Key note speech

Transformations of the State: European Perspectives

Speaker: Professor Catherine E. De Vries (University of Oxford)

The Fourth Annual Conference of the Anglo-German State of the State Fellowship

The traditional concept of the nation-state has for decades, and often centuries cultivated strong national identities, the boundaries of which have strongly overlapped with state boundaries. However, functions of the modern state have disintegrated, power has shifted to other actors, supra-state constitutional polities and political systems have emerged, and citizens even adhere to legal rules that are not backed by the classical notion of state power. These challenges to the modern state are both domestic and international: domestically, citizens may organise themselves into groups that either exercise certain powers on behalf of states or compete against state-backed authorities; externally, international interdependence through globalisation or regional integration also challenge the primacy of the modern state.

Initial challenges to the sovereign state in post-war Europe emerged from attempts to regularise human rights standards among West European states, arising from their own willingness to confer authority to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in matters relating to state conduct towards citizens and non-citizens. Elsewhere in Europes dense institutional landscape, the on-going processes of European integration reveal, and continue to test the limits of social and political identities beyond the boundaries of the traditional nation-state. Present challenges such as the Euro-zone crisis have pushed political actors to re-assess the general direction of European integration. These challenges have raised questions as to greater EU economic powers, and the need for financial solidarity mechanisms to cushion the negative consequences of the present crisis in the member states. However, the extent to which citizens support EU-wide redistribution, and greater technocratic authority in economic affairs is questioned: whence does such extra-national standard setting and decision-making draw its legitimacy if coercive powers are not anchored in popular consent?

This conference aimed to address some of these challenges to the modern state from political, legal and sociological perspectives, and to provide some analysis on the extent to which the processes of integration either weaken or strengthen the nation-state in Europe.