European Union as Class Project and Imperialist Strategy

European Union as Class Project and Imperialist Strategy

1. Introduction

Ques­tions regard­ing the char­ac­ter of the Euro­pean Union as a class project have not received the atten­tion they deserve in Marx­ist debates, despite impor­tant inter­ven­tions by some Marx­ists who have attempt­ed to the­o­rize “Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion.”1 In con­trast to the ten­den­cy to the­o­rize the Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process as the evo­lu­tion of a fed­er­a­tion or con­fed­er­a­tion, we want to focus upon the class strate­gies inscribed in this process. Such an approach will show that we are not deal­ing with a supra­na­tion­al state-form, but with an advanced form of the hier­ar­chi­cal (and nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry) coor­di­na­tion and inte­gra­tion of the class projects of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es and cap­i­tal­ist states, in which the reduc­tion of state sov­er­eign­ty enables a strat­e­gy of inten­si­fied cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. Such an approach has not only ana­lyt­i­cal con­se­quences but also polit­i­cal ones, because it points towards the con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance, for the sub­al­tern class­es, of a strat­e­gy of rup­ture with the process of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion.

In what fol­lows we attempt to ana­lyze the class char­ac­ter of the Euro­pean Union in its his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion and to show how it has been incor­po­rat­ed into the impe­ri­al­ist sys­tem. On the basis of this we attempt to assess the dynam­ics of inte­gra­tion and the cur­rent cri­sis of the “Euro­pean Project.”


2. The First Steps of European Integration

Offi­cial his­to­ries of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion tend to present a pic­ture of inte­gra­tion emerg­ing from the desire of Euro­pean peo­ples for peace­ful coop­er­a­tion. How­ev­er, inte­gra­tion has been a much more com­plex process. The estab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty (ECSC) in 1951 was not the prod­uct of spon­ta­neous ten­den­cies towards col­lab­o­ra­tion among Euro­pean states but part of a broad­er U.S. Cold-War strat­e­gy to con­tain Sovi­et influ­ence by means of enhanc­ing the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment of a cap­i­tal­ist West­ern Europe. Tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that Euro­pean economies were still fac­ing large prob­lems after the sec­ond World War, as well as the exis­tence of large Com­mu­nist Par­ties in coun­tries such as France and Italy, it seemed obvi­ous for the Unit­ed States not only to offer forms of eco­nom­ic assis­tance such as the Mar­shall Plan (Pro­gram for Euro­pean Recov­ery) but also to sup­port projects of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion. This was made obvi­ous in the require­ment in the Mar­shall Plan for recip­i­ent coun­tries to par­tic­i­pate in insti­tu­tions of col­lec­tive man­age­ment of eco­nom­ic assis­tance and to elab­o­rate pro­grams for Euro­pean recon­struc­tion.2

The con­tri­bu­tion of the Unit­ed States to this process was evi­dent in the role of Jean Mon­net in the first stages of the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty (EEC), but also in the many forms of sup­port toward the strength­en­ing and sta­bi­liza­tion of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist economies.3 It rep­re­sent­ed the attempt of the Unit­ed States to emerge as a hege­mon­ic pow­er, not only in the sense of supe­ri­or force, but also in the sense of guar­an­tee­ing glob­al cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests against the dan­ger rep­re­sent­ed by the USSR, strong Com­mu­nist Par­ties, and labor unions, even if this meant eco­nom­ic aid to its poten­tial com­peti­tors or the endorse­ment of projects such as Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion that would help the posi­tion of these com­peti­tors.4

This process along with the need to inte­grate West Ger­many led to the for­ma­tion of the ECSC, which was estab­lished in 1951 by France, Ger­many, Italy, Hol­land, Bel­gium, and Lux­em­bourg (“the Six”). Estab­lish­ment of the ECSC facil­i­tat­ed the res­o­lu­tion of a num­ber of ques­tions: the ten­den­cy towards eco­nom­ic col­lab­o­ra­tion between Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries; man­age­ment of the prob­lem of Ger­many; the focus on two basic para­me­ters of indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion, name­ly coal and steel; and the oper­a­tion of a free mar­ket.  

It also estab­lished a pat­tern of Ger­man-French coop­er­a­tion that would be instru­men­tal in the entire process of inte­gra­tion. Despite the suc­cess­ful found­ing of the ECSC, the begin­ning of NATO to secure the West­ern mil­i­tary alliance, and the Ger­man Fed­er­al Republic’s entry into NATO in 1954, the first steps of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion were not very suc­cess­ful. In 1954 the French Nation­al Assem­bly reject­ed the pro­pos­als for the Euro­pean Defence Com­mu­ni­ty and the Polit­i­cal Union. How­ev­er, the Suez deba­cle, and the fact that the Unit­ed States made evi­dent that it was the lead­ing force of the “West­ern World” in con­trast to old colo­nial impe­r­i­al pow­ers, led to the Treaty of Rome in 1957.5 Yet at that point, the sig­na­to­ries to the treaty, which estab­lished the EEC, did not extend beyond the Six. The “rival” project of the Euro­pean Free Trade Asso­ci­a­tion (EFTA), which reflect­ed a more clas­si­cal approach, was also active, although it lacked the ten­den­cy towards polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion that marked the EEC. The increas­ing impor­tance of the Ger­man econ­o­my, exem­pli­fied in the rapid increase in trade with oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, made Ger­many an impor­tant node, and grad­u­al­ly EFTA coun­tries decid­ed to join the EEC.6

The basic objec­tive of the Treaty of Rome in estab­lish­ing both the EEC and the Euro­pean Atom­ic Ener­gy Com­mu­ni­ty (EAEC)  was to cre­ate a com­mon frame­work among mem­bers of the Com­mu­ni­ty in law, admin­is­tra­tion, and tax­a­tion, and to restruc­ture the con­tent of pro­duc­tion via com­mon direc­tives and agreed-upon spe­cial­iza­tions. The found­ing of the EEC coin­cid­ed with the emer­gence of three dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cours­es that mark the ter­rain of main­stream the­o­ret­i­cal approach­es to Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion: fed­er­al­ism, func­tion­al­ism, and inter-gov­ern­men­tal coop­er­a­tion. Although all three are the­o­ret­i­cal­ly inad­e­quate to explain the dynam­ics of inte­gra­tion, they offer a mix­ture of its ide­ol­o­gy and an actu­al descrip­tion of dif­fer­ent dynam­ics. “Fed­er­al­ism” can be con­sid­ered a “metonymic” ref­er­ence to the increased polit­i­cal impor­tance of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion; the belief in “spill-over effects” (the cen­tral tenet of the func­tion­al­ist school) was the motor force behind cen­tral aspects, from the role of the Euro­pean Court to mon­e­tary union; and inter-gov­ern­men­tal coop­er­a­tion (albeit in a con­flict­ual and hier­ar­chi­cal man­ner) remained the cen­tral deci­sion-mak­ing process (as lib­er­al inter­gov­ern­men­tal­ism sug­gest­ed).7 Beyond mere descrip­tion, how­ev­er, the the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tion of how to best con­cep­tu­al­ize inte­gra­tion remains open and unan­swered.


3. Contradictions of the Initial Phases of Integration

Most his­to­ries of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion tend to present the first peri­od as main­ly marked by fail­ures, from the end­less nego­ti­a­tions for the estab­lish­ment of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al pol­i­cy to episodes such as the “emp­ty chairs cri­sis.” These were out­comes of old­er antag­o­nisms, exem­pli­fied in the French ambi­tion to remain the lead­ing force of “Euro­pean Union” that led the French to veto Britain’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the EEC. Nonethe­less, we can already see also the grad­ual ten­den­cy towards inte­gra­tion, espe­cial­ly in the work­ings of Com­mu­ni­ty-lev­el insti­tu­tions that grad­u­al­ly start­ed to cre­ate the “acquis com­mu­nau­taire,” begin­ning with the func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Court, espe­cial­ly since it start­ed rul­ing upon the suprema­cy of Com­mu­ni­ty law over nation­al leg­is­la­tion, but also with the Com­mis­sion, espe­cial­ly after the 1967 Merg­er treaty. There was from the begin­ning a cer­tain impe­tus towards what lat­er would be described as “neolib­er­al­ism.”8 Already in 1939, F.A. Hayek defend­ed the idea of a Fed­er­a­tion and the abro­ga­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty as a means to imple­ment his con­cep­tion of a mar­ket-based soci­ety. For Hayek, “the abro­ga­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ties and the cre­ation of an effec­tive inter­na­tion­al order of law is a nec­es­sary com­ple­ment and the log­i­cal con­sum­ma­tion of the lib­er­al pro­gram.”9 This par­tic­u­lar strain of lib­er­al, mar­ket-friend­ly poli­cies, expressed by Hayek’s Mont Pélerin Soci­ety, played a major role in the evo­lu­tion of the EEC/EU. An impor­tant role was also played by the Ger­man tra­di­tion of “ordolib­er­al­is­mus,” a set of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy doc­trines that pre­vailed in post-war West Ger­many and which remains today the the­o­ret­i­cal back­ground of Ger­man fis­cal pol­i­cy and that of the EU. It was exact­ly this tra­di­tion that Michel Fou­cault dis­cussed in The Birth of Biopol­i­tics as an exam­ple of the emerg­ing “neolib­er­al­ism” and part of the for­ma­tion of a par­tic­u­lar cap­i­tal­ist gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty.10. As John Gilling­ham stress­es, these ide­o­log­i­cal con­tents became insti­tu­tion­al­ized through the inte­gra­tion project:

The Mont Pèlerin Soci­ety, which he [Hayek] co-found­ed in 1947, has served as a cen­tral point of dif­fu­sion not only for his own views but also for those of relat­ed schools influ­enced by them, such as mon­e­tarism, pub­lic choice the­o­ry, and the new insti­tu­tion­al eco­nom­ics. […] The com­pe­ti­tion direc­torate (DG IV), the most influ­en­tial branch of the even­tu­al­ly labyrinthine Com­mis­sion bureau­cra­cy, became its locus.11

After the for­ma­tion of Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy, the next steps of inte­gra­tion and the pol­i­tics of “Com­mon Mar­ket” coin­cid­ed with the pat­tern of post-WWII eco­nom­ic growth, a fact that also led to the enlarge­ment of the EU with the acces­sion of Britain, Ire­land, and Den­mark. More­over, the Com­mon Agri­cul­ture Pol­i­cy, itself the result of a com­bined attempt to forge a social alliance with farm­ers (espe­cial­ly medi­um and large farm­ers) and to guar­an­tee a steady flow of agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts, was a suc­cess on its own terms.12

There were also polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions behind the grow­ing appeal of the EEC. For coun­tries of the Euro­pean South, mem­ber­ship in the EEC, espe­cial­ly after the fall of the dic­ta­tor­ships, was seen as a form of strength­en­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions but also as an exit from a more “periph­er­al” con­di­tion, with “Europe” func­tion­ing as a sym­bol­ic and ide­o­log­i­cal point of ref­er­ence. This is the process that led to the entrance of Greece, Spain, and Por­tu­gal. More­over, in the 1970s the process of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion start­ed to receive the sup­port of seg­ments of the Left, espe­cial­ly of the Euro-com­mu­nist Left, that pre­sent­ed Europe as a ter­rain of com­mon strug­gles and insist­ed on the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a “Unit­ed Europe” could be a demo­c­ra­t­ic counter-bal­ance to the antag­o­nism between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union.13

Around the end of the 1960s and 1970s the ques­tion of eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary union emerged. The turn­ing point usu­al­ly ref­er­enced is the 1969 Hague Sum­mit, which set new tar­gets for enlarg­ing and deep­en­ing inte­gra­tion. Although this process began before the col­lapse of the Bret­ton-Woods sys­tem and the full erup­tion of the struc­tur­al cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis of the 1970s, the deci­sion to speed up the process of inte­gra­tion was a reac­tion both to the increas­ing con­tra­dic­tions of the post-WWII “Fordist” regime of accu­mu­la­tion and to the ris­ing social and polit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism expressed in both stu­dent and work­place activism in the 1960s. Mon­e­tary union was viewed as a way to increase coor­di­na­tion between Euro­pean economies. How­ev­er, it had to deal with the fact that exchange rates and their move­ments reflect­ed dif­fer­ences in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and com­pet­i­tive­ness, not only trade flows. The “cor­rec­tion” offered by exchange rates not only act­ed as a pro­tec­tive bar­ri­er to less pro­duc­tive cap­i­tals but also as a motive for direct invest­ments abroad. Lift­ing this mech­a­nism required not only coor­di­na­tion in terms of infla­tion but also a har­mo­niza­tion of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­els in order to avoid desta­bi­liz­ing imbal­ances. The onset of the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis made things even more dif­fi­cult.14


4. From the Single European Act to the Euro: Integration as Neoliberal Strategy

Despite the vic­to­ries of social-demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties with rel­a­tive­ly rad­i­cal pro­grams in France and Greece in 1981, the vic­to­ries of Mar­garet Thatch­er in Britain (1979) and Hel­mut Kohl in West Ger­many (1982), along with the aban­don­ment by the French gov­ern­ment in 1983 of the more rad­i­cal aspects of its pro­gram, and the broad­er emer­gence of neolib­er­al poli­cies on a glob­al scale (the elec­tion of Ronald Rea­gan, etc.), led to impor­tant shifts in the direc­tion of the EEC.

The strat­e­gy of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket emerged as a means of increas­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist economies. The idea was that remov­ing all obsta­cles to the free flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tal would cre­ate economies of scale, enhance com­pe­ti­tion, and increase invest­ment. The Sin­gle Euro­pean Act (SEA) which was adopt­ed in 1986 marks a cru­cial turn­ing point. It was obvi­ous that the emerg­ing “Unit­ed Europe” would be one of neolib­er­al poli­cies, pri­va­ti­za­tion, and ero­sion of social rights.

The Sin­gle Euro­pean Act was not a sim­ple means to increase the scale of intra-Com­mu­ni­ty trade or cap­i­tal flows; lift­ing pro­tec­tive bar­ri­ers meant that less pro­duc­tive and less com­pet­i­tive sec­tors were exposed to increased antag­o­nis­tic pres­sures. These pres­sures had to do not only with the need for the intro­duc­tion of new tech­nolo­gies but also with the need to get rid of all social rights that might reduce com­pet­i­tive­ness (wage lev­els, col­lec­tive agree­ments, labor laws, social pro­tec­tions). The class char­ac­ter of this strat­e­gy is made evi­dent if we con­sid­er the cen­tral role of the Euro­pean Round­table of Indus­tri­al­ists (ERT), which act­ed as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the most aggres­sive seg­ments of cap­i­tal, and which was instru­men­tal in the for­ma­tion of the poli­cies of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket.15 More­over, by intro­duc­ing major­i­ty vote in ques­tions of the inter­nal mar­ket, the Sin­gle Euro­pean Act inten­si­fied the pres­sure towards mem­ber states and enhanced the expan­sion of a neolib­er­al acquis com­mu­nau­taire.16

The next cru­cial step was the Maas­tricht Treaty (1991), which set the stage and pace for Euro­pean mon­e­tary union and the intro­duc­tion of the Euro as a com­mon cur­ren­cy. The intro­duc­tion of fixed exchange rates and then a com­mon cur­ren­cy to an area marked by diver­gences in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and pro­duc­tive­ness would result in a great pres­sure to increase cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. In a con­di­tion of mon­e­tary union, as Gugliel­mo Carche­di has stressed, “tech­no­log­i­cal lag­gards had to renounce infla­tion and deval­u­a­tion [and] their cap­i­tals had to com­pete through longer work­ing days (or weeks) and high­er inten­si­ty of labour, that is, by impos­ing high­er rates of absolute sur­plus val­ue at the point of pro­duc­tion.”17 Instead of a strat­e­gy of deal­ing with these diver­gences, which would have meant increased redis­tri­b­u­tion from the Euro­pean cen­ter to the periph­ery, along with trans­fers of tech­nol­o­gy and know-how, the Maas­tricht Treaty (and sub­se­quent treaties) main­ly includ­ed fis­cal and infla­tion bench­marks (ceil­ings for deficits, debt, and infla­tion) which could only lead to aus­ter­i­ty, dis­man­tling of wel­fare state pro­vi­sions, and the intro­duc­tion of neolib­er­al forms of gov­er­nance across Europe. Restric­tive wage poli­cies, cuts in pub­lic spend­ing, and wave after wave of pen­sion reform in order to reduce the deficits of retire­ment sys­tems (rais­es in min­i­mum retire­ment age, reduc­tions in pen­sion amounts, forced intro­duc­tion of pri­va­tized pen­sion funds, etc.) grad­u­al­ly became the norm in Europe. At the same time, the poli­cies of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Mar­ket in the 1990s allowed for greater pri­va­ti­za­tion by means of the forced open­ing of mar­kets in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, ener­gy, and pub­lic pro­cure­ment.

Despite the ini­tial set­backs of eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary union, which coin­cid­ed with a broad­er pat­tern of intense con­tra­dic­tions of fixed exchange-rate regimes glob­al­ly and were exem­pli­fied in the deci­sion of Britain to leave the Exchange Rate Mech­a­nism, the Euro came into effect.18 This had less to do with actu­al “struc­tur­al” eco­nom­ic con­ver­gence and more to do with con­ver­gences in rates of infla­tion along with rel­a­tive­ly favor­able accu­mu­la­tion dynam­ics.

For the coun­tries of the Euro­pean core, and in par­tic­u­lar Ger­many, which had already devel­oped eco­nom­ic rela­tions with these coun­tries, EU enlarge­ment and the inclu­sion of for­mer social­ist coun­tries rep­re­sent­ed an impe­ri­al­ist strat­e­gy in the sense of open­ing up new mar­kets and exploit­ing new invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties – espe­cial­ly since these coun­tries offered an expe­ri­enced and high­ly qual­i­fied work­force, low labor costs, and his­to­ries of indus­try and infra­struc­ture, along with insti­tu­tion­al anti-com­mu­nism and neolib­er­al, pro-busi­ness leg­is­la­tion. The emer­gent East­ern Euro­pean elites, for their part, judged that entry into the EU could shield their coun­tries from the dan­gers that the post-Sovi­et break-up had entailed, while also pro­vid­ing greater oppor­tu­ni­ties for the more com­pet­i­tive sec­tors of their econ­o­my and attract­ing for­eign invest­ment.

How­ev­er, even the intro­duc­tion of the Euro did not lead to increased com­pet­i­tive­ness. The so-called “Lis­bon Strat­e­gy,” launched in 2000, aimed to make the EU “the world’s most com­pet­i­tive and dynam­ic knowl­edge econ­o­my, capa­ble of achiev­ing eco­nom­ic growth togeth­er with bet­ter employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and greater social cohe­sion.”19 By the mid-2000s, how­ev­er, its lack of suc­cess was obvi­ous.20 But this was not a uni­form ten­den­cy, and some coun­tries of the Euro­pean core, par­tic­u­lar­ly Ger­many, expe­ri­enced increased com­pet­i­tive­ness, espe­cial­ly inside the Euro­pean Union.


5. Is There a Movement Towards a United European Federal State?

Although very few peo­ple would sug­gest that today the EU is a fed­er­a­tion, since it lacks both a com­mon demos and the kind of polit­i­cal coher­ence that would point in that direc­tion, the ques­tion about the direc­tion of inte­gra­tion remains open.21

In our opin­ion, the EU is not a supra­na­tion­al state form. It remains a mul­ti-lev­el and nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry hier­ar­chi­cal form of coor­di­na­tion between total social cap­i­tals and their polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions as cap­i­tal­ist states, a form which artic­u­lates class strate­gies. This takes the form of numer­ous mutu­al­ly pen­e­trat­ing net­works of social (eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal) inter­con­nec­tions which include, at dif­fer­ent lev­els and stages, supra­na­tion­al mech­a­nisms, nation-states, region­al admin­is­tra­tions, multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, and inter­est groups whose reach is inter­na­tion­al. How­ev­er, at the basis of these com­plex process­es, we find on the one hand the pri­vate inter­ests of cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise,  and on the oth­er the efforts of nation-states to safe­guard the terms of repro­duc­tion of these cap­i­tals, in con­junc­tion with the par­tic­u­lar hier­ar­chi­cal posi­tion of each coun­try with­in the Euro­pean Union. In this sense, it is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a broad­er ten­den­cy towards the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions and pro­duc­tion forms, the main aspect of mod­ern impe­ri­al­ism.

How­ev­er, our posi­tion is that this process does not lead to the cre­ation of a super­state, or a new type of hybrid state or semi-state, but to the coor­di­na­tion of class strate­gies and projects. Faced with the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of inter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion but also with the pres­sures exert­ed by the dynam­ics of class strug­gle inside each social for­ma­tion, the Euro­pean bour­geoisies aimed at coor­di­nat­ing their spe­cif­ic class strate­gies. The EU is the polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tion­al form of this com­plex and uneven coor­di­na­tion, which is tra­versed both by antag­o­nism between cap­i­tals but also by class strug­gles. The increas­ing­ly com­plex forms of the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal, in con­junc­tion with the con­stant geo­graph­i­cal expan­sion of the EU, have gen­er­at­ed the need for the for­ma­tion of a pow­er­ful bureau­crat­ic orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of achiev­ing this strat­e­gy.

The expan­sion of the EU bureau­cra­cy is not a sim­ple nega­tion of the nation-state. The ced­ing of sov­er­eign­ty that the process of inte­gra­tion actu­al­ly accom­plish­es is the ero­sion of those aspects of sov­er­eign­ty that could be used for the ben­e­fit of the sub­al­tern class­es. Those core aspects of sov­er­eign­ty that refer to the strength­en­ing of cap­i­tal­ist pow­er, on the oth­er hand, remain in place. It is not an elim­i­na­tion of the nation-state but a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion that brings it clos­er to being the dic­ta­tor­ship of the bour­geoisie, insu­lat­ing it from any pres­sure ema­nat­ing from class strug­gles and the demands of sub­al­tern class­es.

More­over, coor­di­na­tion does not pre­clude antag­o­nism. And on a glob­al scale we are still wit­ness­ing many forms of antag­o­nism between cap­i­tal­ist states. Under­es­ti­mat­ing the ele­ment of antag­o­nism runs the risk of falling back into some­thing close to Karl Kautsky’s notion of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism.22 Indeed, the the­o­ret­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions of the notion of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism are sim­i­lar to the con­tra­dic­tions of “supra­na­tion­al” the­o­riza­tions of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, name­ly that they tend to over­es­ti­mate one aspect of this process, the strength­en­ing of EU insti­tu­tions and the expan­sion of EU bureau­cra­cy, and to under­es­ti­mate the con­tin­ued impor­tance and effec­tiv­i­ty of antag­o­nism and con­flict inside the Euro­pean Union. There­fore, we have to insist that the Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process is an impe­ri­al­ist project both in the sense of the rela­tion of the EU to the rest of the impe­ri­al­ist chain and the antag­o­nisms with­in it, but also inside the EU in the uneven rela­tions between the dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

Dis­cus­sions of the “supra­na­tion­al” char­ac­ter of the EU over­look the fact that the state does not have only eco­nom­ic func­tions, in the broad sense of the term. Its func­tions include for­eign pol­i­cy, nation­al defence and inter­nal secu­ri­ty, edu­ca­tion­al pol­i­cy, health sys­tems, care for the every­day life of the cit­i­zens, etc.  Many of these remain essen­tial­ly out­side the scope of supra-nation­al inte­gra­tion, despite the exis­tence of “Euro­pean strate­gies.” There are con­ver­gences (high­er edu­ca­tion being one exam­ple because of the Bologna Process), but large dif­fer­ences remain. This is more evi­dent in the absence of a com­mon EU for­eign and defence pol­i­cy, exem­pli­fied in the dif­fer­ent or even oppos­ing stances regard­ing the Iraq war or the recog­ni­tion of Koso­vo.

More­over, the fact that a coun­try such as Britain had the abil­i­ty to decide its exit from the EU is also, in our opin­ion, some­thing that jus­ti­fies our posi­tion that we are far from wit­ness­ing the emer­gence of a Euro­pean “supra-state,” how­ev­er deeply the process of inte­gra­tion has trans­formed its con­stituent mem­ber states.


6. European Integration as a Class Project

The above the­o­ret­i­cal clar­i­fi­ca­tion should not be read as an under­es­ti­ma­tion of the effects of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion. In con­trast, we tend to see it as a high­ly orig­i­nal process that offers impor­tant insights into the class char­ac­ter of con­tem­po­rary process­es of the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal.

Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is not just a set of com­mon agree­ments defin­ing the set of poli­cies inside the Euro­pean Union. Nor is it just a com­mon cur­ren­cy and the lift­ing of con­trols to the flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tals. Above all it is a class strat­e­gy that rep­re­sents the com­bined efforts of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es to answer the glob­al eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the par­tic­u­lar cri­sis of the Euro­pean “social mod­el” by means of an offen­sive neolib­er­al strat­e­gy of cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing. As Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn has stressed, the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the EU makes Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion not just an eco­nom­ic process but a hege­mon­ic project on the part of the forces of cap­i­tal in Europe.23 In such a view, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion

may be under­stood in terms of what I have called “embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism,” reflect­ing a hege­mon­ic project or what we could also call a com­pre­hen­sive con­cept of con­trol artic­u­lat­ed and prop­a­gat­ed by – and reflect­ing as well as medi­at­ing the inter­ests of – social and polit­i­cal forces bound up with transna­tion­al Euro­pean cap­i­tal.24

Although nom­i­nal­ly the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process was a com­bi­na­tion of lib­er­al, neo-mer­can­tilist, and social-demo­c­ra­t­ic aspi­ra­tions, index­ing dif­fer­ent post-WWII Euro­pean polit­i­cal tra­di­tions, in the end neolib­er­al­ism emerged as dom­i­nant.25 Effec­tive­ly, this has meant that

the neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing, set in by the relaunched Euro­pean inte­gra­tion project through the inter­nal mar­ket pro­gramme and mon­e­tary union, rein­forced by the mar­ke­ti­za­tion dri­ve cul­mi­nat­ing in the Lis­bon ‘com­pet­i­tive­ness’ agen­da, and fur­ther locked in by the East­ern enlarge­ment, has sub­or­di­nat­ed the objec­tive of social cohe­sion to that of a log­ic of com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion.26

The class pri­or­i­ties that have dri­ven the project thus become clear.


7..Monetary Union, Reduced Sovereignty and Neoliberalism

The cru­cial aspect in the entire Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion process is the unprece­dent­ed ced­ing of cru­cial aspects of sov­er­eign­ty to the insti­tu­tions of the Euro­pean Union. Mem­ber states of the Euro­zone have no con­trol over mon­e­tary pol­i­cy, must coor­di­nate their state-bor­row­ing prac­tices, must accept rig­or­ous bud­getary norms under threat of  “auto­mat­ic” penal­ties doled out by super­vi­so­ry EU insti­tu­tions, must ful­ly open their inter­nal mar­kets (includ­ing state pro­cure­ments), and must com­ply with Euro­pean reg­u­la­tions regard­ing the free move­ment of Euro­pean cit­i­zens, includ­ing accept­ing rules regard­ing the equiv­a­lences of degrees and qual­i­fi­ca­tions. More­over, pri­va­ti­za­tions of essen­tial infra­struc­ture were made oblig­a­tory already in the 1990s. There are no forms of sub­si­dies oth­er than those of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Poli­cies. As Dra­hok­oupil, van Apel­doorn, and Horn stress, “Euro­pean gov­er­nance had above all become a supra­na­tion­al form of neolib­er­al gov­er­nance,” lead­ing to a trans­fer of the deci­sion-mak­ing process regard­ing the reg­u­la­to­ry func­tions from the mem­ber states to the EU insti­tu­tions.27

The sin­gle cur­ren­cy, the Euro, has been an impor­tant aspect of this mech­a­nism of reduced sov­er­eign­ty. Ini­tial­ly designed as a mech­a­nism that would enhance the com­mon mar­ket and cre­ate a uni­fied eco­nom­ic space that would enable the free flow of com­modi­ties and cap­i­tals and thus counter region­al imbal­ances, it had from the begin­ning to face the prob­lem of large diver­gences in com­pet­i­tive­ness and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. More­over it was endowed from the begin­ning with a very Ger­man con­cep­tion of mon­e­tary dis­ci­pline as a means to avoid infla­tion with its trau­mat­ic mem­o­ry from the past.28 The idea was that mem­ber states, includ­ing those of the periph­ery, would cede sov­er­eign­ty, aban­don­ing the pro­tec­tive mech­a­nisms to which they were accus­tomed, in order to take advan­tage of the com­pet­i­tive pres­sure induced by the expo­sure to for­eign com­pe­ti­tion with­out pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms. This would pro­mote cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing and reduc­tions in labor costs, thus lead­ing, grad­u­al­ly, to a more bal­anced mon­e­tary area, buoyed by access to cheap­er cred­it. As Sotiropou­los, Mil­ios, and Lap­at­sio­ras argue:

Pres­sures from the func­tion­ing of the EMU [Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union] are focused on the core of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion and cre­ate the pre­con­di­tions for the con­tin­u­al restruc­tur­ing of labor. The EMU puts into effect an extreme vari­ant of the strat­e­gy of expo­sure to inter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion, which can con­tin­ue to exist only through the con­tin­u­al “adjust­ment” of labor. It fol­lows from this that the EMU strat­e­gy is a spe­cif­ic mode of orga­ni­za­tion for cap­i­tal­ist pow­er.29

This dis­ci­pli­nary aspect of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion can account for anoth­er para­dox of this process: the adher­ence of periph­er­al coun­tries, with seri­ous pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and com­pet­i­tive­ness gaps with respect to the core Euro­pean coun­tries, to this aggres­sive regime of accu­mu­la­tion and this expo­sure to huge and per­va­sive com­pet­i­tive pres­sures. The cru­cial aspect is the attempt to make use of this pres­sure as a means to elim­i­nate what­ev­er com­pro­mis­es had been made in the past with seg­ments of the sub­al­tern class­es and at the same time to uti­lize the legit­i­ma­cy offered by the “Euro­pean Idea.” So this dis­ci­pli­nary aspect, even if it is pre­sent­ed as a way to mod­ern­ize the entire fab­ric of soci­ety, in fact was point­ed against the sub­al­tern class­es to attempt to force them to accept an aggres­sive neolib­er­al regime of accu­mu­la­tion.

The log­ic of the sin­gle cur­ren­cy – with an inde­pen­dent supra­na­tion­al Cen­tral Bank instead of sim­ple cur­ren­cy coor­di­na­tion, as had been the case in the first stages of the EMU – was that a uni­fied eco­nom­ic area want­ed mon­e­tary sta­bil­i­ty in order to facil­i­tate the move­ments of cap­i­tals and goods, which also increased veloc­i­ty with the broad­er process of finan­cial­iza­tion in the 1980s and 1990s. In this sense, the EMU is a “key moment of the finan­cial­i­sa­tion of Europe.”30 The idea was that an inde­pen­dent Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank would offer a safe­guard against cur­ren­cy attacks and cost­ly defences, exem­pli­fied in Britain’s forced exit from the EMU after 1992 and the South-East Asia cri­sis of 1997–98 that showed the dan­ger of arti­fi­cial­ly peg­ging cur­ren­cies to the dol­lar in order to boost invest­ment.31 For this to work and to avoid infla­tion­ary ten­den­cies, strict restric­tions were put in place regard­ing deficits, pub­lic debt, and infla­tion. How­ev­er see­ing the evo­lu­tion of the Euro as sim­ply an evo­lu­tion of tech­no­crat­ic approach­es or even of an obses­sion with infla­tion, under­es­ti­mates the way it has func­tioned as a mech­a­nism of ero­sion of democ­ra­cy in Europe. As Wolf­gang Streeck has argued:

Mon­e­tary union, ini­tial­ly con­ceived as a tech­no­crat­ic exer­cise – there­fore exclud­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty and democ­ra­cy that polit­i­cal union would entail – is now rapid­ly trans­form­ing the EU into a fed­er­al enti­ty, in which the sov­er­eign­ty and there­by democ­ra­cy of the nation-states, above all in the Mediter­ranean, exists only on paper. Inte­gra­tion now “spills over” from mon­e­tary to fis­cal pol­i­cy. The Sachzwänge of the inter­na­tion­al mar­kets – actu­al­ly the his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed empow­er­ment of the prof­it and secu­ri­ty needs of finan­cial-asset own­ers – is forg­ing an inte­gra­tion that has nev­er been willed by polit­i­cal-demo­c­ra­t­ic means and is today prob­a­bly want­ed less than ever.32

The for­ma­tion of an inde­pen­dent cen­tral bank immune to any inter­fer­ence from the part of social demands or even the elec­toral process was also part of a broad­er ten­den­cy to safe­guard strate­gic cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests against the demands and aspi­ra­tions of the sub­al­tern class­es. As Demo­pha­nis Papadatos has stressed:

The infla­tion­ary crises of the 1970s and 1980s rep­re­sent­ed fail­ure to defend the val­ue of cred­it-mon­ey. That fail­ure had social and polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions, at the very least because rapid infla­tion meant loss­es for cred­i­tors and because wage-bar­gain­ing was dis­rupt­ed as work­ers attempt­ed to obtain com­pen­sat­ing increas­es in mon­ey-wages. The adop­tion of infla­tion tar­get­ing and cen­tral-bank inde­pen­dence was a sign of the abil­i­ty of the cap­i­tal­ist class to learn from this expe­ri­ence.33

In a cer­tain way, the idea was that with strong anti-infla­tion­ary bench­marks in place, which meant a reduc­tion in pub­lic spend­ing, along with the lift­ing of any pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism against cheap­er imports, an “iron cage” of cap­i­tal­ist mod­ern­iza­tion was formed. For the economies of the less pro­duc­tive coun­tries to sur­vive and grow in this high­ly com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment there was no oth­er way than reduc­ing labor costs and increas­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty by means of cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing, aid­ed by access to rel­a­tive­ly cheap­er cred­it.

The prob­lem was that for periph­er­al coun­tries this could also lead to a con­stant loss of com­pet­i­tive­ness that could not be coun­tered by ris­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. This is where the idea of an inter­nal deval­u­a­tion, name­ly a reduc­tion not only of real wages but also of nom­i­nal wages, was intro­duced by Olivi­er Blan­chard, the IMF’s chief econ­o­mist from 2008 to 2015, in order to help com­pet­i­tive­ness in sin­gle cur­ren­cy eco­nom­ic areas such as the Euro­zone:

Giv­en Portugal’s mem­ber­ship in the euro, deval­u­a­tion is not an option how­ev­er (and I believe get­ting uni­lat­er­al­ly out of the euro would have dis­rup­tion costs which would far exceed any gain in com­pet­i­tive­ness which might be obtained in this way). The same result can be achieved how­ev­er, at least on paper, through a decrease in the nom­i­nal wage and the price of non-trad­ables, while the price of trad­ables remains the same. This clear­ly achieves the same decrease in the real con­sump­tion wage, and the same increase in the rel­a­tive price of trad­ables.34

It is inter­est­ing that this idea was intro­duced with the slug­ging eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of Por­tu­gal in mind after the intro­duc­tion of the Euro. How­ev­er, it was only in Greece that it was real­ly imple­ment­ed, as a means to answer to the Greek cri­sis.

This pres­sure towards increas­ing­ly aggres­sive neolib­er­al forms of gov­er­nance both for core EU coun­tries and coun­tries of the EU periph­ery should not be seen as a “mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial” process, or just as a process of strength­en­ing the posi­tion of Euro­pean bour­geoisies in gen­er­al with­in the broad­er antag­o­nis­tic con­text of the impe­ri­al­ist chain. It is also part of an impe­ri­al­ist strat­e­gy and prac­tice with­in the EU. The dynam­ics of accu­mu­la­tion with­in the Euro­zone are uneven and hier­ar­chi­cal, and the Euro has led to increas­ing diver­gences, man­i­fest in the ero­sion of com­pet­i­tive­ness in coun­tries of the EU periph­ery (and the con­comi­tant ben­e­fits for coun­tries of the EU core such as Ger­many) but also upon increased indebt­ed­ness of coun­tries of the EU periph­ery.35


8. Authoritarian Europe

Cédric Durand and Razmig Keucheyan have offered a very com­pelling descrip­tion of the inher­ent­ly author­i­tar­i­an and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion by means of their analy­sis of the “bureau­crat­ic Cae­sarism” of the EU. This is a “Cae­sarism [that is] not mil­i­tary but finan­cial and bureau­crat­ic. A polit­i­cal enti­ty with a frag­ment­ed sov­er­eign­ty, Europe can only see its uni­ty guar­an­teed by the bureau­cra­cy of Brus­sels and the struc­tur­al immix­ture of inter­na­tion­al finance in its func­tion­ing.”36 In a cre­ative use of Gram­s­cian notions, they con­sid­er the role of finance as that of “pseu­do-his­tor­i­cal bloc” com­pen­sat­ing for the absence of any actu­al polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion.37  It is this par­tic­u­lar­ly Euro­pean bureau­crat­ic Cae­sarism that can account for the increas­ing­ly dis­ci­pli­nary char­ac­ter of the inter­ven­tions of Euro­pean insti­tu­tions and this process of de-democ­ra­ti­za­tion. They write:

Since 2011, the “Euro­plus” pact, the reform of the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact and the “Euro­pean Semes­ter” have increased con­straints on bud­gets and eco­nom­ic poli­cies: sanc­tions regard­ing recal­ci­trant coun­tries are from now auto­mat­ic, bud­get drafts are exam­ined at the Euro­pean lev­el even before their dis­cus­sion by nation­al par­lia­ments and the reform of pen­sion sys­tems and the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of labor mar­kets become Euro­pean objec­tives.38

This can help us under­stand that, con­trary to appear­ances, the mech­a­nism imposed upon Greece by the Troi­ka was not excep­tion­al. In fact, what was used is exact­ly the con­di­tion of lim­it­ed sov­er­eign­ty that is inscribed at the heart of the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process. The Greek exper­i­ment is the first full expres­sion of the inner log­ic of the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion project, but it is not the excep­tion; rather it is the new nor­mal.

Of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance, is the way Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion rep­re­sents a form of neolib­er­al con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism with­out democ­ra­cy. By this we mean that, although there is indeed a set of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ized insti­tu­tions and pol­i­cy direc­tions with an aggres­sive­ly neolib­er­al ori­en­ta­tion – a cer­tain Euro­pean neolib­er­al rule of law – this is not com­bined with any ref­er­ence to either a Euro­pean peo­ple, Euro­pean civ­il soci­ety or even a Euro­pean poli­ty. Ultra-neolib­er­al supra­na­tion­al guar­anties, in oth­er words, do not resort to any form of demo­c­ra­t­ic deci­sion-mak­ing or demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy. To this we must also add the prin­ci­ple of com­ple­men­tar­i­ty regard­ing the rela­tion between Euro­pean and nation­al leg­is­la­tion. Although Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion does not touch that which is con­sid­ered to be the cul­tur­al core of nation­hood, such as the con­tent of edu­ca­tion, all the sig­nif­i­cant aspects of the socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tion were del­e­gat­ed to the pri­ma­cy of Euro­pean reg­u­la­tion. This offered the pos­si­bil­i­ty for Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es and their polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to avoid process­es of nego­ti­a­tion and con­fronta­tion with the sub­al­tern class­es in the name of the neces­si­ty to con­form to the EU guide­lines regard­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion, pen­sion reform, and even aspects of labor reform.

The dis­ci­pli­nary aspects of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­grams in Greece have their corol­lary in the dis­ci­pli­nary con­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of neolib­er­al­ism in the entire EU insti­tu­tion­al fab­ric, as well as in the con­stant under­min­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­ce­dures and pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty because of the inher­ent­ly unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of the ver­sion of “rule of law” per­formed at the EU lev­el and in the process of inte­gra­tion.39 As Wolf­gang Streeck has shown, this broad­er process of the ero­sion of democ­ra­cy by neolib­er­al­ism and debt mech­a­nisms is also con­nect­ed to the sub­sti­tu­tion of the fig­ure of the cit­i­zen by the fig­ure of the cred­i­tor.40

The author­i­tar­i­an and dis­ci­pli­nary aspects of the ero­sion of sov­er­eign­ty by Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion are also the full expres­sion of what Poulantzas defined as author­i­tar­i­an sta­tism.41 The basic aspects that accord­ing to Poulantzas char­ac­ter­ized author­i­tar­i­an sta­tism, such as the decline of par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy, the increased deci­sion role of the Exec­u­tive and of the State bureau­cra­cy, and the insu­la­tion of deci­sion-mak­ing process­es from demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol, appear in exac­er­bat­ed form at the lev­el of the EU. From “anti-ter­ror” mea­sures to the anti-immi­grant and anti-refugee poli­cies of “Fortress-Europe,” the author­i­tar­i­an and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of the EU is clear.


9. The Current Crisis of European Integration and the Need for a Strategy of Rupture

The signs of a deep cri­sis of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion have mul­ti­plied. The British ref­er­en­dum of 2016 and the deci­sion to ini­ti­ate a process of exit from the Euro­pean Union is such an exam­ple. When the fifth-largest econ­o­my in the world decides by means of a ref­er­en­dum to leave the sup­pos­ed­ly most advanced form of eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion, it is obvi­ous that there are prob­lems with the process of inte­gra­tion. There is a grow­ing cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy in the entire process, exem­pli­fied in the reac­tion of vot­ers when­ev­er they have a say in such process­es. Con­trary to the tirades about “pop­ulism” and “nation­al­ism” addressed to any­one who is crit­i­cal of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, we insist that what emerges is not some form of “pro­to-fas­cism” but rather the anx­i­ety caused by people’s sense of a lack of con­trol over their own lives, anger against a cyn­i­cal polit­i­cal class, dis­be­lief against the unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion­al and polit­i­cal frame­work of the EU, and the desire for democ­ra­cy as eman­ci­pa­tion, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and jus­tice.

The Greek case made evi­dent that it is impos­si­ble to nego­ti­ate a dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy inside the frame­work of the EU, oth­er than ful­ly adher­ing to its embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism. The abil­i­ty of the EU mech­a­nism to impose its will upon any­one who attempts to choose a dif­fer­ent course inside the EU was ful­ly expressed in the Greek case.

If this mech­a­nism of reduced sov­er­eign­ty is a basic aspect of both the neolib­er­al but also the author­i­tar­i­an and dis­ci­pli­nary char­ac­ter of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, then the ques­tion of reclaim­ing pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, both in the sense of a rup­ture from the finan­cial, mon­e­tary, and insti­tu­tion­al archi­tec­ture of the Eurosys­tem and of the deep­en­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es, becomes a cen­tral polit­i­cal imper­a­tive.

The deeply embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism and author­i­tar­i­an­ism of the EU as a class project means that we have to move beyond think­ing in terms of “anoth­er EU” and to over­come the “epis­te­mo­log­i­cal obsta­cle” of Euro­peanism in order to actu­al­ly think of alter­na­tives.42 In con­crete terms, this sug­gests a strat­e­gy of rup­tures with the EU, begin­ning with the nec­es­sary exit from the Euro­zone as the nec­es­sary start­ing point for any pol­i­cy that is actu­al­ly in favour of the sub­al­tern class­es.43 This should not be seen just as a “tech­ni­cal” ques­tion of mon­e­tary pol­i­cy, but as part of a broad­er process of recu­per­a­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol against the sys­temic vio­lence of inter­na­tion­al­ized cap­i­tal in gen­er­al and of the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the EU in par­tic­u­lar. It is in this sense a rup­ture with con­tem­po­rary impe­ri­al­ism.

We all know the prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with the notion of sov­er­eign­ty, in par­tic­u­lar its asso­ci­a­tion with nation­al­ism, racism, and colo­nial­ism. How­ev­er, here we are talk­ing a form of sov­er­eign­ty based upon a social alliance that is dif­fer­ent from that of bour­geois “sov­er­eign­ty.” The “peo­ple” of this reclaimed pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty would be an alliance based upon the com­mon con­di­tion of the sub­al­tern class­es, regard­less of ori­gin or eth­nic­i­ty, against the poli­cies of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist class­es. It would be based upon their sol­i­dar­i­ty and com­mon strug­gle, the elab­o­ra­tion through strug­gle of an alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive for soci­ety. This nar­ra­tive could take the form of a rad­i­cal pro­gram of nation­al­iza­tions, demo­c­ra­t­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion, redis­tri­b­u­tion, and self-man­age­ment that could get us out of the vicious cir­cle of aus­ter­i­ty, debt, and author­i­tar­i­an­ism, and open up the road for a renewed social­ist per­spec­tive. We are talk­ing about a poten­tial new his­tor­i­cal bloc, in the sense of the artic­u­la­tion of a broad alliance of the sub­al­tern class­es, a rad­i­cal tran­si­tion pro­gram, the demo­c­ra­t­ic forms of orga­ni­za­tion of a new form of “Unit­ed Front” along with the col­lec­tive exper­i­men­ta­tion and inge­nu­ity of the peo­ple in strug­gle. Against the impe­ri­al­ist con­struc­tion of the EU it offers the pos­si­bil­i­ty of actu­al inter­na­tion­al­ism. A poten­tial strat­e­gy of rup­tures, with strong move­ments forc­ing coun­tries out of the Euro­zone or the EU, can set exam­ples that can in fact accel­er­ate process­es of dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Euro­pean Union.

As the mate­r­i­al con­den­sa­tion of class strate­gies, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is a process tra­versed by class antag­o­nisms, and par­tic­u­lar class rela­tions of force can explain both its his­to­ry and its par­tic­u­lar insti­tu­tion­al con­fig­u­ra­tion. How­ev­er, from this start­ing point we should not jump to the con­clu­sion that changed rela­tions of force between class­es will change Europe from with­in, exact­ly because its par­tic­u­lar eco­nom­ic, insti­tu­tion­al, and mon­e­tary archi­tec­ture rep­re­sent mate­r­i­al obsta­cles to the actu­al coor­di­na­tion of the strug­gles of the sub­al­tern class­es all over Europe, strug­gles that are nec­es­sar­i­ly uneven because of the dif­fer­ent tem­po­ral­i­ties of social antag­o­nism in dif­fer­ent social for­ma­tions. This what makes a strat­e­gy of rup­ture and exit the nec­es­sary con­di­tion for social change but also for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cre­at­ing new forms of coor­di­na­tion and coop­er­a­tion between move­ments.

In con­trast to the pre­vail­ing ide­o­log­i­cal myth, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion is not “irre­versible.” In con­trast, it is a class strat­e­gy, con­tin­gent upon the par­tic­u­lar dynam­ics of the con­junc­ture and the rela­tion of forces. Today, faced with the fact that more and more peo­ple real­ize that the “Euro­pean dream” is being trans­formed into a “Euro­pean night­mare,” the elab­o­ra­tion of such a strat­e­gy of rup­tures is more than nec­es­sary.


  1. See inter alia: Ernest Man­del, Europe Ver­sus Amer­i­ca? Con­tra­dic­tions of Impe­ri­al­ism (Lon­don: Mer­lin Press, 1968); Nicos Poulantzas, Class­es in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: NLB, 1975); Wern­er Bone­feld, ed., The Pol­i­tics of Europe: Mon­e­tary Union and Class (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2001); Gugliel­mo Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe: A Class Analy­sis of Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Inte­gra­tion (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2001); Bas­t­ian van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism and the Strug­gle for Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, (Lon­don: Rout­ledge 2002); Bernard H. Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis: The Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion as a Neo-lib­er­al Con­struc­tion (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2005). 

  2. Bar­ry Eichen­green, The Euro­pean Econ­o­my since 1945: Coor­di­nat­ed Cap­i­tal­ism and Beyond (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007). 

  3. On the fig­ure of Jean Mon­net see Per­ry Ander­son, The New Old World (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2009). On US for­eign pol­i­cy regard­ing post-WWII Europe and the rela­tion between Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion and the Atlantic nexus of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal rela­tions, see Kees van der Pilj, The Mak­ing of an Atlantic Rul­ing Class (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1984). As Mil­ward notes: “The Amer­i­can pro­pos­als too had an essen­tial­ly polit­i­cal ratio­nale, the cre­ation of a strate­gic polit­i­cal bloc in west­ern Europe. […] But under­ly­ing this there was also an eco­nom­ic argu­ment. A larg­er mar­ket, it was argued, by increas­ing the lev­els of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ing would reduce the prices of Euro­pean man­u­fac­tured goods so that Europe would become less depen­dent on Amer­i­can aid.” Alan Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue of the Nation-State, 2nd ed. (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1999), 106. 

  4. On this see Spy­ros Sakel­laropou­los and Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, “Amer­i­can For­eign Pol­i­cy as Mod­ern Impe­ri­al­ism: From Armed Human­i­tar­i­an­ism to Pre­emp­tive War,” Sci­ence and Soci­ety 72, no. 2 (April 2008): 208–35. 

  5. Ander­son, The New Old World, 10. 

  6. On the impor­tance of West­ern Europe’s trade with West Ger­many see Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue

  7. On the dif­fer­ent approach­es see the col­lec­tive vol­ume Lim­its and Prob­lems of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion. The Con­fer­ence of May 30 – June 2, 1961 (The Hague: Mar­t­i­nus Nijhoff, 1963). See also Ander­son, The New Old World; Andrew Moravc­sik, “In Defense of the ‘Demo­c­ra­t­ic Deficit’: Reassess­ing Legit­i­ma­cy in the Euro­pean Union,” Jour­nal of Com­mon Mar­ket Stud­ies 40, no. 4 (2002): 603–24; Michael Burgess, Fed­er­al­ism and Euro­pean Union: The Build­ing of Europe 1950-2000, (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2000). 

  8. John McCormick, Under­stand­ing the Euro­pean Union: A Con­cise Intro­duc­tion (Lon­don: MacMil­lan, 1999); Bernard H. Moss, “The Neo-lib­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion: EC Law and His­to­ry,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis

  9. F.A. Hayek, Indi­vid­u­al­ism and Eco­nom­ic Order (Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1968), 269. 

  10. See Michel Fou­cault, The Birth of Biopol­i­tics: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France 1978-79, ed. Michel Senel­lart, trans. Gra­ham Burchell (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2008). On ordo-lib­er­al­ism see Christo­pher S. Allen, “‘Ordo-Lib­er­al­ism’ Trumps Key­ne­sian­ism: Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy in the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many and the EU,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis; Pierre Dar­d­ot and Chris­t­ian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neolib­er­al Soci­ety, trans. Gre­go­ry Elliot (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2013). On the con­tin­u­ous rel­e­vance of this tra­di­tion in Ger­man pol­i­cy choic­es with­in the EU frame­work, see Frédéric Lor­don, On acheve bien les Grec­ques. Chroniques de l’Euro (Paris: les liens qui liber­ent, 2015).  

  11. John Gilling­ham, Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion, 1950–2003: Super­state or New Mar­ket Econ­o­my? (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003), 7. 

  12. On the his­to­ry of CAP in the con­text of post-WWII agri­cul­ture in Europe see Mil­ward, The Euro­pean Res­cue

  13. On the posi­tions of espe­cial­ly the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty vis-a-vis Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion in the 1960s and 1970s. see Don­ald Sas­soon, “The Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party’s Euro­pean Strat­e­gy,” The Polit­i­cal Quar­ter­ly 47, no. 3 (July 1976): 253–75. 

  14. For a Marx­ist per­spec­tive on mon­e­tary union and the con­tra­dic­tions inher­ent in any attempt to imple­ment such poli­cies see Klaus Busch, Die Kriese der Europäis­chen Gemein­shaft (Köln-Frank­furt: Europäishen Ver­langsasalt, 1978), and Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe. 

  15. On ERT see Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism and the Strug­gle for Inte­gra­tion (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2002); Otto Hol­man and Kees van der Pijl, “Struc­ture and Process in Transna­tion­al Euro­pean Busi­ness,” in Alan W. Cafruny and Mag­nus Ryn­er, eds., A Ruined Fortress? Neolib­er­al Hege­mo­ny and Trans­for­ma­tion in Europe (Lan­ham: Row­man & Lit­tle­field, 2003). 

  16. “[T]he Sin­gle Euro­pean Act intro­duced, almost by stealth, the most dra­mat­ic devel­op­ment in the insti­tu­tion­al evo­lu­tion of the Com­mu­ni­ty achieved by a Treaty amend­ment: major­i­ty vot­ing in most domains of the Sin­gle Mar­ket.” J.H.H. Weil­er, “In defence of the sta­tus quo: Europe’s con­sti­tu­tion­al Son­der­weg,” in J.H.H. Weil­er and Mar­lene Wind, eds., Euro­pean Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism Beyond the State (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003), 10. 

  17. Carche­di, For Anoth­er Europe, 138. 

  18. On the con­tra­dic­tions of fixed exchange-rate regimes see Paul Krug­man, Cur­ren­cies and Crises (Cam­bridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992) and The Return of Depres­sion Eco­nom­ics and the Cri­sis of 2008 (New York: WW Nor­ton, 2008). 

  19. Jen­nifer Blanke and Augus­to Lopez-Claros, The Lis­bon Review 2004: An Assess­ment of Poli­cies and Reforms in Europe (Gene­va: World Eco­nom­ic Forum), 1. 

  20. Tania Zga­jew­s­ki and Kalila Haj­jar, The Lis­bon Strat­e­gy: Which fail­ure? Whose fail­ure? And why (Brus­sels: Acad­e­mia Press, 2005). 

  21. Even the­o­rists that are open­ly sup­port­ive of clos­er inte­gra­tion have sug­gest­ed that what we are deal­ing with is more like a poten­tial con­fed­er­a­tion. See Gian­domeni­co Majone, Dilem­mas of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion: The Ambi­gu­i­ties and Pit­falls of Inte­gra­tion by Stealth (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press 2005). In con­trast Jan Zielon­ka has sug­gest­ed that Europe moves to a “neo-medieval” form of empire and not a “west­phalian” sys­tem of sov­er­eign states. See Jan Zielon­ka, Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged Euro­pean Union (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006). 

  22. “Hence from the pure­ly eco­nom­ic stand­point it is not impos­si­ble that cap­i­tal­ism may still Jive through anoth­er phase, the trans­la­tion of cartel­liza­tion into for­eign pol­i­cy: a phase of ultra-impe­ri­al­ism, which of course we must strug­gle against as ener­get­i­cal­ly as we do against impe­ri­al­ism, but whose per­ils lie in anoth­er direc­tion, not in that of the arms race and the threat to world peace. […] The World War did not come about because impe­ri­al­ism was a neces­si­ty for Aus­tria, but because by its own struc­ture it endan­gered itself with its own impe­ri­al­ism. Impe­ri­al­ism could only have pow­ered an inter­nal­ly homo­ge­neous State which attach­es to itself agrar­i­an zones far beneath it cul­tur­al­ly. […] From the pure­ly eco­nom­ic stand­point, how­ev­er, there is noth­ing fur­ther to pre­vent this vio­lent explo­sion final­ly replac­ing impe­ri­al­ism by a holy alliance of the impe­ri­al­ists.” Karl Kaut­sky, “Ultra-Impe­ri­al­ism” (1914). 

  23. Van Apel­doorn, Transna­tion­al Cap­i­tal­ism; Alan W. Cafruny and Mag­nus Ryn­er, eds., A Ruined Fortress? Neolib­er­al Hege­mo­ny and Trans­for­ma­tion in Europe (Lan­ham: Row­man & Lit­tle­field Pub­lish­ers, 2003); Moss (ed.), Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis

  24. Bas­ti­aan Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions of ‘Embed­ded Neolib­er­al­ism’ and Europe’s Mul­ti-lev­el Legit­i­ma­cy Cri­sis: The Euro­pean Project and its Lim­its,” in Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Jan Dra­hok­oupil and Lau­ra Horn, eds., Con­tra­dic­tions and Lim­its of Euro­pean Lib­er­al Gov­er­nance. From Lis­bon to Lis­bon (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2009), 22. 

  25. Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions,” 29. 

  26. Van Apel­doorn, “The Con­tra­dic­tions,” 33. 

  27. Jan Dra­hok­oupil, Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn and Lau­ra Horn, “Intro­duc­tion: Towards a Crit­i­cal Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Euro­pean Gov­er­nance,” in Bas­ti­aan van Apel­doorn, Jan Dra­hok­oupil and Lau­ra Horn, eds., Con­tra­dic­tions and Lim­its of Euro­pean Lib­er­al Gov­er­nance. From Lis­bon to Lis­bon (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2009), 4; With­in Europe it is no longer the nation­al states that exclu­sive­ly pro­vide the reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work that allows the cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket econ­o­my to func­tion – rather, increas­ing­ly, a key role here is played by the EU and by the process of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion. See Dra­hok­oupil, van Apel­doorn and Horn, “Intro­duc­tion,” 12–13. 

  28. Bernard H. Moss, “From ERM to EMU: EC Mon­e­tarism and Its Dis­con­tents,” in Moss, ed., Mon­e­tary Union in Cri­sis, 145–69; Lor­don, On achève bien les Grecs

  29. Dim­itris P. Sotiropou­los, John Mil­ios, and Spy­ros Lap­at­sio­ras, A Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism and its Cri­sis: Demys­ti­fy­ing Finance (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge. 2013), 192. 

  30. Cédric Durand, “Intro­duc­tion: Qu’est-ce que l’Europe?” in Cédric Durand, ed., En finir avec l’Europe (Paris: La Fab­rique, 2013), 3. 

  31. Krug­man, The Return

  32. Wolf­gang Streeck, “Mar­kets and Peo­ples: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cap­i­tal­ism and Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion,” New Left Review II, no. 73 (January–February 2012): 67. 

  33. Demo­phanes Papadatos, “Cen­tral Bank­ing in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism: Infla­tion-Tar­get­ing and Finan­cial Crises,” in Costas Lapavit­sas, ed., Finan­cial­i­sa­tion in Cri­sis (Lei­den: Brill, 2012), 133. 

  34. Olivi­er Blan­chard,Adjust­ment with­in the Euro: The Dif­fi­cult Case of Por­tu­gal,” Por­tuguese Eco­nom­ic Jour­nal 6, no. 1 (April 2007): 15. 

  35. On the uneven and diver­gent dynam­ics of accu­mu­la­tion with­in the EU and their role in the erup­tion of cri­sis of the Euro­zone see Costas Lapavit­sas et al., Cri­sis in the Euro­zone (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2012). 

  36. Cédric Durand and Razmig Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” in Cédric Durand, ed., En finir avec l’Europe (Paris: La Fab­rique, 2013), 90–91. 

  37. Durand and Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” 101. 

  38. Durand and Keucheyan, “Un césarisme bureau­cra­tique,” 108. 

  39. Gian­domeni­co Majone has stressed the need to dis­tin­guish between con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism and democ­ra­cy when we dis­cuss the Euro­pean Union. See Majone, Dilem­mas of Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion

  40. Wolf­gang Streeck, Buy­ing Time. The Delayed Cri­sis of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2014). 

  41. Nicos Poulantzas, State, Pow­er and Social­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1980). 

  42. Stathis Kou­ve­lakis, “Intro­duc­tion: The End of Euro­peanism,” in Costas Lapavit­sas et al., Cri­sis in the Euro­zone, xiv-xxi. 

  43. Hein­er Flass­beck and Costas Lapavit­sas, Against the Troi­ka. Cri­sis and Aus­ter­i­ty in the Euro­zone (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2015).