Europe’s Search for a Pluralist Polity:
Constitutional Corporatism and Federal Subsidiarity
di Adrian Pabst
University of Kent – Canterbury
Institut d’Etudes Politiques – Lille

In addition to the EU’s important and well-funded regional policy, countries like Britain which seek to offer an alternative to a centralised federal state could advocate such a new EU local policy that blends shared principles with particular, locally specific practices. That – rather than simply empowering Westminster and Whitehall or other national governments and parliaments – would be a truly bold vision for Europe. At the same, growing Euroscepticism and attempts to re-empower member-states at the expense of a common project could be mitigated by highlighting the unrealised potential of Community support for local and regional development. In the case of Britain and other countries whose economies have been badly hit by the crisis, there is potentially and actually significant EU support for modernising the chronically underfunded infrastructure, including loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for major projects such as London’s Crossrail. There are also concrete opportunities of a EU-supported industrial policy for reviving Britain’s manufacturing and industrial policy – another urgent task for the present and future UK governments.
Moreover, a renewed emphasis on localism would help restore a proper European tradition. Indeed, the principle of subsidiarity – devolving power to the most appropriate level – is enshrined in all EU treaties and given more importance in the Lisbon Treaty. By appealing to this European tenet, different political traditions and actors of civil society can challenge the attempted construction of a federal super-state with a positive vision that is in accordance with Europe’s founding fathers and their shared tradition of Catholic social teaching (as well as Scottish and Italian civic humanism). The latter shifts the emphasis away from abstract individuality and social contract towards embodied social bonds of reciprocity mutuality based on the idea of sympathy and even gift-exchange in the economy – not just secular civil society or the welfare state.
Retrieving this vision would allow the EU to repudiate both centralised, Franco-German federalism and the Anglo-Saxon vision of a glorified free-trade zone in favour of something like ‘subsidiary federalism’. This would enable the Union to concentrate on what it does best (including cross-border banking regulations, environmental protection and crucially a common foreign and defence policy), while devolving decision-making in other areas to national, regional and local levels.

After a decade of rapid enlargement and the re-nationalisation of a number of competencies, the Union urgently requires a robust political project. As the current reforms of the eurozone arrangements indicate, the Lisbon Reform Treaty won’t be the last word. In an increasingly post-ideological politics characterised by professed pragmatism, there is a void of fresh ideas and policies. In conjunction with a Europe of localities that promotes political participation and civic structures, mutual political practices across the Union could help foster a shared identity. Subsidiary federalism, coupled with a greater emphasis on constitutional corporatism, blends some of Europe’s best traditions which would transform her constituent nations in mutually beneficial ways. A Europe that speaks to local concerns will find itself supported by all and thereby be empowered at the global level.


* Lecturer in Politics, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent at Canterbury; Visiting Professor, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille (Sciences Po); Email: [email protected]
Simon Hix, The Political System of the European Union, 2nd rev. ed. (London: Palgrace Macmillan, 2005); Jan Zielonka, Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Zielonka cites Hedley Bull’s seminal book The Anarchical Society – a crucial influence on the British School of International Relations that championed the idea of neo-medieval polity and was largely Christian in origin, notably the work of Martin Wight. See Scott M. Thomas, “Faith, History, and Martin Wight: the role of religion in the historical sociology of the English School of International Relations”, International Affairs Vol. 77, No. 4 (October 2001): 905-29.
2 Angelo Cardinal Scola, “The Christian contribution the European Integration Process”, lecture delivered in Cracow on 10 September 2010, available online at
3 On associative democracy, see Paul Hirst, Associative Democracy: New Forms of Economic and Social Governance (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996) and Paul Hirst and Veit Bader (eds.), Associative Democracy: the Real Third Way (London: Routledge, 2001). On civil economy, see Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni, Civil Economy: Efficiency, Equity, Public Happiness (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007).
4 Cf. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love. On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003); Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone. The collapse and revival of American community (New York: Schuster & Schuster, 2000); R. Putnam (ed.), Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
5 Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate (Dublin: Caritas, 2009). Benedict’s call for a civil economy which re-embeds both the state and the market within communal and associative relations strongly reflects and develops Bruni’s and Zamagni’s work (see, supra, note 2). There are also some striking parallels with the work of Karl Polanyi, R.H. Tawney and other Christian ‘guild socialists’. See Adrian Pabst (ed.), The Crisis of Global Capitalism: “Caritas in veritate” and the future of political economy (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), forthcoming.
6 On post-1945 Europe, see Wolfram Kaiser, Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). See also Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith (London: Constable, 1924); Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe. An introduction to the history of European unity (London: Sheed & Ward, 1932); Rémi Brague, L’Europe, la voie romaine, ed. rev. et augm. (Paris: Gallimard, 1999); Sylvain Gouguenheim, Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne (Paris: Editions Seuil, 2008).
7 Both individual freedom of choice and the personal pursuit of pleasure are grounded in the idea that individuals are endowed with sovereign will – a voluntarism that is entirely compatible with the voluntarism of the absolute state. As André de Muralt has documented, the notion that human power derives from the primacy of divine will over divine intellect can be traced to William of Ockham’s nominalist and voluntarist ontology in the early fourteenth century. This account was later extended by Hobbes and Locke and thereafter modified by Rousseau and Kant in the direction of the self-ownership of the will itself by itself – an idea that shapes much of political liberalism, including the work of John Rawls. See André de Muralt, L’unité de la philosophie politique. De Scot, Occam et Suárez au libéralisme contemporain (Paris: Vrin, 2002); Adrian Pabst, “Modern Sovereignty in Question: Theology, Democracy and Capitalism”, Modern Theology Vol. 26, No. 4 (October 2010): 570-602.
8 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Homily during the mass pro eligendo romano pontifice”, 18 April 2005, available online at
9 Rowan Williams, “Religion, culture, diversity and tolerance – shaping the new Europe”, lecture given on 7 November 2005 in Brussels, online at; R. Williams, “Secularism, Faith and Freedom”, lecture given at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in Rome on 23 November 2006, online at; R. Williams, “Europe, Faith and Culture”, lecture given at the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool on 26 January 2008, online at Likewise, see Metropolitan Kirill, address at the Third Ecumenical Assembly on 5 September 2007 in Sibiu, online at See also the Russian Orthodox Church’s social doctrine, “The Basis of the Social Concept”, online at
10 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, ‘Homily during the mass pro eligendo romano pontifice’, 18th April 2005, online at
11 Online at
12 See Rowan Williams, “Ethics, Economics and Global Justice”, lecture given in Cardiff on 7 March 2009, online at; R. Williams, “Theology & Economics: Two Different Worlds?”, lecture given on 28 January 2010 in New York; Metropolitan Kirill, speech to the 11th World Russian People’s Council in 2007 in Moscow; Metropolitan Kirill, preface to The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, online at
13 Jürgen Habermas und Joseph Ratzinger, Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Über Vernunft und Religion (Freiburg: Herder, 2004); trans. The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2007).
14 Tracey Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 15-19, 66-67, 57-63, 112-15.
15 Pabst, “Modern Sovereignty in Question”, op. cit.
16 Herman Van Rompuy, ‘Du personnalisme à l’action politique’, Grandes Conférences Catholiques, available online at See my ‘A gift economy for Europe’, The Guardian Comment is Free 13th January 2010, available online at, on which this section is based.
17 While New Labour’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 1999 devolution of power to the newly established Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in some measure diffused sovereignty, Thatcher’s destruction of local government in the 1980s and the Blairite-Brownite championing of global finance produced a higher centralisation of power and a higher concentration of wealth than in virtually any other European country.


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