Etienne Balibar and Antonio Negri on the constitution of Europe

Notes from a seminar in Rome, June 2004 *

*Translation and transcription by Arianna Bove. This text is in note form because it was translated directly at the meeting with no recording device.

Etienne Balibar

Rather than as an expert on EU politics I speak as a citizen because the EU is one of the most fascinating and mysterious philosophical objects. I write in this conjunction. As speak of constitution as a Politeia, not only formally but also juridically important, as well as materially - with its equilibrium and ridden with conflict - in the Aristotelian sense of constitution of citizenship. It is about a pre-existing citizenship that is not State-centred nor sovereign. It is not a citizenship 'of' the European Union, but one 'in' the EU. This designates the name of an aporia, in the positive and negative sense. It is the name of the process and indefinite progress but also the name of a permanent crisis and an impossibility. The question is: what ae we doing in Europe? Building r destroying sovereignty?


The conjuncture is a critical one and open to innovation of the EU project. Where is the will and virtue(Machiavelli) to operate this renewal? In order for this virtue to come to light we need a catastrophe. I wrote on the actual paradox of progress and blockage, the latter identified by the actions of Spain etc. Right now we could say that these difficulties are over, with the Spanish elections and the promise ot go back to normal. But as we start thinking the problems are over, there comes Blair's decision on the Referendum. This constitutional project, however formal and liberal, is against some national projects of power of Great Britain and its tradition. These are not contingent effects of power struggles. They are symptoms of the contradiction internal to the constitutional project. The impossibility of circumscribing in a closed political space...

There are four aporias:

1) The nature of the weak superstate, that is todays' Europe and the missing European people.

2) The problem of borders

3) EU citizenship as superior to national ones but lacking recognition of new rights

4) The blockage of cosmopolitan citizenships that lack authority

1) Weak Statalism without a State = bureaucratism, federal state, centralised and dislocated, supernational institutions that contain whilst limiting their sovereignty (subsidiaries). One aspect of the function of sovereignty is transferred to the super national level whilst being subject to being divided for instance on taxation. The power to tax belongs to States. Whilst there is a monetary union, the practical side is that of neutralising centre and periphery. There is a denial of the affirmation of EU independence. Reconciling will to generality ad particularity, the latter being expressed by th eneed to preserve the political class. The embodiment of this new historic compromise is the bureaucracy. The latter cannot circumvent the centres nor the multilevelled systems of government, nor can it impose a strong line on public policy to the member states. This is what is at stake in the new version of federalism: the relation between legitimacy and people. We cannot avoid questioning the lack of the former wthout asking who the European people is. Is it the European peace movement? This is insufficient and we are still faced with the dilemma, when we come across the Bismarkian position (with Nietzsche): the state is the people. This solution would create a statist idol and repress social conflict, what Gramsci called a passive revolution. That is not an active revolution, i.e. a party of the movement of the multitude, because in Europe we fear the masses, governments are terorised by the idea that the masses might participaate. This leads to the melting of sovereignty down into the public, and inaugurates the second deadly jump in the history of sovereignty since the passage from price to people: the shift from people to peoples.

2) EU identity. whether this is exclusive or inclusive is impossible to define (see the issue of Turkey). There is a demagogic issue at play and nobody claims that the integration of Turkey would be easy. Keynes helps us to understand te arbitrary character of the EU borders in this case. In 1923 he wrote as a European even though he was English. The Atlantism of the UK is irreducible but this does not mean that we should expel the Uk and include Turkey in Europe. Greek cypriots refuse the unification of the island despite the EU monitoring that they should be included. If Turkey entered the EU we could no longer refuse citizenship to Turkish people. We cannot keep up the fiction of a qualitative difference between outsider and inside. Jugoslavia, the unresolved question, demonstrated this. External politicisation and internal depoliticisation of conflict. The positive side is the virtual capacity for the EU to have a role as mediator in the fault lines of globalisation. It might be a myth. This is impossible unless the EU becomes the protagonist of a step forward in the progress of citizenship.

3) The vicious circle of new citizenship without new rights. Progress as regress and revenge of the proprietor class. The motto of French politicians is now Social Europe, but why now if not yesterday? The Brits resist against the Social charter but the latter is limited. There won't be legitimation for a constitution unless it is more democratic than existing national ones. We deal wth an option between more solidarity and less individuation. The halt comes from the veto imposed on the constitutionalisation of basic rights, equal opportunity and the equality of all citizens. The vicious circle is also due to the fact that forms of counterpower are in crisis. The positive side of this aporia may be the growth of political spontaneity and the need of transnational communication.

4) A passive EU position on the question of global citizenship. Can we talk of cosmopolitanism/internationalism? The urgency to imlement a founding ground to oppose to the US an alternative programme. It needs a double moveemnt, an aleatory convergence of constitutive and constituent power. The former lies in the movement of movements and also in global feminism, which has put into crisis national tribalism and corrisponds to the minor power (Macchiavelli) of those who don't want to oppress nor wish to be oppressed. There is always an antipolitical residue. Today this is a combination of militarism and humanitarianism. This combination is eating into the political space. In this frame the need and lack of Europe is mostly felt. There are other possible mediators, but the EU has a strategic place in relation to the Middle East. We feel like at a threshold. There is a feeling of desperation. Contemporary politics can lead anywhere, even to fascim or qualunquismo. But there is also a strong sense of political responsibility.

Antonio Negri

Crisis of American unilateralism. Bush's 18th Brumaire has failed. The awareness of this failure is to be underlined. Bush never wanted Europe nor did America. Since the 50's America has sabotaged any attempt at a European constitution. This is exhalted in US unilateralism. The main moment was 1972-1973. It was the year of Eurpe and Kissinger created the oil crisis, pushing on the weak point of Europe: energy and Middle Eastern petroil. Michael Moore is partial in his interpretation of the porblem. From this view, Europe must be thought of as divided into two: the pro and the anti-war nations. They were Europeanists. Zapatero breaks with America and opens the debate on the EU. He breaks with Euroscepticism. The point insisted upon is the European critical mass. But what is Europe today? No place for UK or Franco-German hegemony. If we break with the US we must take the political risks. It is not up to us to choose which EU citizenship we like. We must choose whether or not we want Europe. On that basis EU citizenship will be formed. philo-american and anti-russians were put together in a cohesion that created critical moments in these countries (see Poland). We must first decide whether or not we want Europe. Is it a terrain of peace? The big problem is that unilateralism opens the question of global governance. It makes it possible to have a policentric dispositif. It reveals the proliferation of continental powers: Russia , China and Latin America. Today we are faced with a strongly policentred world. Peace lies within this proliferation. We must firstly accept Europe as it is if we want to play this game and must be careful to help this continental power to constitute itself. To not be in Europe equates to not doing politics. The condition of US unilateralism is the point of departure of the new EU constitution.

Secondly, Europe is an ugly beast. If the imperial order is similar to what Polibius describes then the failure of the monarchy of Empire makes the oligarchy the winner. Corporations have won, not the multitude. We will find another alliance. Our problem is not the EU yes or no, but this aristocratic constitution, a constitution of multinational corporations. We cannot accept it nor avoid it because the political conditions are these. It is like a Magna Charta: the multitudes are excluded from this process. Peace is determined not by the multitude in struggle, but by the corporations' blackmail. How do we take back the initiative? The advantage of the movements is that they are global. Will parties be capable of opening up to the movements in this situation? Can they mediate without drawing the movements into the mechanism of representation? [Tr. note: Fausto Bertinotti was the third speaker at the event - these points were directed to him and his party Rifondazione Comunista - no apology for absence of notes and transcript on my part]. Institutions and classical representation expropriates the multitude's capacity for expression. Our problem is to pose the new theme of a political representation. See Latin America and the relation between new governance and the movements? How can we launch in Europe such reflection? The Left is just a representation but can no longer be. I think that today the weak structure of the EU leaves us a lot of room for experimentation, with all the risks, because this space can be filled by the movement as much as by lobbies, but it is on this weakness that we could express the peace and instances, moments of subversion of the given situation. Does the present EU constitution reinforce or weaken power? Both. This ambiguity must be played at two levels: interally on the power of multinationals, externally on a push for peace. I agree on the top plus bottom push needed by the EU.

Questions: Balibar to Negri: You have become completely Schmittian...

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