“Sometimes, I like to compare the European Union, as a creation, to the organization of empires. Because we have the dimension of empires. But there is a great difference : the empires were usually made through force, with a center that was imposing a diktat, a will, on the others, [whereas] now we have what some authors call the first non-imperial empire. […] I believe it’s a great construction and we should be proud of it. At least, we, in the Commission, are proud of our Union.”
Thus spoke a prominent Goldman Sachs employee some 12 years ago, a few months before unveiling the Lisbon Treaty, which would essentially paraphrase the content of a proposed European Constitution that had been rejected by the French and Dutch peoples through a May/June 2005 referendum, adding to it a few draconian measures regarding national budget discipline (read : austerity), and a few years before the memorable clash between “the center’s diktats” and Greece, which, despite its many economic and budgetary flaws, had been admitted into the Eurozone in 1999 following Goldman Sachs’s advice and data manipulation.
Back then already, notwithstanding the careful wording and impressionist nuances, likening the EU to an empire was not particularly well received outside the often hermetic cocoon of European bureaucracy…
Oxford’s Lexico (a.k.a. dictionary) defines an empire as “an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state” (emphasis mine). When we think of empires, we think of merry colonization (The East India Company, Africa, the Americas), of happy conquests and invasions in comparison to which the Crimea incident was merely a walk in the park (De Bello Gallico, Full Metal Jacket, etc.), of war (which is far from being the nation-state’s monopoly) and of course of strong yet joyful Führer figures making those dreams come true (Napoleon and Palpatine among others). In regard to the latter, how could Orwell not come to mind : “The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” ?
Domestically, empire always stands for iron-fist rule, abuse of power and political regression, since there is a huge distance (both geographically and democratically) between the emperor and his suite on the one hand, and his subjects on the other hand. The concept of emperor is a Hobbesian one; ‘t is the Republic which gave birth to the notion of citizen, as well as to said citizen’s – and by extension to the individual’s – rights. It is against an empire that the American Revolution took shape : “a great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges.” And it is ultimately at the expense of continental empires that the European Enlightenment rose, bloody though the transition may have been (yet didn’t need to be) : “A truly great man will neither trample on a worm nor sneak to an emperor.”
In an empire, there is no room for grassroot initiatives. And every empire always attempts to crush dissent. Yet, it is this obsolescent form of (manly) power, not a flexible, mature and visionary federation, the most intrepid of fools are advocating for Europe, obviously failing to realize that if anything unites Europeans right now (particularly the younger ones), whether they’re desperately clinging to their precious little nation-state like oysters to a rock or jumping over borders like goats in heat do over fences, it is their aversion to rigid, impersonal superstructures telling everyone how to behave.
For a self-proclaimed liberal paradoxically fond of the latter, it seems, to boldly cross the Channel and, in these trying times, indirectly preach to Perfidious Albion’s unconverted, all impressionist nuances aside, therefore required a yet unmatched level of democratic commitment and political finesse only a seasoned strategist with the charisma of a teen emperor on amphetamines like Goofy Guy could flaunt with such unrestrained bravado. Hail maestro !