of important work has been done over thelast decades, the conceptual vocabulary to
grasp the philosophical and institutionalnature of the EU polity remainswork in progress. In the face of the majorcrises
that theEU currently faces, this lack ofconceptual capacity becomesparticularly glaring as it becomesclear that different
groupsin the EU rely on different understandingsof the EU polityand that there is little of a self‐evidentunderstandingto
unite them. For instance, what are the repercussions of conceptualizing the EU in statist concepts?
Are these frame-
works even desirable, andif not, how should they be adapted to new conditions? Even if philosophical innovations do
not always funnel throughin public debates,
answers to these questionscan inform public debates and policy makers.
In turn, such theoretically informed reflections on European integration can also be instructive for broader
debates in international political theory. Notably, however, EU‐informed theories seem to have only very little impact
in these normative debates. This disconnect is unfortunate; not least because the EU can be taken to be a laboratory
for normative challenges in an age of globalization.
Regional (economic) integration is certainly not unique to
Cf. E.O. Eriksen and J.E. Fossum, ‘Europe's Challenge: Reconstituting Europe or Reconfiguring Democracy?’in idem (eds) Rethinking
Democracy and the European Union (Routledge, 2012), 14–38.
J.P. Beetz, ‘Stuck on the Rubicon? The Resonance of the Idea of Demoi‐cracy in Media Debates on the EU's Legitimacy’(2015) 22
Journal of European Public Policy, 37.
D. Innerarity, ‘Transnational Self‐Determination. Resetting Self‐Government in the Age of Interdependence’(2015) 53 Journal of
Common Market Studies, 1061; M. Zürn ‘Survey Article: Four Models of a Global Order with Cosmopolitan Intent: An Empirical Assess-
ment’(2015) 24 Journal of Political Philosophy, 88.
432 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Eur Law J. 2017;23:432–440.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/eulj