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The Specter of Authoritarian Liberalism: Reflections on the Constitutional Crisis of the European Union

By Michael A. Wilkinson
Read the Full Contribution as a PDF

Suggested Citation: Michael A. Wilkinson, The Specter of Authoritarian Liberalism: Reflections on the Constitutional Crisis of the European Union, 14 German Law Journal (2013), available at

A. Introduction: Crises in and of Europe

“We seem to be caught in an ‘impossible interregnum’: After the end of classical national sovereignty, before the beginning of a postnational sovereignty.”

There is a growing sense of crisis in and of the European Union. Crises in Europe range from the immediate economic crisis of the Eurozone to political and cultural crises associated with the rise of right-wing populism and reaction to the perceived failure of state multi-culturalism.  Neither economic nor cultural woes in Europe are restricted to the Eurozone or even to the European Union; they are frequently perceived as elements of broader global crises of democratic capitalism. And yet, however intimately intertwined with domestic and international crises, there is also a specific sense of crisis of the European Union, such that its very survival is perceived to be at stake— unlike its Member States or the international order of states. Because the existential crisis of the EU is not disconnected from the simmering elsewhere, it is important to keep in view both sets of crises, in and of the European Union, in assessing the Union’s current predicament and future trajectory.

The existential threat to the EU is presented here in constitutional terms, with crisis heralding a reconstitution of Europe’s political form.  If crisis occurs when the organizational principles of a society are forced to change because they no longer permit “the resolution of problems that are critical for its continued existence,”  we can speculate on the kind of constitution that will emerge as the organizational principles of the EU appear no longer fit for purpose. What, in other words, might post-national sovereignty in Europe look like from a constitutional perspective? Why, in particular, does democracy seem to be under such sustained threat in current...