This article analyses the genealogy of the expression ‘Love Europe, hate the EU’, which is taken as a spatio-cultural critique of the European Union 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 European Union, this catchphrase is analysed as the latest stage in the contestation over the political meaning of Europe. However, the article 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 in which Europe was conceptualized by the end of the 18th century as a distinct political unit with its own peculiar dysfunctionality, namely, a naturally anti-hegemonic order that often resulted in violent conflict. The spatio-cultural critique of European Union 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–European Union 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 European Union in managing contested spaces. This emerging cleavage between institutional and cultural understandings of Europe suggests that European integration after Brexit needs to focus on demonstrating the value of institutionalized cooperation per se as much as on the cultural symbolism of supranationalism.
Bibliographical note© Sage 2019. The final publication is available via Sage at http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354066119850242
- European Union
- international order