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The European Union and Beyond

'Love Europe, Hate the EU': A Genealogical Inquiry into Populists’ Spatio-Cultural Critique of the EU and its Consequences

International Relations
Andrew Glencross
Aston University
Andrew Glencross
Aston University

This paper analyses the genealogy of the expression “love Europe, hate the EU” that is taken as a spatio-cultural critique of the EU that has important consequences for how European integration is contested. Closely associated with the Brexit movement, but also popular among other populist movements opposing the EU, this catchphrase is analysed as the latest stage in the contestation over the political meaning of Europe. However, the paper demonstrates that the desire to do away with a rules-based institutional order rests on a deliberately ahistorical reading of European inter-state relations following the rise of the sovereign state. What is overlooked is the way Europe was conceptualized by the end of the eighteenth century as a distinct political unit with its own peculiar dysfunctionality, namely a naturally antihegemonic order that often resulted in violent conflict. The spatio-cultural critique of EU institutionalization nonetheless expects that shared European interests and values can seamlessly recreate cooperation across sovereign states, an argument that culminated in the UK’s Brexit decision. Yet as shown by the debate over the future of UK-EU relations, this cultural and idealized understanding of Europe’s commonalities ignores the economic and political significance of borders and forgets the part played by the EU in managing contested spaces. This emerging cleavage between institutional and cultural understandings of Europe suggests that European integration after Brexit needs to focus on the politics of memory surrounding institutionalized cooperation (and its absence) as much as on promoting supranational symbolism.
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