In European constitutional imaginaries: Between ideology and utopia (forthcoming in the OUP) a group of international scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds (constitutional law and theory, political theory, sociology and philosophy) examined the concept of constitutional imaginary: a set of ideas and beliefs that help to motivate and justify the practice of government and collective self-rule. Such imaginaries are as important as institutions and office-holders formally embedded in constitutions. They provide political action (anchored in the constitution and getting expression through the medium of law) with an overarching sense and purpose recognized by those governed as legitimate. Most of the time these imaginaries get unreflected by the participants in the constitutional practice and every-day politics, but there are moments when they get to the heart of the public debate: usually when a momentous step is to be taken by the polity concerned, such as adopting a new constitution or entering entity such as the EU.
The above-mentioned volume focused on European constitutional imaginaries as they are produced and circulate at the supranational level: mostly as results of European constitutional scholarship’s engagement with the world of European politics.
However, there are rich debates on the relationship between national constitutionalism and Europe, reaching well beyond the membership of the relevant country in the EU. However, the published work (in English and therefore accessable to the international audience) concerns primarily conflicts between national highest courts and the European Court of Justice. The broader intellectual debate among constitutional scholars and other intellectuals in the member states (who very often have engaged in public and policy debates) is missing from the picture.
We think this is a mistake which calls for an urgent remedy.
As a distinctive feature of this project, we put a particular emphasis on post-communist Europe. The experience of what is also called the “Other Europe” from both before and after 1989 is more important for EU constitutionalism than the common view suggests. The mainstream picture focuses on the process of transformation of the post-communist states into future members of the Union, seeking to comply with the political and economic criteria on EU membership. However, the fall of communism in 1989 was also transformative for the Old Europe. The image of the Union as a guarantee of democracy and freedom from foreign domination, widespread in the Other Europe, brought about changes in the deep structure of the Union as a whole. At the same time, the post-communist member states have brought with them their legacies that could be supressed only to a certain point (essentially, until they could stand in the way of the successful “return to Europe”) and re-emerged quickly after these states joined the Union. Now, however, they become internal to its constitutional imaginary. Most existing constitutional law scholarship does not capture this.
We would like to reflect on this by how this conference is structured: The outline results from a series of workshops organized in four post-communist EU member states at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 (and pre-dated by several internal seminars and one IMAGINE workshop).
Based on the workshops we have identified several overarching issues stemming from the debates on Europe and its constitutionalism in those member states. For the conference we invite scholars from the “old” member states to reflect on these issues and contributions stemming from these workshops. They will engage with scholars who have already taken part in the workshop and who will serve primarily as discussants at the conference. Through this we seek to avoid a certain hegemonic (and homogenizing) tendency in European constitutional scholarship, which often defines the concerns and issues to be debated through the perspective of the West and its legal traditions (for example, how the rule of law or democracy are understood in the liberal-legalist constitutional thought).
(1) Bringing back the past: in case of the post-communist member states, it is primarily the times before 1989, as this year is too often taken as “the year 0 (or 1)”, when everything only begun. The experience of communism only needs to rectified and not taken as part of the state and constitutional identity. But this theme also refers to “repressed and celebrated pasts”: e.g. how the former colonial empires transformed their statehood after the lost of colonies and the turn to Europe (we believe this does not concern the UK only…). Or, which are the periods considered as the “golden age” of the given state and its constitutionalism – and why?
(2) The triumph of (neo)liberalism at “The End of History”: This can connect to the themes related to the “social question”, which became silenced in the course of the race back to Europe and the creation of the “ever closer union”?
(3) Securing the existence of the state (not only by international law, but by ideas on which the state stands and by which it connects to other states or entities, including the EU). For the people of the “old Europe” we can invite reflections on the transformations of statehood – from a nation state into a member state (Bickerton) and how this has operated differently for each of them.
(4) Questions of (constitutional) identity: Who counts as “us” and who (and what) you want to avoid: the enemy, the other, your totalitarian past etc.:
The conference, while consisting of contributions by experts from various EU member states, who base their reflections primarily on their own country, is therefore organized thematically, rather than on the basis of “country reports”. Through this we hope to achieve greater coherence across the chapters and also identify the links between old and the Other Europe.
We are now in the process of inviting speakers and composing programme – this post will be updated accordingly.