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From Hubris to Nemesis in the EU

Paris – The European Union’s Lisbon treaty was initially greeted with enthusiasm, pride, and even hubris. It promised a more realistic and reasonable way forward than the ill-fated constitutional treaty that it replaced, and many of its supporters also hoped that a central feature of its predecessor – the notion of “constitutional patriotism” – was still alive. But the Lisbon treaty has instead brought chaos to the Union. What went wrong?

Constitutional patriotism, a concept developed by two German philosophers, Dolf Sternberger and Karl Jaspers, was intended to replace the nationalism that had been discredited in Germany by the country’s Nazi past. Similarly, as the EU evolved into a federal state, its loyal citizens would reject nationalism based on ethnic affinities and instead identify with the democratic principles of the federation’s constitution.

This fantasy was unambiguously rejected by Irish voters, so it seems fitting to remind ourselves that the ancient Greeks, who gave the word “hubris” to the western world, saw it as a portent of tragedy leading to downfall, or “nemesis.”

Did the ambitions of the Lisbon treaty’s designers condemn it to failure? And, indeed, has it really failed? After all, European integration may meet obstacles, but it is still moving forward. As France’s Robert Schuman, one of the EU’s founding fathers, said in 1950, “Europe will neither happen in one go, nor as a whole construct: it will happen through concrete achievements, first by creating a de facto solidarity.”