After a decade of crises, Europe is witnessing the rise of insurgent Europeanism

28.04.2021

В рамках конференции «Будущее Европы» ученые провели исследование развития гражданского общества в ЕС. Главной задачей было выяснить, чем именно для него является Евросоюз, в чём его задачи и идеи. Многие прежние исследования заостряли своё внимание в первую очередь на вопросе, поддерживают ли различные части общества само существование ЕС, однако в этот раз данной теме не было уделено столько внимания. Главной задачей исследования было понять, как люди хотят преобразовать Евросоюз

The upcoming Conference for the Future of Europe offers a unique opportunity for EU citizens to express their views on the direction of travel for the Union, particularly through the intermediary of civil society. A recently published LSE IDEAS report, ‘The Rise of Insurgent Europeanism’, discusses new visions of Europe emerging in civil society and what they mean for democracy and the European Union. In the report, Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz, Luke Cooper and Niccolò Milanese argue that the Eurozone and migration crises, Brexit and the pandemic have fundamentally changed the fabric of civil society in Europe and its attitudes towards the European project. In this blog, they explore these changes, consider their implications for the future of Europe, and formulate policy proposals to be discussed at the conference.

The Visions of Europe study (based at LSE IDEAS) mapped, tracked and monitored developments in European civil society between 2018 and 2020, in order to decipher how the decade of crises had changed it. Until relatively recently, it was thought that the European Union and its future was simply not an issue for grass roots civil society activists, who were preoccupied with the national or local level, although some were Eurosceptic, while others took Europe uncritically for granted. We find that the overlapping shocks to the social and political system of Europe – the financial/Euro and migration crises, as well as Brexit and now the pandemic – have forced civil society to re-examine and critically reengage with Europe.

New visions of Europe

We can observe an emerging European public sphere peopled by new competing visions of Europe. Instead of debates focused on being either “for or against Europe”, the new discourse is focused on the kind of EU that should be constructed. It is a debate that takes place between three types of civil society actors actively engaging with EU politics.

The first type are the somewhat traditional civil society actors who shape and communicate Europe – they actively promote European integration, and often also European identity, as well as participating in discussions on the future of the European project. We call them Traditional Europeanists. The second type are actors who see Europe as a means to further their core agendas on specific issues such as migration, climate change, or inequality – they are Instrumental Europeanists.

The third type are political disruptors emerging from civil society who take for granted that all politics (in Europe) is European these days. These Insurgent Europeanists are a new breed of organisations and movements. Accordingly, the organisations and movements that were the subject of our study favour what we describe as normative, popular, and responsive visions of Europe.

Normative Europe

Civil society emphasise the importance of progressive values to the future of Europe. The normative vision of Europe contrasts progressive, democratic, and universal values with the narrow nationalist logics of competition and bargaining in the EU. This approach to the EU is process driven and non-instrumentalist, i.e. it emphasises the importance of democratic participation and engagement over and above any short-term economic gains.

Treating the EU merely as a resource, a playground for inter-governmental bargaining, and a scapegoat for failing national administrations has been the domain of many mainstream parties on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. Civil society offers an alternative vision of Europe as a custodian of norms and values and a protector of rights and freedoms.

Popular Europe

Civil society seeks more direct participation in European affairs for European citizens. This vision emphasises notions of decentralisation and participation, as well as subsidiarity – all seen as contributing to the democratisation of the EU. On the one hand, civil society demands a Europe where citizens, cities, and regions, are empowered and able to challenge the hegemony of nation-states in the workings of the European construction.

On the other, civil society emphasises subsidiarity, arguing that Europe should only step in when necessary and that Europe-wide solutions should be adjusted to local conditions and realties. Our respondents believe that the combination of the two can go a long way in addressing current democratic shortcomings of the EU and pave the way for a more democratic Europe.

Responsive Europe

Civil society wants the EU to take the lead in tackling global threats and crises. Europe has been exposed to a series of global threats in the twenty-first century: the financial, migration, and climate crises, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Civil society wants Europe to step up its response to such emergencies and to pursue adequate continent-wide solutions. This vision of a more responsive Europe emerges from the assimilated experience of past and current crises and threats, many of them global and transnational in character, as well as an anticipation of those that lie ahead.

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