Professor Patricia Tuitt – Used up and misused: the Nation State, the European Union and the Insistent Presence of the Colonial
The question of how economic and social rights are distributed across groups and between people is foreclosed in the earliest stages of the emergence of a political community. This lecture introduces a week-long series of events on the theme of social exclusion by exploring the development of the European Union.
I shall draw together two moments that, at first sight, appear separated from each other, not least by our ideas of history. One is the contemporary ‘post-modern’ moment of the European Union in which various economically grounded rights to freedom of movement have encouraged citizens to look across the increasingly porous borders of Europe with greedy eyes. The other is the ‘Age of Discovery’ or ‘Age of Exploration’ that is conventionally dated from the early 15th century, although accounts of its end-date – suggestively – differ.
The link between these moments is not merely to be found in the energy of the peoples of Europe – their desire to discover the riches that the ‘new’ Europe can yield. Rather, examining the process of emergence of the European Union, I argue that ‘discovery’ remains the principal mode through which European sovereignty is grounded. All the certainties of the so-called Age of Discovery have been brought forward to the present fashioning of the European Union, not least the belief that a political community that has reached the limits of its economic and social efficacy – that has, as it were, exhausted its evolutionary potential – is a figuratively empty space, waiting to be filled. Thus, the old modern Europe had to be conceived of as thoroughly bankrupt before its migrating citizens could appropriate it to the resolutely post-national and post-modern aims of European integration. An abundance of opportunities has no doubt resulted from the integration of Europe but the most substantial rights and rewards are reserved for those relative few capable of engaging in an age-old process of sovereign formation.