Sophie Heine’s “For a sovereign Europe” is a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of Europe and comes at a critical time.
As the world moves on from the Brexit debacle, the focus of EU leaders appears to have returned to shoring up the status quo rather than laying firmer foundations.
The two day special EU council from 21 - 23 February 2020 about what fraction of a percentage the EU budget can rise to above 1% over the next 7 years was symptomatic of a lack of vision for the future.
That the summit broke up without agreement, while not unexpected, points to a lack of capacity on the part of the EU Council when it comes to decision-making.
We live in a Europe where the key actors are no longer the leaders of states and nations.
Not even the leaders of banks and corporations, influential though they may be, can claim any longer to be the key drivers of change.
Today’s leading protagonists are cities and above all citizens.
Harnessing the ideas, the energy and the contribution that citizens can make to reshaping the future is perhaps the greatest challenge we face in Europe today.
Meanwhile a populist upsurge threatens the foundations of the European project in Italy and Hungary, and the supremacy of EU law is questioned in Poland.
Against this backdrop of resurgent ethno-nationalism and reactionary politics it seems counter-intuitive to try to make the case for a more sovereign Europe.
To be fair, Sophie Heine is not seeking to impose the same constitutional framework that citizens are familiar with at national leave in the form of a European super-state.
Instead she argues for a radically reconstituted form of sovereignty that would anchor the growing power and authority of the EU in more freedom-friendly intellectual terrain.
There can be little doubt that sovereignty has slipped away from nation states. Most serious-minded politicians udnerstand very well that there is very little that small nation states can accomplish any more on their own.
And as the expression goes, there are only two types of state in Europe, "those that know they are small and those that don't".
There has also been a hollowing out of the national demos to the point where voters retreat into identity politics to find voice, meaning and agency.
Is the way out of this dilemma to reconstitute sovereignty at the European level, albeit the kind of radical, people-centred sovereignty advocated by Sophie Heine?
What we can say, is that if such a project were to be adopted, it would almost certainly have to meet many, if not all of the conditions set out in Sophie Heine’s book.
Such a Europe of the citizens should be anchored in respect for human rights and the rule of law, with much stronger democratic roots than is currently the case.
One of the many ironies of Brexit, is that Boris Johnson claimed that Europeans have already decided that they want to turn the EU into a sovereign federal state!
Europeans who want to do that are still in a tiny minority. That doesn’t mean to say that the intellectual ground work should not be done for when that day comes.
Can such a utopian vision be realised in time to save Europe from the populists?
A good way to start to think about that would be by reading Sophie Heine’s book
For a sovereign Europe - by Sophie Heine
Publisher - Peter Lang International Academic Publishers
ISBN - 9781789974584