EU Constitutional Imagination: Between Ideology And Utopia International Conference, 1-2 November 2018

In the early 2000s many people believed that European constitutionalism could push the integration project to a qualitatively new stage. Some understood the adoption of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe by the high contracting parties in 2004 as the Union’s constitutional moment, realising their much wished-for utopia. Then the Treaty was rejected in the French and Dutch referenda and the European Council officially abandoned the ‘constitutional concept’. Several crises and challenges of the Union followed, most of them having direct implications for constitutionalism in Europe: the financial and economic crisis, the refugee crisis, the rule of law crisis in Hungary and Poland, and of course, the Brexit challenge.

The kind of constitutionalism emerging from the last decade has lost its utopian character: the need to adopt a new constitutional settlement is seen not as a further step in European integration but as an obstacle better to be avoided. Only few actors now call for the reinvigoration of the constitutional process. Political practice has returned to a much less demanding legalistic concept of the constitution, putting emphasis on the rule of law understood mainly as compliance with rules (and this only selective). Union’s constitutional utopia has been left to few intellectuals.

Do we need to care about this utopia then? Let me suggest a tentative “yes”:

Utopias are crucial for preserving opposition to the status quo as aspirational schemes that seek actualisation. They orient political action towards change and can lead to reforms that reconcile the political order with the desires of its subjects. One of the problems of today’s European constitutionalism consists in its inability to offer a utopia that could give a sense of direction to those who cannot identify with the present state of affairs – but at the same time (still) hesitate to follow European constitutionalism’s enemies.

European constitutionalism is also an ideology, however: another component of constitutional imagination, whose role is to integrate individual subjects and their beliefs into a common whole. Ideology conceals the gap between political order’s claim to legitimacy and its subjects’ beliefs. This can be seen as indispensable to make the political rule possible – a ‘necessary fiction’, or as an instrument of domination. Ideology can e.g ‘reify’ – make the products of human activity to appear natural and fixed, excluding thus any possibility to change them. Before Brexit, European integration appeared to be reified in the sense that it seemed impossible to reverse it and it seemed futile for the existing members to think about alternatives. Today, it is the ‘global race of nations’, where Europeans must become first of all competitive and only then are allowed to think about the ‘European way of life’, which they cannot afford in the race with states that do not need to bother with achieving social justice.

In my view we need to maintain, to the extent it is possible, both views of constitutional ideology. We need to understand why, in the different periods of European integration, European constitutionalists hold particular views about the constitution (both conceptual, referring to the realm of constitutional theory, and empirical, related to their understanding of the ‘really existing’ constitution of the EU) – without interpreting them as ‘simply having been afflicted with psychological pathologies’, seeking power or even domination. When establishing the meaning (or meanings) of the European constitution, one needs to take their ideas as seriously as possible.

The conference investigated the EU’s constitutional imagination, its history and present condition. It examined the core ideas and premises as both utopia and ideology – enabling, but possibly also hampering the project of European integration.

The focus was be both on the EU level (various conceptions of EU constitutionalism as they were emerging in its history) and the Member States: how the EU constitution was made fit the national constitutional imaginaries and how one has influenced “the other”.

The speakers included scholars from a range of disciplines – EU constitutional law and theory, political science, political theory, political economy and political sociology, all taking a closer look at the concept of EU constitutionalism from the perspective of their discipline – and their particular contributions they have made to the field.

Professor Jan Komárek, the conference convenor


The Convenor's Agenda paper (pdf) – this paper sets in more detail the key issues that the conference dealt with and links it to the ERC Starting Grant Project “IMAGINE: European Constitutional Imaginaries: Utopias, Ideologies and the Other”, which has started in February 2019. Professor Jan Komárek (iCourts) is the Principal Investigator of the project.


Chair: Amnon Lev (University of Copenhagen)

  • Paul Linden Retek (NYU/Yale): History, system, principle, analogy: Four imaginaries of European constitutionalism – video recording
  • Luuk van Middelaar (Leiden University): “Sovereign Europe”: the Return of History and the EU’s emancipation from its Utopian founding moments – video recording
  • Claudia Schrag Sternberg (UCL): Ideologies and imaginaries legitimating the EU since the 1980s: shifts in EU-Official discourses against Rosanvallon’s Democratic Legitimacy


Chair: Hagen Schulz-Forberg (Aarhus University)

  • Hugo Canihac (Saint-Louis University, Brussels) : “Not all legal problems can be solved legally”: N. McCormick’s constitutional pluralism in socio-historical context – video recording
  • Agustín José Menéndez (University of León): Constitutionalisation without Democratic Constitutional Law: The Founding Paradox of European Law – video recording
  • Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen): EU constitutionalisation revisited – Redressing a central narrative in European studies (co-authored with Dorte Sindbjerg Martinsen) video recording


Chair: Hanne Petersen (University of Copenhagen)

  • Marco Dani (University of Trento): Redressing European Constitutional Imagination – video recording
  • Signe Larsen (LSE): EU Member-Statehood and the Many Faces of European Democracy video recording
  • Kalypso Nicolaïdis (University of Oxford): The Peoples Imagined: Constituting a Demoicratic European Polity – video recording


Chair: Poul Kjaer (Copenhagen Business School)

    • Christian Joerges (Hertie School of Governance): From Integration through Law to the De-legalisation of Europe: an exercise in sociological jurisprudence and economic sociology – video recording
    • Hjalte Lokdam (LSE): The Constitutionalization of Central Bank Independence in Question – video recording
  • Michael Wilkinson (LSE): The New German Ideology? From a Crisis to a Critique of Post-Sovereignty – video recording


Chair: Mikael Rask Madsen (University of Copenhagen)

  • Mattias Kumm (WZB Berlin/NYU): Constitutionalism, Domination and the Political Imagination: Some remarks on Europe´s geostrategic situation – video recording
  • Jiří Přibáň (Cardiff University): Temporality of Constitutional Imaginaries: A European Perspective – video recording
  • Damjan Kukovec (University of Middlesex): Constitutionalism and Social Hierarchy – video recording


Chair: Antoni Abat Ninet (University of Copenhagen)

  • Jan Komárek (University of Copenhagen): The Transformation of Europe’s constitutional imaginary – video recording
  • Alexander Somek (University of Vienna): The False Messiah: Critical observations on J.H.H. Weiler’s most recent take on European integration video recording
  • Fernanda Nicola (Washington College of Law, American University): Critical Narratives of European Adjudication: Forms, Functions and Rhetoric


Contact – Academic

Contact – Other

  • Cecilie Petersen, Event Manager, Research Services, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.