The Story of the European empire


Euroreporters, the story of the European empireThe book Cosmopolitan Europe by Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande


In “Cosmopolitan Europe”, Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande are telling us a new narrative of Europe. A new story of its functioning, its dynamic and its future. No utopia. A story that we could even dream about.

In the background, the theory of reflective modernization. This theory considers two modernities. The first modernity created categories to delineate humans, things, activities, spheres of action and life forms. In the second modernity, societies intertwine these categories. These societies are founded upon of principle of inclusive dualities. With this key principle, individual and collective dualities enrich each other without opposition. The dualities (to be either…or…), established by the first modernity, are combined (to be … and…) within the second modernity. Everyone is different and dualities are added up. Someone can be Brit and European. Someone can be Anglo-Polish-European or Anglo-Indian-European. This is the origin of Europe: to link national and community levels.

The second modernity built European cosmopolitanism. Europe was cosmopolitan since the launch of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Through this cosmopolitan concept, Beck and Grande link the respect of otherness, the equality of all and the inclusive dualities. The cosmopolitanism is also based on integration: each level (national, European…), each member enriches the others without threat or denial of their characteristics. Universal standards allow recognized differences to live together. According to Beck and Grande, the European community recognized from the beginning the differences of its members and offered a democratic system of political dominance separate from the Nation-State.

The hero of his narrative, Europe, is an empire, i.e. an institutionalised form of political dominance.  The European empire is broader than the European Union (EU) and possesses several main characteristics. Its system of dominance is asymmetric: its members have different status, rights and obligations and belong to different domination areas. Each EU Member State or non-EU Member State may engage at the European level in a cooperation more or less advanced or integrated. For instance, an empire Member State may be part of the Eurozone, of community policies, of intergovernmental policies, may implement the European regulation without being an EU Member and/or may participate to European organisations outside the EU. The borders of the European empire vary and evolve. They change according to horizontal interdependences between States, vertical interdependences between levels of dominance, and diagonal interdependences between states, societies and organisations. The Europeanisation of states and societies modify the empire borders. The latter change and move outside the empire. Through extension, the European empire is looking for security and wealth. However the empire faces the need to fix its territorial limits. The integration into the empire is performed through law, consensus and cooperation excluding violence. Candidates should respect political criteria. The institutional integration is horizontal and vertical according to the various interdependences at different levels (local, national and European). The European empire is a network: it acts at several decision-making levels and through cooperation and negotiation between numerous actors. The members of the empire are sovereign states; when ceding sovereignty, they become closer to the core of dominance.

Several strategies hindered the cosmopolitisation of the European empire. Different actors (institutional, supranational, state, political…) participate to the definition of European rules. Their own strategies “distorted” the European empire. In the sixties and seventies, the nationalist strategy of states slowed the European cooperation and integration. Then, in the eighties, the neoliberal strategy and the technocrat strategy reduced respectively the national socio-economic power to regulate and to intervene and strengthened the Community bureaucracy. These three strategies weakened the legitimation of the European empire regarding citizen participation and collective performance.

Which reforms and conclusion may benefit to the European empire? Beck and Grande support a cosmopolitisation scenario to reach an improved integration into the EU, an economic project separate from neoliberalism, a foreign and security policy founded on recognition of difference, and a new definition of European politics. This new European politics would foster a stronger civil society, active citizen participation in the decision-making process, integration through recognition of difference and a lead role of Europe in global cosmopolitanism. To this end, a legitimate European constitution, adopted by referendum, would establish rules of a European civil society and institutions of the cosmopolitan Europe.

Cosmopolisation requires the democratisation of the empire considering its characteristics, i.e. the asymmetry of its entities (states, governments, citizens) and the fragmentation of its powers among different institutions and different levels of political activity. Several democratic processes may be implemented including participatory democracy, the most demanding process. Four strategies should lead to democratisation. A response strategy via a binding European referendum on citizens’ initiative, with no limit of topics, gathering a minimum number of citizens and Member States.  An inclusion strategy allowing external actors to take part to the European decision-making process. A strategy of recognition of difference ensuring recognition of minority stances through the principle of consensus rather than of majority. Notwithstanding a right of qualified veto (blocking minority) and the free choice of decision rule (consensus, qualified majority…) depending on regulation area would protect the ability of institutions to act. A control strategy for the political power equalizing the powers of main institutions and maintaining reciprocal controls.

Within this scenario, Beck and Grande also advocate the transition from seamless integration, coupling unity and homogeneity, to advanced differentiated integration. Within its borders and to prepare a gradual harmonization, the empire would recognize the otherness of members and national rules. The states would freely fix and reach common goals without transfer of jurisdiction to the EU. Outside the European borders, common policies based on recognition of actors’ difference would give the opportunity to strategically define and manage global risks.


Entering the “cosmopolitan Europe” opens new theories and concepts of Europeanisation beyond national and federal approaches. Tanks to the cosmopolitan nature of the European empire, the difference of its entities and members are essential, assumed and inclusive and distance criticisms of multi-speed Europe. The definition of the European empire, which may well be called exhaustive, offers a sturdy scenario of institutional reforms. The latter suggest means of participation of different internal and external actors to the empire and highlight the needed institutional balance of powers. Discussion and deepening of these reforms remain on the table.



!Hey!  Which scenario will you invent for the European empire?

Curious?  For a critical view of Cosmopolitan Europe in French, see Geneviève Warland

This article is available in French.

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