Colloquium dissects Habermas’s Crisis of the EU

28 November 2012

One of Europe’s most prominent intellectuals Jürgen Habermas was the focus of debate last night, at a book colloquium organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society to assess his recent work The Crisis of the European Union.

In the book, Habermas explores the lack of democratic participation in the EU, in so doing, according to a Financial Times Review, “he builds a case that Europe's leaders will sooner or later have to answer." 
Professor Denis Galligan opened the discussion by outlining the main themes in Habermas’s book, including the move to a transnational conception of democracy, the interplay of the market in this transnational sphere, and the disenfranchisement of European citizens with the growing powers of European institutions such as the European central bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.
Dr Jure Vidmar from the Oxford Law Faculty followed with an assessment of European Courts, arguing that the European Court of Justice has, in recent years, overruled landmark case law and reinterpreted Treaty provisions in ways that would not have been foreseen at the outset of the Union.
Vidmar identified a growing trend among European citizens to view such supranational courts as “Frankenstein” institutions that have developed powers and dynamics of their own, independent of their creators. Citing controversial issues such as the ongoing public policy debate over prisoner voting, he argued that the superimposition of values by European courts is sometimes necessary and beneficial to challenge deeply culturally embedded infringements of human rights. This may be construed as a force towards stronger domestic representation and more robust democratic institutions. 
Natacha Postel-Vinay from the London School of Economics completed the panellist’s analyses by focusing on the eurozone financial crisis. She found a refreshing optimism in Habermas’s essential belief that supranational democracy is possible, and that this does not rest on deep common cultural attachments, but merely on shared support for the institutional constraints imposed at the European level.
Whilst Postel-Vinay commended Habermas’s criticism of Germany and France’s handling of the crisis, which has had the effect of diminishing democracy amongst Europe’s citizens, she critiqued the book for it’s failure to adequately address the crucial question of an effective common monetary policy, without which another eurozone crisis could recur within the next thirty years.
In the spirit of democratic participation, the issues were thrown open to the audience to comment upon and debate, which opened a lively half hour of engaged discussion on the virtues and failings of the European project.
The next book colloquium will be held in early February 2013, at which Chris Thornhill from the University of Glasgow will be among the participants to discuss his new book A Sociology of Constitutions: Constitutions and State Legitimacy in Historical-Sociological Perspective. Full details will be confirmed on our Upcoming Events page in due course.