The defence of the European Union made today is largely a kind of low-intensity continental nationalism, involving sanctimonious, outmoded and affected apologias for the European cultural legacy and for our ridiculous propensity – the very limit of black humour – to arrogate the role of the world’s moral gendarme. In fact, if Europe matters it is not because it is Europe but, on the contrary, because – despite all adherence to European political, social and cultural traditions – the continental union could constitute a step in the construction of forms of post-capitalist global cooperation.
This is certainly an idea that runs against the European institutional architecture. From its origin, the EU has understood itself as a successful realization of the principle of commercial pacification, an old theory that goes back to the Enlightenment and maintains that trade generates cordiality among peoples whereas politics and culture drive them to conflict. Under the shock of the religious wars that made Europe a killing ground, Montesquieu and other writers believed that shared economic interests could help to overcome quarrels based on identity.
For almost forty years, this theory appeared to work. The EU was a successful experiment and proof of the pacifying power of the market, able to anticipate and prepare the ground for the process of political convergence. In reality, however, this was basically a myth. The commercialization of Europe’s international relations was balanced by a strong consensus around the partial de-commercialization of labour-power at the national level. In other words, up until the late 1970s, European commercial unity developed at the same time as the European welfare state, and this synchrony was the key to its success. This was a process, moreover, that counted on very strong support from the United States, which correctly viewed Keynesian policies as a containing dyke against Soviet expansion. After the end of the Cold War, as the welfare state was increasingly challenged by neoliberal hegemony, the EU turned out to be an empty financial carcass, in which the decision to establish a single currency without common fiscal and social policies amounted to slow-motion suicide.