This paper argues for a more comprehensive study of the European Union that includes consideration, not only of socio-economic and political processes, but also of changing conceptualisations of identity, governance and democratic legitimacy. It argues for a re-examination of traditional narratives that frame the European Union as a response to the cruelties of the Second World War. Several key paradoxes in European history cannot be satisfactorily accounted for through purely intra-European processes: the European idea’s pre-dating the Second World War; the lack of a strong impulse for unified defence; the UK’s late membership and euroscepticism; the desire for a closed-off European system; and the élite nature of the European project. This problematic can be helped by theorising European integration as an event embedded within a larger historical system. Indeed, the roots of the European Union are found in wider, longer-lasting processes related to Europe’s shifting position in the World System.

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© 2014 Hans Hubbard

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