Wolfgang Streeck

Imaging Europe: Beaucratic Narratives and Ideological Dreams

The Frisby Memorial Lectures, University of Glasgow, September 19, 2017

The European Union is not Europe. Europe is a two thousand year old civilizational landscape housing a multitude of different but related societies. The European Union is a political construct dating from the 1950s that has in its short lifetime undergone continuous deep transformation. Like earlier political constructs in Europe, it seeks legitimacy by encouraging stories about itself that connect it to Europe as a continent and its supposed historical purpose, cultural identity, and moral unity. European cultural and historical narratives deployed to legitimate the European Union as a political project are the latest in a long line of earlier stories of Europe, each linked to the political and economic objectives and power relations of the day. Like other ideologies, they are dropped and replaced depending on what political opportunities allow or require; they tell us more about Europe’s politics than about Europe. Identification with Europe as a civilization does not require identification with the European Union as a political construction. Depending on the changing condition of the latter it may in fact be incompatible with it.