Europe: Final Crisis? (Etienne Balibar)

State of the European Union

According to several commentators from different countries, different disciplines, and different political orientations, the “European political construction” is undergoing a dramatic crisis, which could result either in a collapse of the “project” launched half a century ago or in a more or less complete transformation of its functions and objectives. Admittedly, this is not the first “crisis” (in the broad sense of the term): there is even the idea that crisis is the “normal” regime under which the EU proves able, periodically, to reconfigure its geometry, its institutions, its internal hierarchies, and produce among the populations of the (old or new) member states a majoritarian consensus. But it can be argued also that, if such a pragmatic mechanism has actually taken place,  it benefited from a cultural moment, geopolitical conditions and a world-economy which are now totally transformed.

What is often referred to as a “re-nationalization” of political life (or non-life…) in most European countries – in the “moderate” form of an increasing tendency to use the communitarian institutions as a cadre to negotiate compromises among antagonistic interests, or the “extremist” form of “populist” discourses and parties steadily increasing their mass influence – could be considered one of the major symptoms of this epochal change. But it could also form the manifestation of the latent contradiction between the politics, the dominant economic orientation of the European project, and the social conditions of a popular support for its “idea”, as conveyed by the technocratic elites, now dramatically aggravated by the financial crisis. Finally, there are those who, from this contradiction, and given the very unlikely character of a “new foundation” on bases which resist the main tendencies of the globalization processes, view the retreat from Europe as a positive phenomenon, or a lesser evil.

All these positions – in a sense traditional, but reactivated in the conjuncture – are legitimate. None can be said a priori “reactionary” or “absurd”. But their confrontation typically lacks a comprehensive diagnosis of the current situation – what we call the “state of the union” – based on history, comparisons, alternative scenarios, propositions. It is to this diagnosis that the conference wants to contribute, by addressing some of the strategic dimensions of the crisis with a sufficient diversity of views within a broad cadre of “socialist” politics. We believe that this could be instructive and useful for the public debate both inside and outside the EU, given the hopes (or illusions) that its development had produced in the world.


Étienne Balibar (born 23 April 1942 in Avallon, Yonne, Bourgogne) is a French Marxist philosopher. After the death of his teacher Louis Althusser, Balibar quickly became the leading exponent of French Marxist philosophy.