Kiran K. Patel

 

On his book Project Europe: A History

Cover Interview of April 14, 2021

The wide angle

The book’s eight chapters address the key dimensions associated with the history of the European Enion. Did the predecessors of today’s EU really create peace after the Second World War, as is often suggested? How about their contribution to producing prosperity? What was the role of citizens in this process, and can the EU justifiably claim to be a ‘community of values?’

The book brings together many of the threads of the history of European cooperation and integration that I have worked on over the past decades and develops them further. It is not a mere synthesis of my earlier work but based on fresh research on a series of topics that were new for me, taking me to more than a dozen archives in several countries.

Methodologically, the book frees itself, firstly, from excessive concentration on motives and driving forces and instead focuses on concrete effects and results. About the latter, we know astonishingly little so far, echoing the way the EU in general has remained very abstract and intangible for most people.

Secondly, the book refrains from revisiting every step towards integration in a chronological way—such an approach easily creates a teleological narrative where deepening and expansion are the only modes of history, interrupted by occasional phases of standstill that are overcome by heroic efforts. Instead, it opts for a problem-oriented approach that allows us to ask fresh questions and to challenge standard narratives that have shaped academic and public debates over the past decades.

Thirdly, the book puts the history of the EU in a broader context, most importantly that of other forms of cooperation and integration in postwar Western Europe. Normally, the EU is seen as the main alternative to national sovereignty. Most existing studies also assume that the EU’s predecessors were fundamentally different to other forms of international cooperation. It is true that the EU today occupies a special status unavailable to organizations like the Council of Europe or the OECD. But that was not always the case. Hence, I also discuss how the EC was ultimately able to achieve precedence over other international organizations in Western Europe—and went on to rise out of that sphere altogether.