What Happened to the European Union?
The European Union defies historical analogy. It is not an empire, and Brussels is anything but an imperial capital. It commands no army, houses no single leader, projects no one culture outward from metropole to province. Still less is the EU a republic with an obvious bond of connection between state and citizen, though it is composed of many individual republics. Nor is the EU is a confederation, a Hanseatic or a Delian league redux. The EU is much more than a confederation of sovereign states. It is itself a state with a flag and a parliament and a currency. A state with a past, the EU has been decades in the making. But whatever the European Union may be in practice, it is a theoretical novelty.
By 2003, when ten new countries began the process of joining the EU, it was a flourishing novelty. Its very existence symbolized the overcoming of centuries-long conflict between France and Germany. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it drew a range of post-Soviet countries into its orbit of law, cooperation and affluence. Such was the appeal of the EU in 2003 that the world around it seemed to be becoming “European” in hopes of membership or of partnership or at least of proximity. Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia became member states in 2004. Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine debated the possibility of joining the club in one way or another. Brussels welcomed and enjoyed the debate.