Kiran K. Patel


On his book Project Europe: A History

Cover Interview of April 14, 2021


Project Europe sheds new light on where the EU comes from, what it is and where its potentials might lie. It argues that it would be wrong to project the European Union’s undisputed contemporary status back into its early decades. In many respects the EU is a surprisingly young construct in which powers and processes are a good deal less entrenched than one might expect, given that its earliest predecessor organization was founded some seven decades ago. It has weathered many storms better than we tend to think. The crises the EU finds itself in today are therefore much less unusual than many have argued.

The European Union’s incremental growth in significance has made it both resilient and vulnerable. On the one side the EU is now responsible for truly important matters and enjoys perceptible influence. Additionally, diverse synergies arise when so many questions and policy areas are dealt with in a single institutional framework. The European Union has become astonishingly robust. This stems less from the idealism of the participants than the enormous inertia of established institutions, the diverse interests contained within them, and the general momentum of the integration process. At the same time, the EU of our time is not only systemically more relevant than ever before. Its rise to importance has also made it more vulnerable to fundamental crises, simply because it is now in charge of crucially important issues.

History teaches us how improbable and fragile our own times are; from the perspective of the past, the present was but one of many futures (and potentially an unlikely one). That is the case for the European Union too. Rather than proceeding as the implementation of a masterplan, the EU we have today appeared in fits and starts. Above all, the project set out to make the future more predictable. It is this hope that shines through all the treaties and directives, summits and compromises, plans and proposals. While many saw precisely that as a value in its own right, the model of European integration as an attempt to contain the future is less certain again today.

Nobody knows what the future will bring for the EU. But one thing is certain: It will depend not least on the conclusions Europeans and others derive from its history.